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Vlad the Impaler (Vlad III Dracula)

Known as the historical model of Count Dracula, Vlad the Impaler is considered a national hero in his native country - Romania. Vlad III Dracula is a Romanian national symbol of fight for independence against ottomans.

Vlad the Impaler voievode of Wallachia


Vlad Tepes (spelled Tepes, pronounced tse-pesh) is a fifteenth century voivode or prince of Wallachia of the princely House of Basarab. Wallachia is a province of Romania bordered to the north by Transylvania and Moldavia, to the east by the Black Sea and to the south by Bulgaria.

Vlad the Impaler was born in November or December 1431, in the fortress of Sighisoara, Romania. His father, Vlad Dracul, at that time appointed military governor of Transylvania by the emperor Sigismund, had been inducted into the Order of the Dragon about one year before. The order was a semimilitary and religious society, originally created in 1387 by the Holy Roman Emperor and his second wife, Barbara Cilli.

Its emblem was a dragon, wings extended, hanging on a cross. The dragon was the symbol of the devil and consequently and alternate meaning of 'drac' (the devil) was dragon. The main goals of such a secret fraternal order of knights was mainly to protect the interests of Catholicism, and to crusade against the Turks. This order provides an explanation for the name "Dracula;" "Dracul," in Romanian language, means "Dragon", and the boyars of Romania, who knew of Vlad the Impaler' father induction into the Order of the Dragon, decided to call him "Dracul." "Dracula," a diminutive which means "the son of Dracul," was a surname to be used ultimately by Vlad the Impaler.

Vlad's Childhood

There aren’t many information about his childhood. It is known that in 1442 Vlad and his younger brother became hostages of Murad The Second, as a result of an agreement between Vlad the Impaler’ father and the Sultan. Being under considerable political pressure, threatened with invasion by the ottomans, Dracula's father gave a promise to be the vassal of the Sultan and gave up his two younger sons as hostages so that he would keep his promise. If he did not follow the sultan's policies and interests, his sons would surely die.


These years were influential in shaping Vlad's character, because he has suffered much at the hands of the Turks, and was locked up in an underground dungeon. He was often whipped by his Turkish captors for being stubborn and rude. It could be argued that the man's fascination with torture truly began under the Ottomans as he witnessed torture and occasionally took part in various discussions on the art of torture.

First years as voievode of Wallachia

In 1447 Dracula's father was assassinated in the marshes near Bălteni by rebellious boyars becouse of his semi-pro-Turkish policy. In the same time, Dracula's older brother Mircea was also tortured (blinded with hot iron stakes and buried alive) and killed by his political enemies at Târgovişte. At this point, the Sultan released Dracula, invaded Wallachia and and put him on the throne as his puppet ruler. His rule was brief becouse soon after that, Hunyadi himself invaded Wallachia with the Hungarian military and ousted the Turks.

Vlad the Impaler fled to Moldavia and was put under the protection of his uncle, Bogdan II. It is said that during his escape, he had the shoes on his horse put on backwards to confuse anyone who tried to follow him. He stood there until October of 1451, when Bogdan was assassinated. After that, he decided to go to Hungary and try an alliance with Hunyadi. Not long after that, Vlad the Impaler became the Hungarian candidate for the throne of Wallachia.

In 1456, Hungary invaded Serbia to drive out the Turks, and Dracula simultaneously invaded Wallachia with his own contingent. Both campaigns were successful,but Hunyadi died suddenly of fever. Vlad the Impaler becomes prince of his native land and begins his main reign during which he committed many cruelties, and hence established his controversed reputation and which will end in 1462.


The first thing he had done as the prince of Wallachia was trying to seek revenge for his father and his brother deaths. On Easter Sunday of what we believe to be 1459, he arrested all the boyar families who had participated to the princely feast. He impaled the older ones on stakes while forcing the others to march from the capital to the town of Poenari. This fifty-mile trek was quite grueling, and those who survived were not permitted to rest until they reached destination. Vlad the Impaler then ordered them to build him a fortress on the ruins of an older outpost overlooking the Arges river. Many died in the process, and Dracula therefore succeeded in creating a new nobility and obtaining a fortress for future emergencies. What is left today of the building is identified as Castle Dracula.

See also: Vlad the Impaler Pictures

Vlad between impalement and donations

Vlad’s brutal punishment techniques were well known; he often ordered people to be skinned, boiled, decapitated, hanged, burned, blinded, strangled, roasted, hacked, nailed, buried alive, stabbed, etc. He also liked to cut off noses, ears, sexual organs and limbs. But his favorite method was impalement on stakes, hence the surname "Tepes" which means "The Impaler" in the Romanian language. Even the Turks referred to him as "Kaziglu Bey," meaning "The Impaler Prince." It is this technique he used in 1457, 1459 and 1460 against Transylvanian merchants who had ignored his trade laws.

On the other hand, he made donations to various churches and monasteries, one such place being the monastary at Lake Snagov where he is supposed to have been buried, he tried to reduce the economic role of the nobility and increase the rights of peasantry, reinforced some castles, like the one at Poienari, where he also had a personal house built nearby.

The Campaigns of Vlad the Impaler

In the beginning of 1462, Vlad launched a campaign against the Turks along the Danube river. During the winter of 1462, Vlad was very successful and managed to gain many victories, although the military force of Sultan Mehmed II was being by far more powerful than the Wallachian army. Becouse of that, the Sultan decided to launch a full-scale invasion of Wallachia in order to transform this land into a Turkish province. He entered Wallachia with an army three times larger than Dracula's. Not having any allies, Vlad the Impaler was forced to retreat towards Tirgoviste. In order to maintain his chances of winning the battle, he had to take some very hard and cruel decisions. He burned his own villages and poisoned the wells along the way, so that the Turkish army would find nothing to eat or drink. Moreover, when the Sultan, exhausted, finally reached the capital city, he was confronted by a most gruesome sight: thousands of stakes held the remaining carcasses of some 20,000 Turkish captives, a horror scene which was ultimately nicknamed the "Forest of the Impaled." This terror tactic had a strong effect on the Turks and the Sultan, tired and hungry, admitted defeat. Nevertheless, following his retreat from Wallachian territory, Mehmed left the next phase of the battle to Vlad's younger brother Radu, the Turkish favorite for the Wallachian throne. At the head of a Turkish army and joined by Vlad's detractors, Radu pursued his brother to Poenari castle on the Arges river.

It is said that Vlad’s first wife committed suicide by leaping from the towers of Dracula's castle into the waters of the Arges River rather than surrender to the Turks. Dracula escaped across the mountains into Transylvania and appealed to Matthias Corvinus for aid, but Dracula was arrested and imprisoned in a royal tower near Buda, where he remained a prisoner for twelve years.

During his imprisonment, Vlad the Impaler was able to gradually win his way back into the graces of Hungary's monarch and he got married with a member of the royal family (some of the sources claim Dracula's second wife was actually the sister of Matthias Corvinus). During Dracula’s incarceration, Wallachia was ruled by his brother, Radu the Handsome, who was the puppet of the Ottoman sultan.

The return and the death of Vlad Dracula

In 1476 Dracula and Prince Stephen Bathory of Transylvania invaded Wallachia with a mixed force of Transylvanians, a few dissatisfied Wallachian boyars and a contingent of Moldavians sent by Dracula's cousin, Prince Stephen the Great of Moldavia. Dracula's brother, Radu the Handsome, had died a couple of years earlier and been replaced on the Wallachian throne by another Turkish candidate, Basarab the Old, a member of the Danesti clan. For a short period of time, Vlad the Impaler managed to hold the throne, but soon a large Turkish army entered Wallachia determined to return Basarab to the throne.


Dracula was killed in battle against the Turks near the small town of Bucharest in December of 1476. Some reports indicated that he was assassinated by disloyal Wallachian boyars just as he was about to sweep the Turks from the field. Other accounts have Dracula falling in defeat, surrounded by the bodies of his loyal Moldavian bodyguard (the troops loaned by Prince Stephen of Moldavia remained with Dracula after Stephen Bathory returned to Transylvania). Still other reports claim that Dracula, at the moment of victory, was accidentally struck down by one of his own men. Dracula's body was decapitated by the Turks and his head sent to Constantinople where the sultan had it displayed on a stake as proof that the Impaler was dead. He was reportedly buried at Snagov, an island monastery located near Bucharest.

Article by: Dracula.cc Research Team
Last update: 5 August 2006

 

 

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