Real Dracula : Vlad Tepes of Romania

Wallachia, Romania | MAP

Anne Rice made “born into darkness” a famous term. It’s fitting how the real Dracula became the first modern day vampire similar to the monsters she wrote.

Vlad Tepes was born into darkness.

 

Prince of Wallachia in the 13th century, the small region in Romania. His power was short lived, but his reputation became immortal.

This was a copy of the original
Vlad Tepes — original done in 1560

Known through infamy, stories we remember 600 years later.

We have a former actor’s assistant to thank. Bram Stoker wrote Dracula in 1897 after spending time with an Hungarian traveler named Vambery Armin.  Inspired Dracula, and some say he’s the real life Van Helsing.

Armin Vambery -- Inspr Dracula and Van Helsing
Armin Vambery — Inspired Dracula and Van Helsing

History and folklore shared between the two. A 500 page novel was produced but no one could confirm if the author knew about Vlad.  Bram Stoker publicly claimed he didn’t and that he’s never seen Vlad’s castles of Bran and Poienari.

If true, then connections between the fictional Dracula and real Vlad are strange.

  • Vlad’s nickname was Dracula, old Romanian for “Son of the dragon”
  • Dracula’s castle is in Transylvania
  • Stakes

A wooden stake, chosen weapon of the vampire hunter.

If plunged into a chest of the undead, dust, or a blood bath and the monster is dead.

Vlad was an “Impaler”, known well for his horrible method of execution.

How to Impale, a sick person’s guide – –
WARNING: Graphic Descriptions Ahead

German Woodcut showing Vlad dining among the dead -- circa 1499
German Woodcut showing Vlad dining among the dead — circa 1499

The man is laid out before a large wooden stake. The sharp end placed up against his anus as his legs are tied to waiting horses.

Sent galloping, slowly pulling him onto the stake, forcing the point deep. The ropes moved down onto the stake and the horses sent forward again. The pole is lifted and dragged, dropping into a hole.

Planted and secured with a balancing man on top.

Then begins slow death, gravity takes hold and he’s forced to the ground.

Minutes, hours, sometimes days will pass, agonizing pain until death. The stake continuing through and out his mouth.

Vlad would watch. Sometimes at a table, setup on the battlefield. Treating the death like a show paired with a nice meal.

The Man in History

Vlad Dracula was grandson to King Mircea and crown prince of Wallachia.

War floods Hungary. His home turned into a battleground filled with violence, while the royal family tries to become one with it all.

Vlad’s father was Mircea’s illegitimate son. Not stopping him from greatness, becoming a leader and being noticed by the “Order of the Dragon”.

The Order was created to unite countries against the large Ottoman Empire. They called his dad “Dracul”, or Dragon, and in 1431 made him king of Wallachia.

Time passes and violence is avoided as the Ottoman Sultan pushes for trust. Out of respect, Vlad’s father gave his two sons as captives, including Vlad.

Vlad was whipped, put down and called stubborn and rude. His hatred grew, for the Ottoman Army, and the man who led them. This nasty captor would later became Sultan.

That hatred low compared to how Vlad felt about his father. For captivity and betraying the Order. Vlad knew his father’s friendship was against the rules because he was a member since the age of five.

Vlad loved the Order, “his people”, gave him a name and treated him with respect.

It’s how he felt, but not acted because the Ottoman trusted Vlad. Trust that only lasts when needed.

Vlad’s father was assassinated in 1447, soldiers scalping him while still alive. The Sultan quickly put Vlad on the throne.

But he wasn’t ready. Wallachia invaded and Vlad didn’t fight. He escaped to his influential Uncle for protection, remaining in exile for years.

He would return to the throne, but something had changed.

This began the most memorable reign in Romanian history. A reputation based on violence and cruelty, a legend reaching through time into the mind of a 19th century author.

 

Was he a hero?

To the people of Romania… yes!

Vlad Dracula was a great leader, removing crime from the streets and protecting his people from the hated Ottoman Army.

Ruling with an iron fist stemming from his violent nature. Punishment was swift, violent and cruel. Fearful criminals kept the streets safe.  The reputation spread outside Romania, where his dark methods caused disgust.

Like the story when Vlad went up against rival prince.

Chased, alone, the rival was given shelter in a small village. Vlad’s army found him and where told to give no mercy. Charged with sheltering an enemy, thousands of villagers were impaled.

Soldiers dragged the rival prince to an open grave. They forced him down, made him proclaim a eulogy, killed him and pushed the body into the grave.

Vlad’s Downfall

The 1460’s and Vlad is being challenged by an Ottoman invasion.

He orchestrated guerilla-style, small attacks. They failed as the sultan gained access to Wallachia.

Vlad removed, then replaced by his younger brother, Radu. The same brother who was captive with Vlad in the Ottoman camp.

Radu was treated poorly, put down and beaten, but came out with only respect and love for his captors.

This battle was beautifully recreated in Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula movie. The scene, Vlad’s wife throws herself into the river below Poienari, was true.

Vlad held captive for almost 13 years. How he was released is debated, but one trusted source says he became a Catholic.

The Vatican opposed the Muslim Ottoman. They were more than happy to help free the dreaded Vlad and soon after, in 1475, he got back his throne.  Vlad became a prince without an army. Threats from all around and he escaped to, yep… Transylvania.

He made another attach on Wallachia in 1476, not against his brother as Radu was dead.

Amans Battle with Torches -- Depicts a Vlad night attack
Amans Battle with Torches — Depicts a Vlad night attack

Vlad succeeded, taking the throne one last time.

He felt safe in Wallachia, sending the soldiers back to Transylvania just as Ottomans marched in.

Vlad gathered a small army, marched out to greet them and didn’t return.

His death remains a mystery. Some say Vlad was killed in battle after being betrayed by his own people. The Turks finding his body, decapitating him and saving the head.

Preserved in honey to slow decay, it was sent to the Sultan and publicly displayed as proof the “tyrant” was dead.

Vlad’s body was buried in Snagov Monastery near Bucharest… but was it?

In the 1930’s, excavators opened the grave at Snagov to reveal an interesting fact.  Two graves!  One empty, the other containing a headless corpse.  Giving steam to the rumour the empty grave was Vlad’s.

The empty grave and a headless body -- circa 1931
The empty grave and a headless body — circa 1931

If so, maybe his body was moved to avoid desecration.  Or the second headless body was Vlad (where’s the head?).   Or maybe this is exactly what a vampire would do.

More proof of Vlad’s cruelty

15th century Romania was harsh and violent.

Vlad Dracula is a respected historical figure as they talk off his atrocities to pure legend or normal reaction to war.

Recounting such stories from the outside only feed disgust.

 

How he like Impalement – –
Impaling was Vlad’s favorite for many strategic reasons lost to time. The details remain.

Thought and reflection went into each mass impalement. Victims setup in rows, higher ranking officials up front to degrade the countrymen as their most respected leaders violently died.

The staked dead left at town gates as invading armies walked up to rows of decaying bodies. Left to foreshadow doom for all who enter Vlad’s domain.

The merciless punishment done on local criminals causing crime to disappear in Wallachia.

A citizen could leave gold in the town square, return the next day and find it untouched.

Many leaders have used this example over the years, including the fictional Bill the Butcher in “Gangs of New York”.

Vlad’s Party – –
Vlad’s Poienari Castle was originally built in the 1200’s. 200 years later it was in ruins and Vlad wanted a strategic home on a hill.

Poienari Castle -- current day
Poienari Castle — current day

After reaching the throne for the second time in 1456, Vlad held a party for the noblemen of Wallachia.

Invited guests were hesitant. They betrayed Vlad’s father and his brother to the Ottoman.

They came anyway, thinking Vlad knew the cost of politics, thinking the leader just wanted support and money.

The party was a success! The noblemen and their families about the leave when Vlad’s soldiers marched in.

Vlad commanded all old and feeble guests be taken and impaled.

Able bodied guests were put in chains, led out and started the difficult journey ending at the ruins of Poienari Castle.

A camp setup and they begin working. Over years these people would recreate the old, strong castle befitting Vlad. They were mistreated, starved and worked to death.

The Vampire Debate

The debate rages. Is Vlad a vampire?

The believers yell, “look at his cruelty”, “his body disappeared”. Non-believers saying, “not possible”, “vampire are fake”.  If not for Bram Stoker, we may not be talking about it. Who, if answering truthfully before dying in 1912, would have been a non-believer.

Stoker was scientific. He loved the occult, but choose logic every time.

In the end, it must be fiction.  It’s not be possible to sustain life without a beating heart, to live off of another’s blood, to be immortal and not die.

It has to be fiction. Right?

Read about other infamous ghosts : Lizzie Borden | Ambrose Small | Edgar Allan Poe | Marie Laveau