Vlad the Impaler

Summary

Vlad III. († at the turn of 14761477) was voivode of the Principality of Wallachia in 1448, 1456-1462 and 1476. His epithet Drăculea (German “Der Sohn des Drachen” from Latin draco – “dragon”) is derived, according to the thesis most commonly accepted by historians, from the membership of his father Vlad II. Dracul in the Dragon Order of Emperor Sigismund. The dragon was also used in the Voivodeship seal. This epithet was sometimes understood as “son of the devil”, since the Romanian word drac also means devil.

Vlad III gained historical fame on the one hand for his resistance to the Ottoman Empire and its expansion in the Balkans, and on the other hand because of the cruelty attributed to him. In pamphlet-like prose narratives of the 15th century, he is portrayed in an agitational, political-polemical manner, for example, as a human slaughterer who had “dy iungen kinder praten.” He is said to have had a penchant for executions by impalement, which earned him another epithet posthumously, around 1550, in Christian territories: Țepeș (German “Pfähler”), although before that he was called Kaziklu Bey or Kaziklı Voyvoda (same meaning) by the Ottomans for the same reason.

Originally politically motivated, the legends about the voivode”s alleged atrocities became widespread during the 15th and 16th centuries, especially in Germany and Russia. Thus, Vlad III may also have inspired the Irish writer Bram Stoker to create his novel character Dracula.

There are claims that Vlad III was born in Transylvanian Sighisoara of the then Kingdom of Hungary around 1431 as the second son of Vlad II. Dracul and Princess Cneajna from the Principality of Moldavia. He had two brothers, Mircea II and (as a half-brother) Radu cel Frumos (German Radu the Beautiful).

The boyars of Wallachia supported the Ottoman Empire and subsequently deposed Vlad II as voivode of the principality, who then lived with his family in his Transylvanian exile. In the year of Vlad III”s birth, his father stayed in Nuremberg, where he was accepted into the Order of the Dragon. At the age of five, Vlad III is also said to have been inducted into the Order.

Hostage of the Ottoman Empire

Both the Kingdom of Hungary and the Ottoman Sultan Murad II exerted considerable pressure on Vlad II. Since the 1430s, the border regions of the Kingdom of Hungary and semi-autonomous Wallachia were threatened by Turkish invasion. Vlad Dracul finally submitted to the Sultan as a vassal, leaving him his two younger sons Vlad and Radu as a pawn, who were held in the fortress of Egrigöz, among other places.

The years as a Turkish hostage shaped Vlad III”s personality; he is said to have been whipped many times during his imprisonment for his stubborn and stubborn behavior and to have developed a strong dislike for his half-brother Radu and the later Sultan Mehmed II. Also, from then on, his relationship with his father may have been disturbed, as the latter had used him as a pawn and, through his actions, had broken the oath to the Order of the Dragon, which obliged him to resist the Turks.

Short rule, exile and renewed assumption of power

In December 1447, rebel boyars made a fatal assassination attempt on Vlad II in the marshes near Bălteni. The Hungarian regent John Hunyadi (imperial administrator from 1446 to 1453) was allegedly behind the assassination. Vlad III”s older brother Mircea had previously been blinded with red-hot iron bars by his political opponents in Târgoviște and subsequently buried alive. The Turks invaded Wallachia to secure their political power, overthrew Vladislav II of the Dănești clan, and installed Vlad III on the throne as head of a puppet government. His reign was short-lived, as John Hunyadi invaded Wallachia and deposed Vlad III that same year. He fled first to the Carpathians and then to the Principality of Moldavia, where he remained until October 1451 under the protection of his uncle Bogdan II.

Petru Aron made a fatal assassination attempt on Bogdan II in 1451 and succeeded him on the throne of the Principality of Moldavia as Petru III. Vlad III dared the risky escape to Hungary, where John Hunyadi was impressed by Vlad”s detailed knowledge of the Turkish mentality and structures within the Ottoman Empire, as well as his hatred of the new Sultan Mehmed II. Vlad was pardoned, elevated to the position of Hunyadi”s advisor, and in time emerged as Hungary”s preferred claimant to the Wallachian throne. In 1456, Hunyadi moved against the Turks in Serbia, and at the same time Vlad III entered Wallachia with his own troops. Both campaigns were successful, but Hunyadi died of the plague. Vlad now ruled his homeland for the second time.

Main government period (1456-1462)

After 1456, Vlad spent most of his time at the court of Târgoviște, occasionally in other cities such as Bucharest. There he dealt with draft laws, received foreign envoys or presided over judicial proceedings. He made public appearances on holidays and at popular festivals and went on excursions to the extensive princely hunting grounds. He made some structural changes to the palace in Târgoviște, of which the Chindia Tower still bears witness today. He reinforced some castles, such as Poenari Castle, near which he also had a private residence built.

In the early years of his rule, Vlad eliminated rival boyar nobles or limited their economic influence to consolidate his power. Key positions in the council, traditionally held by leading boyars, were mostly filled by insignificant or foreign loyalists of Vlad. Even less important positions were now denied to the long-established boyars and were filled by free peasants who had been knighted. In 1459 Vlad had renegade boyar nobles and clerics arrested; the older ones were staked and their belongings distributed among the people, the rest were forced to march about 80 km to Poienari to rebuild Poenari Castle, located on the Argeș River.

The Wallachian nobility had maintained good political and economic relations with the towns of the autonomous region of Transylvania and the Transylvanian Saxons living there. Furthermore, in a treaty concluded with the Hungarian king Ladislaus Postumus in 1456, Vlad had committed himself to paying tribute, in return for which he was promised the support of the Saxon settlers in the fight against the Turks. Vlad refused this tribute because of allegedly unfulfilled obligations, and as a result the Transylvanian towns supported by Hungary rose up. Vlad revoked their trading privileges and carried out raids on the towns, during which (according to a 1459 account by Basarab Laiotă cel Bătrân) he had 41 merchants from Kronstadt (now Brașov) and Țara Bârsei impaled. In addition, he seized about 300 children, some of whom he had staked and the others burned.

After the reign of Alexandru I Aldea ended in 1436, the line of the Basarab family had divided into the Dănești and the Drăculești, both of which laid claim to the throne. Some of Vlad”s raids on Transylvania served to capture aspirants to the throne from the Dănești family. On several occasions, Dănești died by Vlad”s own hand, including his predecessor Vladislav II shortly after his assumption of power in 1456. Another Dănești was accused of participating in the live burial of Vlad”s brother Mircea and is said to have been forced to kneel before his own grave to deliver his own obituary before his execution. Thousands of Transylvanians are said to have been staked as punishment for giving shelter to opponents of Vlad.

After the death of Vlad”s grandfather Mircea cel Bătrân (German Mircea the Elder) in 1418, chaotic conditions temporarily prevailed in Wallachia. The ongoing state of war had led to rising crime, falling agricultural production, and severe disruption of trade. Vlad relied on harsh measures to restore order, since in his eyes only an economically stable country had a chance of success against its foreign-policy enemies.

Vlad had learned about impalement during his time as a Turkish hostage, which was also known in Europe for executing enemies and criminals. Outside towns, dead bodies often decomposed on their stakes as a deterrent against thieves, liars, and murderers. According to Wallachian lore, crime and corruption largely disappeared soon after Vlad”s reign, and trade and culture flourished again. Many subjects reportedly revered Vlad for his relentless insistence on law, honesty, and order. He was also known as a generous patron of churches and monasteries, as in the case of Snagov Monastery.

Vlad”s “Crusade

After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Sultan Mehmed II contemplated further campaigns. The Greek empire of Trapezunt in Anatolia was still resisting the Ottoman Empire, and in the east, Uzun Hasan, ruler of the Turkmen White Mutton Empire, along with other smaller states, threatened the High Porte. In the west, Albania was in turmoil under Prince Skanderbeg, and Bosnia was at times reluctant to pay the tributes demanded. Wallachia controlled its side of the Danube. For Mehmed, the river was of strategic importance, as the opposite side could embark troops from the Holy Roman Empire via it.

On January 14, 1460, Pope Pius II proclaimed a new crusade against the Ottomans, which was to last three years. However, only Vlad, as the only European leader, could be inspired for this plan. Mehmed took advantage of the occidental indecision to go on the offensive and captured Smederevo, the last independent Serbian city. In 1461 he moved the Greek despotate of Morea and soon after the capital of Mistra as well as Corinth to surrender without a fight. Vlad”s only ally Mihály Szilágyi, a brother-in-law of Hunyadi, fell into Turkish captivity in Bulgaria in 1460; his followers were tortured to death. Vlad again entered into an alliance with the new Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus in 1460.

Mehmed”s envoys demanded payment of the tribute of 10,000 ducats, which had been outstanding since 1459, and a boy”s lese of 500 boys to be trained as janissaries. Instead of complying with the demand, Vlad had the legation killed. Other Turks were picked up and staked on Wallachian territory after crossing the Danube. In a letter dated September 10, 1460, he warned the Transylvanian Saxons in Kronstadt of Mehmed”s invasion plans and solicited their support.

In 1461 Mehmed invited the prince to Constantinople for negotiations on the ongoing conflict. At the end of November 1461, Vlad wrote to Mehmed that in his absence Hungary would be in danger of a military strike against Wallachia, for which reason he could not leave his country, and that he could not raise the tribute for the time being because of the cost of the war against Transylvania. He promised payments in gold and held out the prospect of a visit to Constantinople in due course. The Sultan was to provide him with a pasha as a deputy for the time of his absence.

In the meantime, details about Vlad”s alliance with Hungary had leaked to Mehmed. Mehmed sent Hamza Pasha of Nicopolis on a diplomatic mission to Vlad, but with orders to seize Vlad in the process and bring him to Constantinople. Vlad received early knowledge of these plans. Accompanied by a 1,000-man cavalry unit, Hamza had to pass through a narrow ravine near Giurgiu to get there, where Vlad launched a surprise ambush and was able to destroy the Turkish force. After this attack, Vlad and his cavalrymen in Turkish disguise advanced to the fortress at Giurgiu, where Vlad ordered the guards in Turkish to open the gates. This ruse allowed Vlad”s troops to enter the interior of the fortress, which was destroyed in the ensuing fighting.

In his next move, Vlad crossed the frozen Danube with his army and invaded Bulgaria. Here Vlad divided his army into several smaller units and within two weeks devastated large parts of the area between Serbia and the Black Sea, making it difficult to supply the Ottoman army. Vlad informed the Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus in a detailed letter dated February 11, 1462, that 23,883 Turks and Muslim Bulgarians had been killed by his troops during the campaign, not including those who had been burned in their homes. Bulgarian Christians, on the other hand, were spared and many of them settled in Wallachia. In view of this success, Vlad invited the Hungarian king to join him with his troops to fight the Turks together.

Mehmed learned of Vlad”s campaign during his siege of Corinth and then detached an army of 18,000 men under the command of his grand vizier Mahmud Pasha to the Wallachian port of Brăila with the order to destroy it. Vlad”s army attacked the Turkish troops and decimated them down to 8,000 men. These military successes of Vlad were greeted with equal joy by the Transylvanian Saxons, the Italian states and the Pope. Mehmed, after this further failure of his troops, now broke off the siege before Corinth to confront Vlad himself.

Sultan Mehmed sent out envoys in all directions to assemble an army similar in size and heavily armed to the one he had used in the siege of Constantinople. Estimates vary between 90,000, and 400,000 men, depending on the source. In 1462, Mehmed set out with this army from Constantinople towards Wallachia, with the aim of annexing it for the Ottoman Empire. Vlad”s half-brother Radu proved to be a compliant servant of the Sultan and commanded 4,000 horsemen. In addition, the Turks carried 120 cannons, engineers and workers to build roads and bridges, Islamic clerics such as ulema and muezzins, and astrologers who participated in decision-making. The Byzantine historian Laonikos Chalkokondyles reported that the Danube ships were paid 300,000 gold pieces to transport the army. In addition, the Ottomans used their own fleet of 25 triremes and 150 smaller ships to transport the army, its equipment and provisions.

Vlad demanded the support of the Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus. In return, he offered to convert from Orthodox to Roman Catholicism. In response, however, he received only vague promises and found himself forced into a general mobilization that included not only men of military age, but also women, children over the age of 12, and a slave contingent consisting of Roma. Various sources cite a numerical strength of between 22,000 and 30,900 men for his force. According to a letter of Leonardo III Tocco, prince of the despotate of Epirus from 1448 to 1479, the Turkish army was 400,000 strong and the Wallachian army 200,000. However, this figure seems to be exaggerated. Vlad”s army consisted mostly of peasants and shepherds and only a few horsemen equipped with lances, swords, daggers, and chain mail. Vlad”s personal guard consisted of mercenaries of various origins, including “gypsies”. Before the clashes, Vlad is said to have told his men in a speech that “whoever thinks of death had better not follow him”.

The Turks first tried to disembark at Vidin, but were forced back by arrows hailing at them. On the night of June 4, however, the Turks managed to land a large contingent of Janissaries at Turnu Severin on the Wallachian side of the Danube. The Serbian-born Janissary Constantine from Ostrovitsa describes the events that followed in his Memoirs of a Janissary:

Vlad, who had been unable to prevent the Ottoman army from crossing, now retreated inland, leaving only scorched earth in his wake. In order to hinder the Ottoman army that was pursuing him, Vlad had pitfalls covered with wood and brushwood dug and water bodies poisoned, smaller rivers diverted, thus turning vast areas of land into swamps. The population was evacuated to the mountains, along with their livestock, so that Mehmed advanced for seven days without encountering any people or animals or being able to take in provisions, which caused considerable fatigue and demoralization of his army.

During this time, however, Vlad and his cavalry worried the advancing Turks with permanent attacks, mostly carried out in ambushes. According to sources, the voivode also sent leprosy, tuberculosis and plague sufferers to the Turks” camp so that they would become infected with these diseases. The plague actually spread in the Ottoman army. The Turkish fleet carried out some minor attacks on Brăila and Chilia, but without being able to do any major damage, since Vlad had already destroyed most of the important ports in Bulgaria himself. Chalcocondyles wrote that the Sultan had offered money to a captured Wallachian soldier for information, which he refused to divulge even after threats of torture. Mehmed praised the soldier and stated, “If your master had more soldiers like you, he could conquer the world in a short time!”The Turks continued their advance to Târgoviște, failing to capture the fortress of Bucharest and the fortified island of Snagov.

On June 17, Vlad led a night attack on the Turkish camp south of Bucharest with 24,000 (other sources speak of 7,000 to 10,000) horsemen of his troops. Chalcocondyles reports that before the battle Vlad had gained access to the enemy camp disguised as a Turk and was thus able to spy out the situation as well as the Sultan”s tent. Nicolaus Machinensis, bishop of Modruš and papal envoy to the Hungarian royal court, described the events as follows:

The attack began three hours after sunset and lasted until four o”clock the next morning. In the Turkish camp, the attack had caused great confusion. Horn blowers were said to have sounded the attack, the battlefield was illuminated by torches, and the Wallachians were said to have launched several attacks in succession. Sources disagree about the success of this attack, some speak of large, others only of small Turkish losses. However, the Wallachian attack caused the Ottoman army to lose many horses and camels. Some chronicles hold the boyar Galeș responsible for the failure of the Wallachian operation. The latter had led a simultaneous attack with a second army, but is said to have been “not brave enough” to bring about “the expected devastation among the enemy.” Vlad himself turned with parts of his cavalry toward the tent where the Sultan was believed to be. However, it turned out to be the tent of the Grand Viziers Ishak Pasha and Mahmud Pasha. The Janissaries under the command of Mihaloğlu Ali Bey eventually pursued the departing Wallachians and killed 1,000 to 2,000 of them. According to the account of the chronicler Domenico Balbi, the losses on the Wallachian side totaled 5,000 men, and 15,000 men on the Ottoman side.

Despite the low morale among the Turks, Mehmed decided to lay siege to the capital. However, upon arrival, he found the city deserted. According to chroniclers, the Turks found a “veritable forest of picketed people.” For half an hour, the Ottoman army is said to have passed some 20,000 impaled Turkish prisoners and Bulgarian Muslims. Among them was the decomposing corpse of Hamza Pasha, who had been staked on the highest wooden stake, which was supposed to symbolize his rank. Other sources, however, report that the city was defended by soldiers and that impaled bodies lay scattered outside the city walls for a radius of 60 miles. Chalcocondyles wrote of the sultan”s reaction:

Mehmed ordered the digging of a deep trench around the Turkish camp to prevent the Wallachians from entering. The following day, June 22, the Turks began their retreat. On June 29, the Ottoman troops reached the town of Brăila and burned it down. After that, they left the country with their ships for Adrianople, where they arrived on July 11. A day later, celebrations were held to mark the great victory over Vlad. The Turks had enslaved many of the inhabitants of the war zone and taken them south along with 200,000 cattle and horses.

Meanwhile, Vlad”s cousin Ștefan cel Mare, the ruler of the Principality of Moldavia, had attempted to capture Akkerman and Chilia. However, in the course of his attack on Chilia, 7,000 Wallachians rushed to successfully defend the city, and Ștefan cel Mare was wounded in the foot by artillery fire.

Vlad had been able to successfully hold his own militarily against an overpowering Turkish opponent, but he had to accept a largely devastated country for this. It was clear to political observers that the sultan would not accept this new ignominy. Another campaign against Wallachia was only a question of time. In this situation, it was not difficult for Vlad”s half-brother Radu, who had converted to Islam, to convince the Wallachian nobles, from whom Vlad had already become largely estranged, of the advantages of submission and tribute payments to the sultan, and thus to draw them to his side. In August 1462, Radu and the High Porte agreed on a transfer of power in Wallachia, after which Radu moved at the head of a Turkish army against the rebuilt Poenari Castle. Vlad managed to escape to Transylvania and then went into the custody of the Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus. The latter imprisoned Vlad for twelve years in the fortress of Visegrád on the grounds that Vlad had written to the Sultan asking for forgiveness and an alliance against Hungary. The literature speculates that Matthias Corvinus wanted to get rid of his troublesome rival Vlad in this way, who threatened to take his leading role as a fighter against the Turks. In 1474 Vlad was released from prison and married to one of Matthias Corvinus”s cousins, presumably after Vlad had converted to Catholicism. Vlad was given a military command and with a Hungarian army took Bosnian towns and fortresses, reportedly impaling 8,000 Muslims.

Ștefan cel Mare took advantage of the weakness of the neighboring state and captured Chilia and Akkerman. Between 1471 and 1474 Ștefan invaded Wallachia several times in order to detach it from the Ottomans” sphere of power. However, this did not succeed because the appointed voivodes could not withstand the Ottoman pressure. The strong Ottoman garrison in the city of Giurgiu was only 6-8 hours on horseback from Bucharest. To put an end to repeated incursions from the north, Sultan Mehmed II ordered an attack on Moldavia in 1475, but Ștefan defeated the invaders, numbering about 120,000, with his own army of only 40,000 at Vaslui. The Turkish chronicler Seaddedin spoke of an unprecedented defeat of the Ottomans. After this victory, Stefan tried to mobilize the European powers against the Ottomans, but without success.

Vlad III and Ștefan allied and together with Hungarian troops conquered Wallachia within a few weeks in 1476. In November, Vlad III was proclaimed prince of Wallachia again and for the last time. Shortly after the withdrawal of the Hungarian and Moldavian troops, Vlad was overthrown in December 1476 and had to flee together with his 200-strong Moldavian bodyguard. In late 1476 or early 1477, he either fell in a battle or was murdered while fleeing. His head, preserved in honey, is said to have been brought to Constantinople as a gift to the Sultan, where it was displayed impaled on a pole. His body is said to have been buried in the monastery of Snagov and from there later taken to an unknown place.

Vlad”s brother Radu had already died in 1475. Basarab Laiotă cel Bătrân (German Basarab Laiotă the Elder) succeeded him as ruler of Wallachia.

Marriages and descendants

Vlad was married in his first marriage to a Transylvanian noblewoman whose name has not been handed down. From this marriage came the son Mihnea I cel Rău († 1510 and ruler of the Principality of Wallachia from 1508 to 1509).

In his second marriage Vlad was married to Ilona Szilágyi, a cousin of the Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus. This marriage produced a son named

The name Drăculea (respectively Dracula), according to a thesis first formulated in 1804 in the fourth volume of Johann Christian Engel”s Geschichte des Ungrischen Reichs und seiner Nebenländer, and still accepted by most historians today, derives from the epithet Dracul, which is said to have been given to his father Vlad II after his admission to the Order of the Dragon. The dragon is also found in the insignia of the order that he brought with him. Dracul is composed of drac for “dragon” (Greek Latin drakodraco, Old Slavic drak) and the Romanian suffix ul. By adding the genitive ending -a it becomes “Dracul”s son”. However, since in Christian occidental culture the dragon always symbolizes evil to be overcome, it is considered highly unlikely that Vlad II gave himself this name. Nor can a positive connotation of dracul in the sense of “devil of a man,” as can certainly be demonstrated in Romanian, be assumed for the deeply religious late Middle Ages.

Another possible interpretation of the name is based on the voiced spelling of the Slavic-Romanian name Dragul, which can be traced in present-day Romania even before the foundation of the Order of the Dragon. “Drag” in both languages means something that is dear, precious or noble. “Dragul meu”, for example, translates from Romanian as “my darling”, while the Croatian Serbian “dragulj” means “jewel” or “precious stone”. Vlad Dragul would therefore be called “Vlad the noble”. Evidence for this interpretation can be found in a Hungarian source of 1549, in which the name of the “brave prince Dragula” was interpreted as a diminutive of “Drago” and the Latin translation “Charulus” (Latin carus = “dear”) was suggested for it. Vlad III also signed deeds under the names “Vladislaus Dragwlya” and “Ladislaus Dragkulya” in the last year of his life. The assumption that Vlad II. Dragul was called and this name in connection with the emblem of the dragon order folk-etymologically as “the dragon” and in further consequence also as “the devil” was interpreted, is thus very plausible. The voiced g would have mutated accordingly to the voiceless k and the once value-free variant of the name would have been “demonized” so to speak. When Vlad III was in Hungarian captivity, his reputation seems to have been already so bad that anyway only the evil variant of his name was paid attention to. Accordingly, the Byzantine chronicler Dukas also reports that the Wallachian voivode was evil and treacherous, corresponding to his name “Dragulios”. In the German-speaking world, the evil name variant appeared from the very beginning, here Vlad III was already referred to as “tüffels sun”, i.e. “son of the devil”, in a chronicle written in Constance before 1472.

Cultural heritage

In addition to historically relevant sources, oral traditions and pamphlets containing tales provide another important source about the life of Vlad III. Romanian, German and Russian legends all originated in the 15th century and provide additional information about Vlad III and his relationship with his subjects.

Oral traditions have been passed down from one generation to the next as stories and tales since the 15th century. Through the ongoing retelling, these stories have developed a momentum of their own through subjective interpretation and individual additions. Published as pamphlets shortly after Vlad”s death, the stories were first published in Germany, then in Russia; partly for broad entertainment, partly to achieve political goals, and were influenced by local and mainly political prejudices. The pamphlets were published over a period of about thirty years.

Many of the stories that appeared in the pamphlets can be found in Romanian oral traditions. Despite a generally more positive portrayal of him, Romanian oral tradition also describes Vlad as exceptionally cruel and as an often capricious ruler. Vlad Țepeș was regarded among the Romanian country folk as a just prince who defended his subjects from foreign aggressors such as the Turks or from German merchants, and as a champion of the common man against oppression by the boyars. Vlad is said to have invited boyars to feast and offered them copious amounts of wine. In drunkenness, he is said to have purposefully elicited from them their opinion of him, as well as information about the machinations and corruption of the well-known boyars. As a result, those who incriminated themselves and those who were incriminated are said to have been staked. Vlad Drăculea was considered a righteous opponent of corruption in his country and still is in Romania.

The general course of the stories is very similar, although the different versions differ in specific details. For example, according to some stories, Vlad received emissaries from Florence in Târgoviște, while in other stories they were Turkish emissaries. McNally and Florescu speak of different envoys on different occasions. The manner of their offenses against the prince also varies from version to version. However, all versions agree on the point that Vlad had the headgear of the accused nailed to their heads because of honor insult and insult, real or imaginary, probably also because of their refusals to remove their headgear in the presence of Vlad. Some narratives evaluate Vlad”s actions as justified, others evaluate them as crimes of wanton and senseless cruelty.

Accounts of Vlad were much more sinister in Western Europe than in Eastern Europe and Romania. However, many of the German stories about him must be understood in part as politically, religiously, and economically inspired propaganda. Although some of the stories have a relation to reality, however, most are pure fiction or highly exaggerated portrayals, furthermore, there are atrocities in Western and Central European history at the same time that are comparable to the cruelty attributed to Vlad III.

In the West, Vlad was described as a tyrant who took sadistic pleasure in torturing and killing his enemies. He is said to be responsible for the deaths of 40,000-100,000 people. Numbers like these are based on information from various sources in which all the alleged victims were meticulously added up. For example, the Constance Chronicle reports exactly 92,268 victims for which Vlad was responsible. According to other sources, too, the number of victims had to be given as at least 80,000, not including those who perished by destroying and burning down entire villages and fortresses. However, these figures must be considered exaggerated. One episode describes the impalement of 600 merchants in Kronstadt and the confiscation of their goods, while another document of his rival Dan III in 1459 speaks of 41 impalements. It is unlikely that Vlad”s opponents adjusted the number of victims downwards.

The German accounts of Vlad”s atrocities tell of impalement, torture, death by fire, mutilation, drowning, flaying, roasting, and boiling of the victims. Others are said to have been forced to eat the flesh of their friends or relatives, or to have had their head coverings nailed to their heads. His victims were men and women of all ages (including children and infants), religions, and social classes. A German account reports, “He caused more pain and suffering than even the most blood-hungry tormentors of Christendom, such as Herod, Nero, Diocletian, and all the other pagans combined, could imagine.” In contrast, the Russian and Romanian stories make little or no mention of senseless violence or atrocities.

The Serbian Janissary Konstantin Mihajlović from Ostrovitsa described extensively in his memoirs that Vlad often had the noses of captured Turkish soldiers cut off, which he then sent to the Hungarian court to brag about how many enemies he had killed. Mihailović also mentioned the Turks” fear of nightly Wallachian attacks. He also pointed out the infamous forest of stakes that supposedly lined the roads with thousands of impaled Turks. Mihailović, however, was not an eyewitness to these events, as he was in the rear of the Turkish army; his remarks were based on reports from front-line soldiers.

Impalement was thus Vlad”s preferred method of torture and execution. There were different methods, depending on whether a quick or slow death of the victim was to be achieved. One of these methods was to harness a horse to each of the victim”s legs and drive a sharpened stake gradually through the anus or vagina into the victim”s body until it emerged. The much crueler method was to keep the end of the stake not too sharp, oil it, and then erect it. While the victims were now impaling themselves more and more by their own body weight, the non-pointed and oiled stake at the same time prevented them from dying too quickly from shock or injury to vital organs. This death at the stake was slow and agonizing, and its occurrence sometimes took hours or days. According to other accounts, victims were also staked through the abdomen or chest, resulting in relatively quick death. Infants were sometimes said to have been impaled on the stake driven through their mother”s breast. In other cases, victims were staked upside down. Vlad reportedly often had the stakes arranged according to different geometric patterns. The most common pattern is said to have been a ring of concentric circles. The height of the stake corresponded to the rank of the victim. As a deterrent, the corpses were often left to rot on the stakes for months.

Thousands of opponents were also reportedly impaled on other occasions, according to contemporary accounts, such as 10,000 people in Sibiu (Romanian: Hermannstadt) in 1460, and 30,000 merchants and officials of the city of Kronstadt in August of the previous year for subversive behavior toward Vlad. This report should be seen in the context that even large cities of the Holy Roman Empire in Vlad”s time rarely had more than 10,000 inhabitants.

A wood engraving from this period shows Vlad feasting in a forest of stakes with a gruesome burden, while next to him an executioner cuts up other victims.

An old Romanian story describes that Vlad once placed a golden bowl in the marketplace of Târgoviște. This bowl could be used by anyone to quench their thirst, but had to remain in the marketplace. The next day he is said to have returned to pick it up again. No one had dared to touch the bowl, the fear of life-threatening punishment was too great.

Vlad Țepeș is said to have committed even more impalements and tortures on the advancing Turkish military units. It was reported that the Ottoman army recoiled in horror at the sight of several thousand impaled and decomposing corpses on the banks of the Danube. Other reports state that the conqueror of Constantinople, Mehmed II, who was known for his own psychological warfare, was shaken by the sight of 20,000 impaled bodies outside the Wallachian capital of Târgoviște. Many of these victims were Turkish prisoners captured in advance during the Turkish invasion. Turkish casualties in this confrontation reportedly totaled 40,000. The Sultan turned over command of the campaign to his officers and returned to Constantinople himself, even though his army outnumbered the Wallachian forces 3:1 and was better equipped.

Vlad is said to have committed his first significant act of cruelty shortly after coming to power, driven by revenge and to consolidate his power: he invited the noble boyars and their families who had been involved in the assassination of his father and the burial alive of his elder brother Mircea to celebrate Easter. Many of these nobles were also involved in the overthrow of numerous other Wallachian princes. During the course of the feast, he asked his noble guests how many princes they had seen and survived during their lives in office. All of them had outlived at least seven princes, one even at least thirty. Vlad had all the nobles arrested; the older ones were staked on the spot with their families, the younger and healthier ones were taken by Târgoviște north to Poienari Castle in the mountains above the Argeș River. There they were forced for months to rebuild the fortress with materials from another ruined castle nearby. The story goes that the forced laborers slaved until their clothes fell off their bodies and then continued to work naked. Only a few of them are said to have survived this torture. During his reign, Vlad had to wage a constant struggle against the old boyar class in Wallachia to consolidate his power.

The German tales are based on manuscripts written before Vlad”s imprisonment in 1462 and then circulated in the later 15th century. Due to the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg around 1450, the text later found wide circulation in Germany and became a bestseller, with numerous added editions or altered content.

Michel Beheim wrote the poem “Von ainem wutrich der hies Trakle waida von der Walachei” in the winter of 1463 at the court of King Ladislaus V of Hungary. Of the publications, four manuscripts from the last quarter of the 15th century and 13 pamphlets from the period 1488 to 15591568 have survived to the present day, eight of them as incunabula. The German tales consist of 46 short stories, but no complete edition exists. All the stories begin with the description of the old regent (meaning Johann Hunyadi), his murder of Vlad”s father, the conversion of Vlad and his older brother from their old religion to the Christian faith, and their oath to defend and uphold Christianity.

According to this arrangement, the episodes in the various manuscripts and pamphlets differ from each other. The titles of the stories vary in a total of three versions. The first version of the German text was probably penned by a scholar in Kronstadt and reflects the sentiments of the Transylvanian Saxons in Kronstadt and Sibiu, who suffered greatly from Vlad”s hostilities between 1456 and 1460. The gloomy and grim portrayal of Vlad, partly historically based, partly exaggerated and fictitious, was therefore probably politically motivated.

Vlad”s acts of terror against the Wallachian people were interpreted as attempts to enforce his own code of conduct in his country. In the pamphlets, Vlad”s wrath was also directed at violations of female morality. Unmarried girls who lost their virginity; adulterous wives as well as unchaste widows all became targets of Vlad”s cruelty. Women with such transgressions often had their sexual organs cut out or their breasts cut off. They were also impaled through the vagina with red-hot stakes until the stake emerged to the victim”s mouth. One text reports the execution of an unfaithful wife. Her breasts were cut off, after which she was skinned and staked in a square in Târgoviște, with her skin lying on a nearby table. Vlad likewise insisted on honesty and the diligence of his subjects. Merchants who cheated their customers quickly found themselves alongside common thieves at the stake. Vlad saw the poor, the sick, and beggars as thieves. One story tells of his inviting the sick and poor to a feast, during which the sheltering building was closed and set on fire.

The Russian-Slavic versions of the stories about Vlad Țepeș were titled Skazanie o Drakule voevode (German: Geschichten über den Wojwoden Dracula) and were written between 1481 and 1486. Copies of the stories were copied and distributed from the 15th century to the 18th century. There are 22 manuscripts in Russian archives. The oldest manuscript dates from 1490 and ends as follows: “First written on February 13 in the year 6994 , then copied on January 28 in the year 6998 by me, the sinner Elfrosin”. The collection of anecdotes about the voivode Dracula is neither chronological nor free of contradictions, but of great literary and historical value. The 19 episodes of the stories about the voivode Dracula are longer and more developed than the German stories. They can be divided into two parts, the first 13 episodes being more or less events in chronological order, following the oral traditions and in ten cases closely following the German stories. The last six episodes are believed to have been written by a scholar. These stories are more chronological and structured.

The stories about the voivode Dracula begin with a short introduction and then move to the story about nailing hats on the heads of ambassadors. They end with the death of Vlad Țepeș and information about his family. The German and Russian stories are similar, but the Russian tales describe Vlad in a more positive light. Here he is seen as a great ruler, brave soldier and just sovereign. There were also tales of atrocities, but these were justified as the actions of a strong autocrat. The 19 episodes contain only six sections with exaggerated violence. Some elements of the stories about the voivode Dracula were later added to the Russian tales about Ivan IV, also called the Terrible. The nationality and identity of the original author of the stories about Vlad is disputed. It is believed to have been a Romanian priest or monk, probably from Transylvania or from the court of Ștefan cel Mare of Moldavia. Other sources name a Russian diplomat named Fyodor Kuritsyn as the author.

The Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus is said to have had a share in the creation of this personality image. Corvinus had received substantial financial support from Rome and Venice for the military conflicts with the Ottoman Empire, which he instead directed to financing his military conflict with Emperor Frederick III. Corvinus justified his absence from the war against the Turks to his backers by making Vlad a scapegoat. Under the pretext of a forged letter in which Vlad allegedly pledged his loyalty to Sultan Mehmed II, he had Vlad arrested and profited from the horror stories about Vlad spread by his court in Buda in Central and Eastern Europe between 1462 and 1463.

There were attempts to justify Vlad”s actions as a political necessity because of the national rivalry between the ethnic groups residing in Transylvania and Wallachia. Most of the merchants in Transylvania and Wallachia were Transylvanian Saxons, who were considered exploiters and parasites by the native Wallachians. The German-born merchants also took advantage of the enmity of the boyar families among themselves and their quarrels over the Wallachian throne by supporting and playing off various pretenders to the throne against each other. In this way, from Vlad”s point of view, they had demonstrated their disloyalty, as had the boyars themselves. Last but not least, Vlad”s father and older brother had been murdered by renegade boyars.

A Romanian saying still used today borrows from the myths surrounding Vlad III: “Unde ești tu, Țepeș Doamne?” (German Wo bist du, Țepeș , Lord?) is used in reference to chaotic conditions, corruption, laziness, etc. The saying is a line from a polemical poem by poet Mihai Eminescu (1850-1889) attacking the national political disinterest of the Romanian upper class. Eminescu asks his imaginary contact Vlad to stake half of the upper class as the boyars once did, and to burn the other half in a festival hall as the beggars and drifters once did.

Vlad”s passionate insistence on honesty forms the core of the oral traditions. Many of the anecdotes from the published pamphlets and oral tradition underscore the prince”s restless efforts to curb criminality and mendacity. During his 2004 election campaign, Romanian presidential candidate Traian Băsescu referred to Vlad Țepeș”s methods of punishing lawless acts in a discourse against corruption in his country.

The Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, who was overthrown in 1989, developed a particular fondness for Vlad Drăculea in the 1970s and commissioned a monumental film about the impaler (Vlad Țepeș (1979), directed by Doru Nastase). The film made Vlad III Drăculea seem like a direct predecessor or spiritual ancestor of the dictator. Under the title The True Life of Prince Dracula, the film was also shown in the GDR. Although Vlad was already a myth in the 19th and especially in the early 20th century, he became an omnipresent figure in Ceaușescu”s literature, in historiography, and not least in school textbooks. Romanian historians were urged either to minimize the alleged atrocities or to praise them as proof of Vlad”s strict but just rule. Eventually, even the name Dracul(a) was to be reinterpreted, because in modern Romanian it means devil and not dragon. With an etymology dubious from the point of view of linguistics, the name was now derived from a Slavic word root drag-, which appears, for example, also in the Serbian first name Dragan and means as much as darling. Dracula was thus the little darling of his loyal subjects – an argumentation in the sense of Nicolae Ceaușescu, who liked to be celebrated as the beloved son of the Romanian people in the context of the personality cult celebrated around his person.

Fleeing Bucharest in December 1989, the Ceaușescu couple first headed for Snagov, the alleged burial place of Vlad. The Ceaușescus were finally caught in Târgoviște, where the prince once held court. There, Elena and Nicolae Ceaușescu were executed by firing squad on December 25, 1989, after a short trial.

Historical sites

A number of localities are associated with the name of the prince and marketed for tourism. One example is Bran Castle (German Törzburg, Hungarian Törcsvár) in the locality of Bran of Brașov County (formerly Kronstadt). Historically, the fortress has not been proven to be Drăculea”s home until today. The name Vlad Drăculea does not appear in the eventful list of owners. Only one source mentions that the prince once spent the night in Bran Castle. There is no evidence for the claim that Vlad was born in Sighisoara (today Sighișoara) in Transylvania. The house in which, according to Romanian guidebooks, his father is said to have lived for a short time was built only after the great city fire in 1676. Also, no body was found in the alleged grave of Vlad in Snagov, as was discovered in the course of opening the grave in 1931. Another monastery in Comana, a commune in Giurgiu County, claims to be the final resting place of Vlad”s body. However, the former church building has not existed since 1588, since at that time the monastery that still exists today was built.

Vlad”s first wife

In 1462, during the Turkish siege of the Poenari fortress, led by Vlad”s half-brother Radu cel Frumos, according to legend, Vlad”s first wife (name is not known) committed suicide. Confirmation of the story by historical documents could not be provided so far. A faithful archer is said to have shot an arrow through the window of Vlad”s chambers. The archer was one of Vlad”s former servants who had been forced to convert to Islam. The arrow contained a message that Radu”s troops were about to attack. After reading this message, Vlad”s wife is said to have thrown herself from the castle into a tributary of the Argeș running past the castle, the Râul Doamnei (German The River of the Lady). Her last words are said to have been that she would rather let her body rot in the waters of the Argeș or be eaten by fish before she went into Turkish captivity (slavery). Cinematically, this legend was realized in Francis Ford Coppola”s film Bram Stoker”s Dracula, in which Dracula”s wife Elisabeta takes her own life upon receiving false news of her husband”s death. Dracula curses God and is henceforth condemned to live as an undead.

Dracula

Dracula is the title of an 1897 novel by Bram Stoker, as well as the name of the central character, Count Dracula, arguably the most famous vampire in literary history. In creating the character, Stoker is said to have been inspired by Vlad III. However, this thesis, popularized in the 1970s by historians Radu R. Florescu and Raymond T. McNally, has been questioned by other authors. McNally suggested that the Hungarian countess Elizabeth Báthory may also have contributed to the author”s inspiration.

Robert Eighteen-Bisang and Elizabeth Miller also argue that the “historical voivode Dracula” had little influence on the literary character, since neither the preliminary studies for Dracula nor the novel itself mention the atrocities attributed to Vlad III (especially the characteristic impalement). The little historical information (such as the Battle of Cassova, the crossing of the Danube, and his brother”s “betrayal”) is all William Wilkinson”s An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia

Dracula finally entered the collective memory mainly through countless film adaptations of the material, especially in the portrayals of Max Schreck (1922), Bela Lugosi (1931), Christopher Lee (1958), Klaus Kinski (1979) and Gary Oldman (1992). The time of the novel is the end of the 19th century.

Film processing

Dark Prince: The True Story of Dracula, a feature film about Vlad”s life, was released in 2000. The film is based primarily on the Romanian view of Vlad, who is portrayed as a national hero who restored order in Romania and fought against the Turks.

Secondary literature

Sources

  1. Vlad III. Drăculea
  2. Vlad the Impaler
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