Dracula Vlad Tepes | Wallachia Romania

Wallachia, Romania | MAP

Vlad the Impaler

Anne Rice made “born into darkness” a famous term. 

The real Dracula is like the monsters she wrote.  Not a creepy, deformed mess but a charismatic and deadly ancient with powers.

Vlad Tepes was also born into darkness. 

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

Prince of Wallachia in the 13th century, a small region in Romania.  His reign short lived, but his reputation immortal.  His infamy remembered 600 years after his supposed death.

All thanks to a former actor’s assistant.  Bram Stoker wrote Dracula in 1897 after spending time with a Hungarian traveler named Vambery Armin.  He inspired Bram, some calling Armin the real-life Van Helsing.

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

They both loved history and folklore.  Bram wrote a 500-page novel. 

Later asked about Vlad, Bram publicly claimed he didn’t know anything of the historic figure or ever seen the castles of Bran or Poenari.

Remains a mystery, but for me the connections are too strong to deny.

Vlad’s nickname was Dracula, a Slavonic genitive for “Son of the dragon”, his father referred to as “Dracul” or dragon

Vlad’s Bran Castle is in Transylvania, the fictional home of Bram’s Dracula.

And the one I, surprisingly, just realized when putting this article together… Stakes. In the book, a wooden stake is the chosen weapon of the vampire hunter.  If plunged into the chest of the vampire, it’ll turn them to dust, or a blood bath and the monster is dead.

Vlad was the “Impaler”, known well for his horrible method of execution using large stakes.

How to Impale, a sick person’s guide – –

 “Graphic Descriptions Ahead”

The following is a detailed description of impalement as a form of execution.  I take no pleasure in this, but history is history.

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 usually longer than the man is tall.  A sharpened end is placed up against his anus as his legs are tied to waiting horses.  Sent galloping away, the force pulls him onto the stake.

The pole is lifted and dragged, dropping into a hole.   Planted and secured while balancing the man on top.

Then slow death begins, gravity takes hold and his body slowly moved down the post to the ground.

Minutes, hours and most of the time days will pass.  Agonizing pain until the release of death. The stake eventually coming out through his mouth.

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

But was this real?  Some claim his violent reputation was created to deter enemies from attacking.  Maybe his history will tell us more…

Vlad Tepes was the grandson of Mircea of Wallachia.  Considered the bravest of the Christian princes. 

Mircea the Elder (Vlad’s grandfather)

Wars turned Vlad’s home into a battleground filled with violence.  Vlad’s father (also Vlad) was Mircea’s illegitimate son.  

Didn’t stop him from greatness, when Vlad the father became a leader among men.  Soon noticed by a group called the “Order of the Dragon”.

The Order was created to unite countries against a much larger Ottoman Empire.  The order gave Vlad the Father a nickname, calling him “Dracul”, meaning Dragon

Then in 1431 they made him king of Wallachia.

Time passes, violence avoided as the then Ottoman Sultan wants a world of trust and peace.

Out of respect, Vlad the Father gave over his two sons as captives, including Vlad the Son.

Vlad the Son was mistreated.  Whipped and beaten.  Insulted, called stubborn and rude.  Without any kindness or respect, his hatred grew for the Ottoman soldiers, centering on the man who led them.  This once brutal captor later became the Sultan.

The hatred for his captors didn’t compared to the anger for his own father.  Blaming him for his captivity and betraying the Order.

A member since the age of 5, Vlad knew his father’s friendship with the enemy was against the rules.  Of course this is where “Dracula” comes from, the Order naming Vlad after his father (son of dragon).

Vlad loved the Order, calling them “his people”.  They respected him, and his potential as a leader.

Even though Vlad the Son was unknowable.  Feeling complete hatred for his captors without showing any emotion.  The Ottoman soldiers trusted Vlad!  

While standing as a puppet leader, everything changed when Vlad the Father was assassinated in 1447.  The Sultan made Vlad the Son his new puppet.

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

He’d eventually return for that throne, but something had changed.  Gone was the scared puppet leader.

This began the most memorable reign in Romanian history.  From a reputation of violence and cruelty, a legend reaching through time into the 1800’s to be used by an author named Stoker.

Vlad’s Reign

Vlad was a hero… to the people of Romania.  To all others he was considered a monster.

Vlad Dracula Tepes was a brutal and effective leader.  Completely removing crime from the streets and protecting his people from now hated Ottoman Army.

Ruling in a cold and brutal way.  Punishment was swift, violent and cruel.  A reputation spread throughout and beyond Romania.  Talk about his methods caused disgust.

Like the story when Vlad went up against rival prince

It says the rival was chased down by soldiers.  Forced to take shelter in a small village.  They found him.  Told by Vlad to give no mercy.

The village was charged with sheltering an enemy.  Thousands were impaled.

As for the rival… dragged to an open grave. Forced down, made to speak a eulogy to himself.  Then killed and pushed into the grave.

This could have been the start of the propaganda.  My thought, it’s a mix of truth and legend.  Maybe partly the exaggerations of people, partly the exaggerations of Vlad himself.

Vlad’s Downfall

In the 1460’s Vlad is being challenged by an Ottoman invasion.

Since his enemy was much larger, he orchestrated guerilla-style small attacks.  Didn’t work as the sultan still took over Wallachia.

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

This battle was beautifully recreated in Francis Ford Coppola’s movie Dracula. The beginning scene leading to Vlad’s wife throwing herself into the river below Poenari Castle was true.

Vlad left alive and replaced by his younger brother Radu. This is the same brother who stood captive with Vlad as kids in the Ottoman camp.  Radu was mistreated, put down and beaten but came out different.  He had only respect for the Sultan.

After the battle, Vlad was held captive for 13 years.  How he was released is debated by historians. 

A trusted source says he became a Catholic.  The Vatican opposed the Muslim Ottoman Empire.  And were more willing to help free Catholic Vlad.

Then in 1475 he got back his throne.  Vlad became a leader without an army.  Threats slowly seeping from all around him.  Vlad escaped to… wait for it… Transylvania.

He made another attack on Wallachia in 1476.  Not against Radu as his brother was dead. 

Vlad succeeded, taking the throne one final time.

He felt safe in Wallachia… too safe.  Sent his soldiers back to Transylvania just as Ottomans marched in.

Vlad quickly gathered a small army and personally marched out to greet his enemies.  He didn’t return.

Mysterious Death

Vlad’s death remains a mystery.  

Some say he was killed in battle after being betrayed by his own army. That they found his body, decapitated it and saved the head.  It was preserved in honey to slow decay and sent to the Sultan to be publicly displayed showing the “tyrant” was dead.

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

In the 1930’s, excavators opened his grave at Snagov to reveal two graves!  One empty and the other containing a headless corpse.  Giving steam to the rumor the empty grave was Vlad’s.

If true, maybe his body was moved to avoid desecration.  Or the headless body beside his supposed grave was Vlad.  

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

Or maybe this is exactly what a vampire wants you to think.

But first, you might be wondering where’s all the dark violence Vlad’s reputation was based upon.  Far be it for me to not satiate your blood lust…

15th century Romania was harsh and violent.  Vlad is a respected historical figure.  Many talk of his atrocities as pure legend or a normal reaction during war times.

Recounting his stories as an outsider from a calm and free country would add to the feeling of disgust.

Impaling was Vlad’s favorite execution style for many reasons lost to time.  But the details remain. 

Much thought and reflection went into each mass impalement. Victims setup in rows, higher ranking officials killed closer to the front to dishearten countrymen who watched their most respected leaders violently die.

Staked and left at town gates for invading armies.  Marching over a hill to a wall of impaled bodies.  Fear for all who dare enter Vlad’s domain.

This punishment done on enemies, but also local criminals causing crime to disappear from Wallachia.

It was said a citizen could leave gold in the town square, return the next day and find it untouched.  Many leaders have used this statement over the years, including a fictional Bill the Butcher in the movie “Gangs of New York”.

Then there’s Vlad’s Party

Poienari Castle -- current day
Poenari Castle — current day

Poenari Castle was built in the 1200’s. 200 years later it was in ruins.  But Vlad saw its strategic potential.  But how to get it rebuilt.

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 Sultan and feared revenge.

But pressure and pride brought them out, thinking Vlad knew the cost of politics.  Thinking he’d just want their support and money.

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

Vlad commanded all the old and feeble guests be taken away and impaled.  Able bodied guests were put in chains.  Led out and marched to the ruins of Poenari Castle.

The once ruling elite of Wallachia became Vlad’s slaves.  It took years to recreate the old castle befitting Vlad’s high standard.

The slaves were starved and worked to death.

Well, think that’s it.  Thanks for reading… oh, I forgot one thing

The debate rages on.  Is Vlad a real life vampire?

The believers yell, “look at his cruelty”, “his body disappeared”.

Non-believers retort, “it’s not possible”, “vampire are fake”. 

If not for Bram Stoker we wouldn’t talk about it at all.  If asked about this before dying in 1912, Stoker most likely would have been a non-believer.  He was scientific.  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 another’s blood, be immortal and not die.

It has to be fiction. Right?

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