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Vlad the Impaler
1431 - 1476

The infamous Walachian ruler Vlad the Impaler, his acts of cruelty would be the inspiration for the character Dracula.


Eastern European folk hero Vlad Tepes was born in the Transylvanian city of Sighisoara, where his father--another Vlad--worked as an official in the Hungarian mint. In 1436 Vlad Senior became voivode, or ruling prince, of Walachia, a southern province in what is now Romania. Because of his bravery in opposing the Turks, he had been awarded the Order of the Dragon, which gave him the nickname Dracul, the Romanian word for dragon. He distinguished himself in battle against the Ottoman Empire in 1444 at Varna, despite the fact that young Vlad had been taken hostage by the Turks some years before. In 1447 Vlad Senior was murdered by a rival claimant to the throne. Young Vlad escaped from the Turks the following year, but it was not until May of 1456 that he was able to avenge his father's murder and assume the Walachian throne.

Consumed with a hatred of Turks, he immediately put an end to payments of tribute to them. In the past, the Walachians had not only paid tribute but had also supplied young boys to the Turks; these youths were given rigid indoc-trination and military training and then used in battle to slaughter their Christian kin. Many contemporary sources relate how the Turkish ambassadors went to Vlad, demanding immediate payment; Vlad, hearing that they were not prepared to remove their turbans as a mark of respect while in his presence, had the turbans nailed to their heads. This intensified Turkish hostilities, but Vlad, a master of strategy on his own ground, easily evaded the attacking forces and withdrew into the steep mountain passes, where the Walachian genius for guerrilla tactics and night fighting soon forced the enemy to take to their heels. The culmination of these hostilities was reached in 1462, when, in the course of a long campaign along the Danube, Vlad's armies slew 20,000 Turks.

His method of execution, borrowed from the Turks, was to impale the hapless victim on a wooden stake fixed in the ground; this gave him the nickname of Vlad the Impaler, or, in Romanian, Vlad Tepes, by which he is generally known. His own subjects had cause to fear his wrath. At the time he took the throne, Walachia was virtually lawless. All manner of pilfering, highway robbery, and extortion was rife. Vlad punished offenders mercilessly, and the contorted bodies on stakes served as a dramatic warning to would-be criminals. As generous in his rewards as he was severe in meting out punishment, he championed the cause of the Walachian peasant, who had traditionally been kept at a subsistence level by generations of boyars, the landed nobility. When he fell out with some boyars in the north of his territory, he forced them to labor at rebuilding one of his hilltop castles until the clothing fell from their backs. Within a surprisingly short time, Walachia gained a new reputation as a law abiding and industrious region.

Vlad's most notorious exploits involved the Saxons who lived in neighboring Transylvania in German-speaking, walled cities. They traditionally controlled all trade in the region and thus held an economic whip. Vlad repeatedly requested that a "common market" be established, in which Walachians could buy and sell freely. After receiving some rather high-handed replies, Vlad lost patience and impaled large numbers of Saxons at Sibiu and Brasov, earning himself the reputation of "monstrous tyrant" among German speakers all over Europe.

In 1462 Vlad was removed from power-temporarily, and his brother, a weak, pro-Turkish puppet, was placed on the throne. Vlad went to Budapest with Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus, and while in Hungary, he married the king's sister. For the sake of expediency, it was reported that Vlad had been overharsh with the Saxons and, moreover, was guilty of treason; it is obvious that in reporting this. Corvinus hoped to appease the Turks following Vlad's decimation of their forces on the Danube. It was also to the Hungarian king's political interests to remain on friendly terms with the Saxons. At any rate, Vlad returned to the throne in 1476, on Jan. 31. but was killed almost exactly a year later in an ambush. His body was reputedly buried at Snagov, near Bucharest, but in the 1930s his grave was found to be empty. His mortal remains were either destroyed by his enemies or buried elsewhere.

During his lifetime he signed himself "Drakula" or "Drakulya," as a mark of respect to the memory of his father, "the Dragon"; and contemporary Latin sources render this as the familiar "Dracula." Today in Romania, his name has been given to many villages, and he is remembered as a savior of his people, a staunch upholder of law and order, and a fearless fighter for Christendom. Not only is there no connection between the historical Dracula and vampirism, but the most prominent authorities are agreed that no tradition of a blood-sucking "undead" exists in Romania. The link between Vlad Drakulya and vampirism is purely a literary one.

Because they believed that Vlad had acted unjustly, the Saxons wrote broadsides depicting him as a bloodthirsty monster guilty of almost every sadistic crime imaginable. Circulated widely in western Europe, these medieval horror-comics gave a one-sided and exaggerated view of Vlad Tepes.

Centuries later, Bram Stoker, an Irish novelist, got the idea for a vampire novel with an eastern European setting. Fired with enthusiasm, he searched avidly for a genuine historical character around whom he could build his vampire fantasy. He had some help from a Hungarian scholar, Arminius Vambery, and the novel Dracula was published in 1897. The book gave birth to a legend which is vivid, exciting, and terrifying, but which has no basis in fact apart from the name of the fictional vampire.

The broadsides have also inspired some amateur historians, who, in a sensational and frantic endeavour to "prove" that the real Dracula was just as horrifying and eerie as the fictional one, have accepted the hysterical medieval documents as reliable evidence. These historians have written some very misleading books and articles and have even translated Dracula as "son of the devil." The Romanian dracula does mean "the devil" as well as "the dragon," but that translation was first employed long after the death of Vlad Dracul and his notorious son, Vlad Tepes.


Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia called "Vlad the Impaler" (that is, Vlad Tepe?, also known as Vlad Dracula or simply Dracula, in Romanian Draculea; 1431 – December 1476), was a Wallachian (southern Romania) voivode. His three reigns were in 1448, 1456–1462, and 1476. Vlad the Impaler is known for the exceedingly cruel punishments he imposed during his reign.

In the English-speaking world, Vlad III is perhaps most commonly known for inspiring the name of the vampire in Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula.


His Romanian surname Draculea, is derived from his father's title, Vlad the Dragon (see Vlad II Dracul); the latter was a member of the Order of the Dragon created by Emperor Sigismund. The word "drac" means "the Devil" or "demon" in modern Romanian but in Vlad's day also meant "dragon" and derives from the Latin word Draco, also meaning "dragon". The suffix "ulea" means "son of".

The old Romanian word for serpent (Cf. drac) is nowadays the most common and casual reference to the devil—the people of Wallachia gave Vlad II the surname Dracu (Dracul being the more grammatically correct form). His son Vlad III would later use in several documents the surname Draculea. Through various translations (Draculea, Drakulya) Vlad III eventually came to be known as Dracula (note that this ultimate version is a neologism).

His post-mortem moniker of Tepes (Impaler) originated in his preferred method for executing his opponents, impalement—as popularized by medieval Transylvanian pamphlets. In Turkish, he was known as "Kazikli Voyvoda" which means "Impaler Prince". Vlad was referred to as "Dracula" in a number of documents of his times, mainly the Transylvanian Saxon pamphlets and The Annals of Jan Dlugosz.

The crown of Wallachia was not passed automatically from father to son; instead, the leader was elected by the boyars, with the requirement that the Prince-elect be of nominally Basarab princely lineage (os de domn—"of voivode bones", "of voivode marrow"), including out of wedlock births. This elective monarchy often resulted in instability, family disputes and assassinations. Eventually, the princely house split between two factions: the descendants of Mircea the Elder, Vlad's grandfather; and those of another prince, Dan II (Danesti faction). In addition to that, as in all feudal states, there was another struggle between the central administration (the prince) and the high nobility for control over the country. To top it off, the two powerful neighbors of Wallachia, the Kingdom of Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, were at the peak of their rivalry for control of southeastern Europe, turning Wallachia into a battle ground.

As prince, Vlad maintained an independent policy in relation to the Ottoman Empire and was a defender of Wallachia against Ottoman expansionism.

Vlad's family had two factions, the Draculesti and the Danesti. His father, Vlad II Dracul, born around 1395, was an illegitimate son of Mircea the Elder, an important early Wallachian ruler. As a young man, he had joined the court of Sigismund of Luxemburg, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Hungary, whose support for claiming the throne of Wallachia he eventually acquired. A sign of this support was the fact that in 1431 Vlad II was inducted into the Order of the Dragon (Societas Draconis in Latin), along with the rulers of Poland and Serbia. The purpose of the Order was to protect Eastern Europe and the Holy Roman Empire from Islamic expansion as embodied in the campaigns of the Ottoman Empire. Wishing to assert his status, Vlad II displayed the symbol of the Order, a dragon, in all public appearances, (on flags, clothing, etc.)

Vlad II Dracul became prince of Wallachia in 1436. During his reign he tried to maneuver between his powerful neighbors, opposing various initiatives of war against the Ottoman, most of them poorly organized and letting most of the burden on Vlad II's shoulders, and that finally attracted the irritation of the Hungarian side, who accused him of disloyalty and removed him in 1442. With the help of the Turks (where he also had connections) he regained the throne in 1443 and reigned until December 1447, when he was assassinated on the orders of John Hunyadi, regent of Hungary. The identity of Vlad Dracula’s mother is somewhat uncertain, the most likely variant being that she was a Moldavian princess, niece or daughter of Moldavian prince Alexandru cel Bun. In some sources she is named Chiajna—Princess. Vlad seems to have had a very close relationship with her: he spent several years in Moldavia after his father’s death; he left with his presumed cousin Stephen the Great to Transylvania, and helped the latter gain the crown as Prince of Moldavia in 1457 and was later helped by Stephen to return to the throne of Wallachia in 1476.

Vlad III seems to have had three brothers. The oldest was Mircea II, born before 1430, and who briefly held his father's throne in 1442, and who was sent by Vlad Dracul in 1444 to fight in his place during the crusade against the Turks that ended with his defeat at the Battle of Varna. Mircea II fought some successful yet small campaigns against the Ottomans prior to his capture along with his father in 1447. Mircea II, captured by the boyars, had his eyes burned out, after which he was buried alive. Vlad III's half-brother, Vlad IV, also known as Vlad Calugarul (Vlad the Monk), was born around 1425 to 1430. Vlad the Monk spent many years in Transylvania waiting for a chance to get the throne of Wallachia, trying a religious career in the meantime, until he became prince of Wallachia (1482). Radu, known as Radu cel Frumos (Radu the Handsome), the youngest brother, was also Vlad’s rival as he continuously tried to replace Vlad with the support of the Turks, to whom he had very strong connections. Radu seems to have been also favoured by the Turkish Sultan Mehmed II, and willingly converted to Islam.

From his first marriage to a Wallachian noble woman, Vlad III apparently had a son, later prince of Wallachia as Mihnea cel Rau (Mihnea the Evil), and another two with his second wife, a relative of Matthias Corvinus of Hungary.

Early years

Vlad was very likely born in the citadel of Sighisoara, Transylvania in 1431. He was born as the second son to his father Vlad Dracul and his mother Princess Cneajna of Moldavia. He had an older brother named Mircea and a younger brother named Radu the Handsome. Although his native country was Wallachia to the south, the family lived in exile in Transylvania as his father had been ousted by pro-Ottoman boyars. In the same year as his birth, his father was living in Nuremberg, where he was vested into the Order of the Dragon. At the age of five, young "Vlad" was also initiated into the Order of the Dragon.

Hostage of the Ottoman Empire

Vlad's father was under considerable political pressure from the Ottoman sultan. Threatened with invasion, he 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. He developed a well-known hatred for Radu and for Mehmed, who would later become the sultan. According to McNally and Florescu, he also distrusted his own father for trading him to the Turks and betraying the Order of the Dragon's oath to fight them.

Brief reign and exile

Vlad's father was assassinated in the marshes near Balteni in December 1447 by rebellious boyars allegedly under the orders of Hungarian regent John Hunyadi. Vlad's older brother Mircea was also dead at this point, blinded with hot iron stakes and buried alive by his political enemies at Târgoviste. To protect their political power in the region, the Ottomans invaded Wallachia and the Sultan put Vlad III on the throne as a puppet ruler. His rule at this time would be brief; Hunyadi himself invaded Wallachia and ousted him the same year. Vlad fled to Moldavia until October 1451 and was put under the protection of his uncle, Bogdan II.

Turning tides

Bogdan was assassinated by Petru Aron, and Vlad, taking a gamble, fled to Hungary. Impressed by Vlad's vast knowledge of the mindset and inner workings of the Ottoman Empire as well as his hatred of the new sultan Mehmed II, Hunyadi pardoned him and took him in as an advisor. Eventually Hunyadi put him forward as the Kingdom of Hungary's candidate for the throne of Wallachia.

In 1456, Hungary invaded Serbia to drive out the Ottomans, and Vlad III simultaneously invaded Wallachia with his own contingent. Both campaigns were successful, although Hunyadi died suddenly of the plague. Nevertheless, Vlad was now prince of his native land.

Main reign (1456–62)

Vlad's actions after 1456 are well-documented.

Since the death of Vlad's grandfather (Mircea the Elder) in 1418, Wallachia had fallen into a somewhat chaotic situation. A constant state of war had led to rampant crime, falling agricultural production, and the virtual disappearance of trade. Vlad used severe methods to restore some order, as he needed an economically stable country if he was to have any chance against his external enemies.

Vlad III was constantly on guard against the adherents of the Danesti clan. Some of his raids into Transylvania may have been efforts to capture would-be princes of the Danesti. Several members of the Danesti clan died at Vlad's hands. Vladislav II of Wallachia was murdered soon after Vlad came to power in 1456. Another Danesti prince, suspected to have taken part in burying his brother Mircea alive, was captured during one of Vlad's forays into Transylvania. Rumors (spread by his enemies) say thousands of citizens of the town that had sheltered his rival were impaled by Vlad. The captured Danesti prince was forced to read his own funeral oration while kneeling before an open grave before his execution.

Personal crusade

The Night Attack

Following family traditions and due to his old hatred towards the Ottomans, Vlad decided to side with the Hungarians. To the end of the 1450s there was once again talk about a war against the Turks, in which the king of Hungary Matthias Corvinus would play the main role. Knowing this, Vlad stopped paying tribute to the Ottomans in 1459 and around 1460 made a new alliance with Corvinus. This angered the Turks, who attempted to remove him. They failed, however; later in the winter of 1461 to 1462 Vlad crossed south of the Danube and devastated the area between Serbia and the Black Sea.

In response to this, Sultan Mehmed II, the recent conqueror of Constantinople, raised an army of around 60,000 troops and 30,000 irregulars and in the spring of 1462 headed towards Wallachia. Other estimates for the army include 150,000 by Michael Doukas, 250,000 by Laonicus Chalcond. Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror was greeted by the sight of a veritable forest of stakes on which Vlad the Impaler had impaled 20,000 Turkish prisoners. With his army of 20,000–40,000 men Vlad was unable to stop the Turks from entering Wallachia and occupying the capital Târgoviste (June 4, 1462), so he resorted to guerrilla war, constantly organizing small attacks and ambushes on the Turks. The most important of these attacks took place on the nights of June 16–17, when Vlad and some of his men allegedly entered the main Turkish camp (wearing Ottoman disguises) and attempted to assassinate Mehmed. Unable to subdue Vlad, the Turks left the country, leaving Radu the Handsome to continue fighting. Despite Vlad achieving military victories, he had alienated himself from the nobility, which sided with Radu the Handsome. By August 1462 Radu had struck a deal with the Hungarian Crown. Consequently, Vlad was imprisoned by Matthias Corvinus.

His first wife, whose name is not recorded, died during the siege of his castle in 1462. The Turkish army surrounded Poienari Castle, led by his half-brother Radu the Handsome. An archer shot an arrow through a window into Vlad's main quarters, with a message warning him that Radu's army was approaching. McNally and Florescu explain that the archer was one of Vlad's former servants who sent the warning out of loyalty, despite having converted to Islam to escape enslavement by the Turks. Upon reading the message, Vlad's wife threw herself from the tower into a tributary of the Arges River flowing below the castle. According to legend, she remarked that she "would rather have her body rot and be eaten by the fish of the Arges than be led into captivity by the Turks". Today, the tributary is called Râul Doamnei (the Lady's River)(also called the Princess's River).

In captivity

The exact length of Vlad's period of captivity is open to some debate. The Russian pamphlets indicate that he was a prisoner from 1462 until 1474. Apparently his imprisonment was none too onerous. He was able to gradually win his way back into the graces of Hungary's monarch; so much so that he was able to meet and marry a member of the royal family, Countess Ilona Szilágy (the cousin of Matthias), and have two sons who were about ten years old when he reconquered Wallachia in 1476. McNally and Florescu place Vlad III the Impaler's actual period of confinement at about four years from 1462 to 1466. It is unlikely that a prisoner would have been allowed to marry into the royal family. Diplomatic correspondence from Buda during the period in question also seems to support the claim that Vlad's actual period of confinement was relatively short.

The openly pro-Turkish policy of Vlad's brother, Radu (who was prince of Wallachia during most of Vlad's captivity), was a probable factor in Vlad's rehabilitation. During his captivity, Vlad also converted to Catholicism, in contrast to his brother who converted to Islam. Apparently in the years before his final release in 1474 (when he began preparations for the reconquest of Wallachia), Vlad resided with his new wife in a house in the Hungarian capital (the setting of the thief anecdote). Vlad had a son, Mihnea cel Rau, from an earlier marriage.

There are several variants of Vlad III the Impaler's death. It is generally believed that he was killed in battle against the Ottoman Empire near Bucharest in December 1476.


The legacy and the legend of Vlad Tepes is mostly the result of different stories about him. The Romanian, German, and the Russian stories all have their origins in the 15th century. Besides the written stories the Romanian oral tradition provides another important source for the life of Vlad the Impaler: legends and tales concerning the Impaler have remained a part of folklore among the Romanian peasantry. These tales have been passed down from generation to generation for five hundred years. Through constant retelling they have become somewhat garbled and confused and they have gradually been forgotten in later years. However, they still provide valuable information about Dracula and his relationship with his people.

Many of the tales contained in the pamphlets are also found in the oral tradition, though with a somewhat different emphasis. Among the Romanian peasantry, Vlad Tepes was remembered as a just prince who defended his people from foreign aggression, whether those foreigners were Turkish invaders or German merchants. He is also remembered as a champion of the common man against the oppression of the boyars. National poet of Romania Mihai Eminescu wrote the memorable verses "Unde esti tu, Tepes Doamne, ca punând mâna pe ei, Sa-i împarti în doua cete: în smintiti si în misei" (where are you, lord Tepes, to get them and split them into two gangs, fools and rascals"). Vlad's fierce insistence on honesty is a central part of the oral tradition. Many of the anecdotes contained in the pamphlets and in the oral tradition demonstrate the prince's efforts to eliminate crime and dishonesty from his domain. Presidential candidate Traian Basescu referred to Vlad Tepes and his method of punishing illegalities in his anticorruption discourse during the election campaign of 2004.

However, despite the more positive interpretation, the Romanian oral tradition also remembers Vlad as an exceptionally cruel and often capricious ruler. There are several events that are common to all the pamphlets, regardless of their nation of origin. Many of these events are also found in the Romanian oral tradition. Specific details may vary among the different versions of these anecdotes but the general course of events usually agrees to a remarkable extent. For example, in some versions the foreign ambassadors received by Vlad Tepes at Târgoviste are Florentine, in others they are Ottoman (McNally and Florescu believe he may have done this to both nationalities at different times). The nature of their offense against the Prince also varies from version to version. However, all versions agree that Vlad, in response to some real or imagined insult had their hats nailed to their heads (perhaps because they refused to remove them in Vlad's presence). Some of the sources view Vlad's actions as justified; others view his acts as crimes of wanton and senseless cruelty.


Vlad immediately had all the assembled nobles arrested. The older boyars and their families were impaled on the spot. The younger and healthier nobles and their families were marched north from Târgoviste to the ruins of Poienari Castle in the mountains above the Arges River. Vlad the Impaler was determined to rebuild this ancient fortress as his own stronghold and refuge. The enslaved boyars and their families were forced to labour for months rebuilding the old castle with materials from another nearby ruin. According to the stories, they laboured until the clothes fell off their bodies and then were forced to continue working naked. Very few of the old gentry survived the ordeal of building Vlad's castle.

Throughout his reign, Vlad systematically eradicated the old boyar class of Wallachia. The old boyars had repeatedly undermined the power of the prince during previous reigns and had been responsible for the violent overthrow of several princes. Apparently Vlad Tepes was determined that his own power be on a modern and thoroughly secure footing. In place of the executed boyars, Vlad promoted new men from among the free peasantry and middle class; men who would be loyal only to their prince.

German stories about Vlad Tepe

The German stories circulated first in manuscript form in the late 15th century and the first manuscript was probably written in 1462 before Vlad’s arrest. The text was later printed in Germany and had major impact on the general public becoming a best-seller of its time with numerous later editions adding and alternating the original text.

In addition to the manuscripts and pamphlets the German version of the stories can be found in the poem of Michel Beheim. The poem called Von ainem wutrich der hies Trakle waida von der Walachei (“Story of a Bloodthirsty Madman Called Dracula of Wallachia”) was written and performed at the court of Frederick III, Holy Roman Emperor during the winter of 1463.

To this day four manuscripts and 13 pamphlets are found as well as the poem by Michel Beheim. The surviving manuscripts date from the last quarter of the 15th century to the year 1500 and the found pamphlets date from 1488 to 1559–1568.

Eight of the pamphlets are actually incunabula because they were printed before 1501. The German stories about Vlad Tepes consist of altogether 46 short episodes, although none of the manuscripts, pamphlets or the poem of Beheim have all of the episodes in them.

All of the Stories start with the episode telling how the old governor (meaning John Hunyadi) had Vlad's father killed and how Vlad and his brother renounced their old religion and swore to protect and uphold the Christian faith. After this the order of the episodes differs in the different manuscripts and editions of the pamphlets. The title of the German stories varies in different manuscripts, incunabula and pamphlets with mainly three different titles with variations.

The German stories about Vlad Tepes were written most likely for political reasons, especially to blacken the image of the Wallachian ruler. The first version of the German text was probably written in Brasov by a Saxon scholar. According to some researchers the writer of the text did little else than mirror the state of mind of the Saxons in Brasov and Sibiu who had borne the brunt of Vlad’s wrath in 1456–1457 and again in 1458–1459 and 1460.

Against this political and cultural backdrop it is quite easy to understand the hostility towards Vlad Tepes. Although there is historic background for the events described in the German stories, some of them are either exaggerated or even fictitious. The Hungarian king Mathias Corvinus is also said to have had a part in the blackening of the image of Vlad Tepes.

Corvinus had received large subsidies from Rome and Venice for the war against the Ottomans, but because of a conflict with Emperor Frederick III of the Holy Roman Empire he couldn’t afford the military support for the fight.

By making Vlad a scapegoat Corvinus could justify his reasons for not taking part in the war against the Ottomans. He arrested Vlad and used a forged letter where Vlad announced his loyalty to the Sultan, as well as the horror stories about Vlad, to justify his actions to the Pope. In 1462 and 1463 the court in Buda fostered the dissemination of the negative legend of Vlad in central and Eastern Europe, and capitalized on the horrors attributed to him.

The purpose of the stories soon changed from propaganda to literature and became very popular, best-sellers of their time, in the German world in the 15th and 16th centuries. Part of the reason for this success was the newly invented printing press, which allowed the texts to filter to a wide audience.

Vlad's atrocities against the people of Wallachia have been interpreted as attempts to enforce his own moral code upon his country. According to the pamphlets, he appears to have been particularly concerned with female chastity. Maidens who lost their virginity, adulterous wives, and unchaste widows were all targets of Vlad's cruelty. Such women often had their sexual organs cut out or their breasts cut off. They were also often impaled through the vagina on red-hot stakes that were forced through the body until they emerged from the mouth. One report tells of the execution of an unfaithful wife. The woman's breasts were cut off, then she was skinned and impaled in a square in Târgoviste with her skin lying on a nearby table. Vlad also insisted that his people be honest and hard-working. Merchants who cheated their customers were likely to find themselves mounted on a stake beside common thieves. Vlad also viewed the poor, sick and beggars as thieves. One horrific tale tells of him inviting all the sick and poor in the area to a large dinner only to have them locked inside and the building burned.

Russian stories about Vlad Tepes

The Russian or the Slavic version of the stories about Vlad Tepes called Skazanie o Drakule voevode (Tale about Voivode Dracula) is thought to have been written sometime between 1481 and 1486. Copies of the story were made from the 15th century to the 18th century. There are some twenty-two extant manuscripts about Vlad in Russian archives. The oldest one is from the year 1490 and it ends as following: First written in the year 6994 (meaning 1486), on 13 February; then transcribed by me, the sinner Elfrosin, in the year 6998 (meaning 1490), on 28 January. The Tale about Voivode Dracula is neither chronological nor consistent, but mostly a collection of anecdotes of literary and historical value concerning Vlad Tepes.

There are 19 episodes or anecdotes in the Tale about Voivode Dracula and they are longer and more constructed than the German stories. The Tale itself can be divided into two sections. The first 13 episodes are more or less non chronological events and are most likely closer to the original folkloric oral tradition about Vlad. The last six episodes are thought to have been written by a scholar who had the idea of collecting the anecdotes because they are chronological and seem to be more structured. The Tale about Voivode Dracula starts with a short introduction and then with the story about the nailing of hats to ambassadors heads and it ends with the death of Vlad Tepes and information about Vlad’s family.[
Out of the 19 episodes there are ten that are almost the same as in the German stories. Although there are similarities between the Russian and the German stories about Tepes there is a clear distinction with the attitude towards Vlad Tepes in these stories. Unlike in the German stories the Russian stories tend to give a more positive image of Vlad. He is seen as a great ruler, a brave soldier and a just sovereign. There are also tales about atrocities but even most of them seem to be justified as the actions of a strong one-man ruler. Out of the 19 episodes only four seem to be exaggerated with violence. Some elements of the episodes of the Tale about Voivode Dracula were later added to Russian stories about Ivan IV of Russia.

The nationality and identity of the original writer of the Tale about Voivode Dracula is disputed. The two most plausible explanations are that the writer was either a Romanian priest or a monk somewhere in Transylvania or a Romanian or Moldavian from the court of Stephen the Great in Moldova. One theory is also that the writer would have been a Russian diplomat named Fedor Kuritsyn but it is very unlikely that we can find a name to the real writer of the Tale.

Vampire legend and Romanian attitudes

It is most likely that Bram Stoker found the name for his vampire from William Wilkinson's book, An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia: with various Political Observations Relating to Them. It is known that Stoker made notes about this book. It is also suggested by some that because Stoker was a friend of a Hungarian professor (Arminius Vambery/Hermann Bamberger/Ármin Vámbéry) from Budapest, Vlad's name might have been mentioned by this friend. Regardless of how the name came to Stoker's attention, the cruel history of the Impaler would have readily lent itself to Stoker's purposes. The events of Vlad's life were played out in a region of the world that was still basically medieval even in Stoker's time. The Balkans had only recently shaken off the Turkish yoke when Stoker started working on his novel and ancient superstitions were still prevalent. Transylvania had long been a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but it had also been an Ottoman vassal (although it never fell under Turkish domination, and was in fact semi-independent and at times under Habsburg influence).

Recent research suggests that Stoker knew little about the Prince of Wallachia. Some have claimed that the novel owes more to the legends about Elizabeth Báthory, a 16th century Hungarian countess who murdered hundreds of her servants. (See Dracula—Historical connections for more detail).

The legend of the vampire was and still is deeply rooted in that region. There have always been vampire-like creatures in various stories from across the world. However, the vampire, as he became known in Europe, largely originated in Southern Slavic folklore — although the tale is absent in Romanian culture. A veritable epidemic of vampirism swept through Eastern Europe beginning in the late 17th century and continuing through the 1700s. The number of reported cases rose dramatically in Hungary and the Balkans. From the Balkans, the "plague" spread westward into Germany, Italy, France, England, and Spain. Travelers returning from the Balkans brought with them tales of the undead, igniting an interest in the vampire that has continued to this day. Philosophers in the West began to study the phenomenon. It was during this period that Dom Augustine Calmet wrote his famous treatise on vampirism in Hungary. It was also during this period that authors and playwrights first began to explore the vampire legend. Stoker's novel was merely the culminating work of a long series of works that were inspired by the reports coming from the Balkans and Hungary.

Given the history of the vampire legend in Europe, it is perhaps natural that Stoker should place his great vampire in the heart of the region that gave birth to the story. Once Stoker had determined on a locality, Vlad Dracula would stand out as one of the most notorious rulers of the selected region. He was obscure enough that few would recognize the name and those who did would know him for his acts of brutal cruelty; Dracula was a natural candidate for vampirism.

Tales of vampires are still widespread in Eastern Europe. Similarly, the name of Dracula is still remembered in the Romanian oral tradition but that is the end of any connection between Dracula and the folkloric vampire. Outside of Stoker's novel the name of Dracula was never linked with the vampires encountered in the folklore. Despite his alleged inhuman cruelty, in Romania Dracula is remembered as a national hero who resisted the Turkish conquerors and asserted Romanian national sovereignty against the powerful Hungarian kingdom. He is also remembered in a similar manner in other Balkan countries, as he fought against the Turks.

It is somewhat ironic that Vlad's name has often been thrown into the political and ethnic feuds between Hungarians and Romanians, because he was ultimately far from an enemy of Hungary. While he certainly had violent conflicts with some Hungarian nobles, he had just as many Hungarian friends and allies, and his successes in battle with the Turks largely benefited Hungary in the long term. Hungary later found itself under siege but was never entirely penetrated by Ottoman forces. Though neither the first nor the last powerful ruler to take on the Ottoman Empire, Vlad's battle tactics were quite influential in damaging the impression of Turkish invincibility among Europeans and reversing the European aura of appeasement.

Romanian folklore and poetry, on the other hand, paints Vlad Tepes as a hero. His favorite weapon being the stake, coupled with his reputation in his native country as a man who stood up to both foreign and domestic enemies, gives him the virtual opposite symbolism of Stoker's vampire. In Romania, he is considered one of the greatest leaders in the country's history, and was voted one of "100 Greatest Romanians" in the Mari Români television series aired in 2006.

A description of Vlad Dracula survives courtesy of Nicholas of Modrussa, who wrote:

"He was not very tall, but very stocky and strong, with a cruel and terrible appearance, a long straight nose, distended nostrils, a thin and reddish face in which the large wide-open green eyes were enframed by bushy black eyebrows, which made them appear threatening. His face and chin were shaven but for a moustache. The swollen temples increased the bulk of his head. A bull's neck supported the head, from which black curly locks were falling to his wide-shouldered person."

His famous contemporary portrait, rediscovered by Romanian historians in the late 19th century, had been featured in the gallery of horrors at Innsbruck's Ambras Castle.

His image in modern Romanian culture has been established in reaction to foreign perceptions: while Stoker's book did a lot to generate outrage with nationalists, it is the last part of a rather popular previous poem by Mihai Eminescu, Scrisoarea a III-a, that helped turn Vlad's image into modern legend, by having him stand as a figure to contrast with presumed social decay under the Phanariotes and the political scene of the 19th century (even suggesting that Vlad's violent methods be applied as a cure). This judgment was in tune with the ideology of the inward-looking regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, although the identification did little justice to Eminescu's personal beliefs.

All accounts of his life describe him as ruthless, but only the ones originating from his Saxon detractors paint him as sadistic or insane. These pamphlets continued to be published long after his death, though usually for lurid entertainment rather than propaganda purposes. It has largely been forgotten until recently that his tenacious efforts against the Ottoman Empire won him many staunch supporters in his lifetime, not just in modern day Romania but in the Kingdom of Hungary, Poland, the Republic of Venice, and even the Holy See, not to take into account Balkan countries. A Hungarian court chronicler reported that King Matthias "had acted in opposition to general opinion" in Hungary when he had Dracula imprisoned, and this played a considerable part in Matthias reversing his unpopular decision. During his time as a "distinguished prisoner" before being fully pardoned and allowed to reconquer Wallachia, Vlad was hailed as a Christian hero by visitors from all over Europe.










This web page was last updated on: 17 December, 2008