The Ancient Warlord Who Provided the Inspiration for Dracula
Vlad the Impaler was a vicious warrior who inspired an author
Vlad the Impaler was a vicious 14th-century ruler who brutally murdered many of his rivals. He is also the inspiration for the 19th-century horror book Dracula. Although Vlad was never considered a vampire, legend tells of him dipping his bread in the blood of his victims and ate it. Whether these legends are true or not remains to be proven. What has been proven is what a remarkable soldier Vlad III Prince of Wallachia, was.
Vlad was born in 1431 in a region of Transylvania known as Wallachia. His father Vlad II had been granted the surname of Dracul, meaning dragon, after he was introduced to the Christian Military order, Order of the Dragon.
The area of Transylvania was found between Christian Europe and the Muslim Lands of the Ottoman Empire. It was an area that saw more than its fair share of bloody battles as the Ottomans tried to invade Europe and the Christians tried to repel them. From the families perspective, they sided with whoever was more beneficial to them at the time.
Vlad II was called to a diplomatic meeting with the Ottomans during his reign, due to him siding with Christian Europe. Thinking it would be a good education for the boys, he took his two sons, Vlad III and Radu, with him. Unfortunately, the meeting was a trap; all three were arrested and held against their will. Vlad II was released from prison on the agreement that his two sons would stay with the Ottomans as their captives.
During the five years the brothers lived as prisoners, the Ottomans saw that the boys were educated in science, philosophy and the art of war. Vlad, under their tutorage, became a skilled horseman and warrior. There were some reports that the boys were also tortured whilst they were held. What is known is that whilst there, Vlad observed many an enemy impaled as a form of punishment.
Impaling is putting a stake through a victim’s anus or vagina and letting the body’s natural weight pull the stake through the body. How sharp the stick was would depend on how long death took. It was a brutal way to die.
During captivity, it was not just the boys who suffered. Back home, life for the family was even worse. Vlad’s father was ousted as ruler of the country by local warlords and killed in the swamps at the back of their property. His older brother was then tortured, blinded and buried alive.
It is hard to say whether these events caused Vlad’s violence or the treatment by the Ottomans, either way, he started killing as soon as he was released. Radu chose to stay with the Ottomans, which created a rivalry between the brothers that would last a lifetime.
Battles and Revenge
After leaving captivity, Vlad attempted to retake his family’s throne. Although he succeeded, the victory was short-lived, and the throne was soon back in the enemy’s hands. Vlad fled only to fight many other battles and take refuge where he could.
In 1456, he went into battle against Vladislav II, the man who had killed his family and ruled after their demise. Vlad was victorious in the battle and personally beheaded his opponent in one to one combat. After that, he became ruler of Wallachia. Although by this time, Wallachia was not a prosperous land, it had been constantly ravaged by warfare.
Still, it was important for Vlad to assert his new power quickly. So he invited all those that could oppose his family to a banquet. As the guests were finishing the food, the soldiers stabbed them; their still twitching bodies were then impaled, earning Vlad the title of Vlad the Impaler. These aristocracies were then replaced by loyal men who he could rely on.
Although Vlad brought stability to the area, he was a vicious ruler killing all his potential enemies in the most horrendous ways.
Battle with the Ottomans
The battles were relentless and brutal. Having battled constantly with those to the north of him, the battle with the Ottomans was about to begin.
Vlad had many supporters, including those in Europe who celebrated his fighting prowess. In addition, the Pope at the time spoke highly of his many battles.
In 1459, an Ottoman diplomatic audience met with Vlad and refused to take off their turbans for religious reasons. So, Vlad had each of them nailed into their hats so they could never take them off again.
Knowing that the fight with the Ottomans would soon be upon him, Vlad took the battle to them, leading many raiding parties into their land to kill their soldiers in surprise attacks. However, it was inevitable that Vlad would have to face the Ottomans in his land.
Vlad had many battles after this against his brother Radu, who the Ottomans backed. During one, he lost his throne to his younger brother and fled into Transylvania.
During this time, he retreated from a battle in 1462, leaving a field filled with thousands of impaled victims as a deterrent to pursuing Ottoman forces. However, it is reported that the Ottoman army turned back when they saw the level of violence Vlad used against his enemies.
In 1476, Vlad returned to Wallachia to regain his throne for the third time. Three months later, he was killed. Little is known about his death; some say he was killed by his men whilst impersonating an Ottoman soldier, others say that an assassin killed him. What is known, though, is he was beheaded, his head being delivered to Mehmed II, the Ottoman ruler, in Constantinople to be placed on the city gates. Despite these claims, there are no records of Vlad’s death and his body has never been found.
It is estimated during his reign; he killed eighty thousand, twenty thousand of these he impaled.
I have killed men and women, old and young, who lived at Oblucitza and Novoselo, where the Danube flows into the sea… We killed 23,884 Turks, without counting those whom we burned in homes or the Turks whose heads were cut by our soldiers… Thus, your highness, you must know that I have broken the peace with the Sultan. — Vlad the Impaler 1462
This and his vicious battles made interesting reading; many a book was written about his exploits. Some state it was one of these books that a young Bram Stoker read and that provided the inspiration for the world’s most famous vampire, Count Dracula. Others speculated that Stoker’s conversations with historian, Hermann Bamburger, may have provided the information on Vlad’s violent nature. There is no concrete evidence to support either of these theories; however, the characters seem too alike for it to be a coincidence.