Most authorities believe the character of Dracula
in Bram Stokerís novel was based upon the historical figure Vlad
Tepes (pronounced tse-pesh), who intermittently ruled an area of the
Balkans called Wallachia in the mid 15th century. He was
also called by the names Vlad III, Vlad Dracula and Vlad the Impaler.
The word Tepes stands for "impaler" and was so coined
because of Vladís propensity to punish victims by impaling them on
stakes, then displaying them publicly to frighten his enemies and to
warn would-be transgressors of his strict moral code. He is credited
with killing between 40,000 to 100,000 people in this fashion.
Origin of the name "Dracula"
|King Sigismund of Hungary, who became the Holy
Roman Emperor in 1410, founded a secret fraternal order of
knights called the Order of the Dragon to uphold
Christianity and defend the Empire against the Ottoman Turks.
Its emblem was a dragon, wings extended, hanging on a cross.
Vlad IIIís father (Vlad II) was admitted to the Order around
1431 because of his bravery in fighting the Turks. From 1431
onward Vlad II wore the emblem of the order and later, as
ruler of Wallachia, his coinage bore the dragon symbol.
Order of the
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The word for dragon in Romanian is "drac" and "ul"
is the definitive article. Vlad IIIís father thus came to be known
as "Vlad Dracul," or "Vlad the dragon." In
Romanian the ending "ulea" means "the son of".
Under this interpretation, Vlad III thus became Vlad Dracula, or
"the son of the dragon." (The word "drac" also
means "devil" in Romanian. The sobriquet thus took on a
double meaning for enemies of Vlad Tepes and his father.)
|To appreciate the story of Vlad III it is
essential to understand the social and political forces of the
region during the 15th century. In broad terms
this is a story of the struggle to obtain control of Wallachia,
a region of the Balkans (in present-day southern Romania)
which lay directly between the two powerful forces of Hungary
and the Ottoman Empire.
Europe, circa 1560
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For nearly one thousand years Constantinople had stood as the
protecting outpost of the Byzantine or East Roman Empire, and blocked
Islamís access to Europe. The Ottomans nonetheless succeeded in
penetrating deep into the Balkans during this time. With the fall of
Constantinople in 1453 under Sultan Mohammed the Conqueror, all of
Christendom was suddenly threatened by the armed might of the Ottoman
Turks. The Hungarian Kingdom to the north and west of Wallachia, which
reached its zenith during this same time, assumed the ancient mantle as
defender of Christendom.
The rulers of Wallachia were thus forced to appease these two empires
to maintain their survival, often forging alliances with one or the
other, depending upon what served their self-interest at the time. Vlad
III is best known by the Romanian people for his success in standing up
to the encroaching Ottoman Turks and establishing relative independence
and sovereignty (albeit for a relatively brief time).
Another factor influencing political life was the means of succession
to the Wallachian throne. The throne was hereditary, but not by the law
of primogeniture. The boyars (wealthy land-owning nobles) had the right
to elect the voivode (prince) from among various eligible members of the
royal family. This allowed for succession to the throne through violent
means. Assassinations and other violent overthrows of reigning parties
were thus rampant. In fact, both Vlad III and his father assassinated
competitors to attain the throne of Wallachia.
History of Wallachia Prior to Vlad III
Fortress of Belgrade
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Wallachia was founded in 1290 by Radu Negru (Rudolph the Black). It
was dominated by Hungary until 1330, when it became independent. The
first ruler of the new country was Prince Basarab the Great, an ancestor
of Dracula. Draculaís grandfather, Prince Mircea the Old, reigned from
1386 to 1418. Eventually, the House of Basarab was split into two
factionsóMirceaís descendantís, and the descendants of another
prince named Dan (called the Danesti). Much of the struggles to assume
the throne during Draculaís time were between these two competing
In 1431 King Sigismund made Vlad Dracul the military governor of
Transylvania, a region directly northwest of Wallachia. (Vlad III was
born during this time, in the latter part of 1431.) Vlad was not content
to serve as mere governor, and so gathered supporters for his plan to
seize Wallachia from its current occupant, Alexandru I, a Danesti
prince. In 1436 he succeeded in his plan, killing Alexandru and becoming
Vlad II. (Presumably there was an earlier prince also named Vlad.)
For six years Vlad Dracul attempted to follow a middle ground between
his two powerful neighbors. The prince of Wallachia was officially a
vassal of the King of Hungary and Vlad was still a member of the Order
of the Dragon and sworn to fight the infidel. At the same time the power
of the Ottomans seemed unstoppable. Vlad was forced to pay tribute to
the Sultan, just as his father, Mircea the Old, had been forced to do.
In 1442 Vlad attempted to remain neutral when the Turks invaded
Transylvania. The Turks were defeated, and the vengeful Hungarians under
John Hunyadióthe White Knight of Hungary--forced Vlad Dracul and his
family to flee Wallachia. In 1443 Vlad regained the Wallachian throne
with Turkish support, but on the condition that Vlad send a yearly
contingent of Wallachian boys to join the Sultanís Janissaries. In
1444, to further assure to the Sultan his good faith, Vlad sent his two
younger sons--Vlad III and Radu the Handsome--to Adrianople as hostages.
Vlad III remained a hostage in Adrianople until 1448.
In 1444 Hungary broke the peace and launched the Varna Campaign, led
by John Hunyadi, in an effort to drive the Turks out of Europe. Hunyadi
demanded that Vlad Dracul fulfill his oath as a member of the Order of
the Dragon and a vassal of Hungary and join the crusade against the
Turks, yet the wily politician still attempted to steer a middle course.
Rather than join the Christian forces himself, he sent his oldest son,
Mircea. Perhaps he hoped the Sultan would spare his younger sons if he
himself did not join the crusade.
The results of the Varna Crusade are well known. The Christian army
was utterly destroyed in the Battle of Varna. John Hunyadi managed to
escape the battle under inglorious conditions. From this moment forth
John Hunyadi was bitterly hostile toward Vlad Dracul and his eldest son.
In 1447 Vlad Dracul was assassinated along with his son Mircea. Mircea
was apparently buried alive by the boyars and merchants of Tirgoviste. (Vlad
III later exacted revenge upon these boyars and merchants.) Hunyadi
placed his own candidate, a member of the Danesti clan, on the throne of
On receiving news of Vlad Draculís death the Turks released Vlad
III and supported him as their own candidate for the Wallachian throne.
In 1448, at the age of seventeen, Vlad III managed to briefly seize the
Wallachian throne. Yet within two months Hunyadi forced him to surrender
the throne and flee to his cousin, the Prince of Moldavia. Vlad IIIís
successor to the throne, howeveróVladislov IIóunexpectedly
instituted a pro-Turkish policy, which Hunyadi found to be unacceptable.
He then turned to Vlad III, the son of his old enemy, as a more reliable
candidate for the throne, and forged an allegiance with him to retake
the throne by force. Vlad III received the Transylvanian duchies
formerly governed by his father and remained there, under the protection
of Hunyadi, waitng for an opportunity to retake Wallachia from his
In 1453, however, the Christian world was shocked by the final fall
of Constantinople to the Ottomans. Hunyadi thus broadened the scope of
his campaign against the insurgent Turks. In 1456 Hunyadi invaded
Turkish Serbia while Vlad III simultaneously invaded Wallachia. In the
Battle of Belgrade Hunyadi was killed and his army defeated. Meanwhile,
Vlad III succeeded in killing Vladislav II and taking the Wallachian
Vlad III then began his main reign of Wallachia, which stretched from
1456-1462. It was during this period that he instituted his strict
policies, stood up against the Turks and began his reign of terror by
The Life of Vlad III (1431-1476)
|Vlad III was born in November or December of
1431 in the Transylvanian city of Sighisoara. At the time his
father, Vlad II (Vlad Dracul), was living in exile in
Transylvania. The house where he was born is still standing.
It was located in a prosperous neighborhood surrounded by the
homes of Saxon and Magyar merchants and the townhouses of the
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Little is known about the early years of Vlad IIIís life. He had an
older brother, Mircea, and a younger brother, Radu the Handsome. His
early education was left in the hands of his mother, a Transylvanian
noblewoman, and her family. His real education began in 1436 after his
father succeeded in claiming the Wallachian throne by killing his
Danesti rival. His training was typical to that of the sons of nobility
throughout Europe. His first tutor in his apprenticeship to knighthood
was an elderly boyar who had fought against the Turks at the battle of
Nicolopolis. Vlad learned all the skills of war and peace that were
deemed necessary for a Christian knight.
In 1444, at the age of thirteen, young Vlad and his brother Radu were sent to
Adrianople as hostages, to appease the Sultan. He remained there until 1448, at which time
he was released by the Turks, who supported him as their candidate for the Wallachian
throne. Vlads younger brother apparently chose to remain in Turkey, where he had
grown up. (Radu is later supported by the Turks as a candidate for the Wallachian throne,
in opposition to his own brother, Vlad.)
As previously noted, Vlad IIIís initial reign was quite short (two
months), and it was not until 1456, under the support of Hunyadi and the
Kingdom of Hungary that he returned to the throne. He established
Tirgoviste as his capitol city, and began to build his castle some
distance away in the mountains near the Arges River. Most of the
atrocities associated with Vlad III took place during this time.
| Atrocities of
More than anything else
the historical Dracula is known for his inhuman cruelty. Impalement was Vlad IIIs
preferred method of torture and execution. Impalement was and is one of the most gruesome
ways of dying imaginable, as it was typically slow and painful.
Click to Enlarge
Vlad usually had a horse attached to each of the victims legs and a sharpened
stake was gradually forced into the body. The end of the stake was usually oiled and care
was taken that the stake not be too sharp, else the victim might die too rapidly from
shock. Normally the stake was inserted into the body through the buttocks and was often
forced through the body until it emerged from the mouth. However, there were many
instances where victims were impaled through other body orifices or through the abdomen or
chest. Infants were sometimes impaled on the stake forced through their mothers
chests. The records indicate that victims were sometimes impaled so that they hung upside
down on the stake.
Vlad Tepes often had the stakes arranged in various geometric patterns. The most common
pattern was a ring of concentric circles in the outskirts of a city that was his target.
The height of the spear indicated the rank of the victim. The decaying corpses were often
left up for months. It was once reported that an invading Turkish army turned back in
fright when it encountered thousands of rotting corpses impaled on the banks of the
Danube. In 1461 Mohammed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, a man not noted for his
squeamishness, returned to Constantinople after being sickened by the sight of twenty
thousand impaled Turkish prisoners outside of the city of Tirgoviste. This gruesome sight
is remembered in history as "the Forest of the Impaled."
Thousands were often impaled at a single time. Ten thousand were impaled in the
Transylvanian city of Sibiu in 1460. In 1459, on St. Bartholomews Day, Vlad III had
thirty thousand of the merchants and boyars of the Transylvanian city of Brasov impaled.
One of the most famous woodcuts of the period shows Vlad Dracula feasting amongst a forest
of stakes and their grisly burdens outside Brasov while a nearby executioner cuts apart
Although impalement was Vlad Draculas favorite method of torture, it was by no
means his only method. The list of tortures employed by this cruel prince reads like an
inventory of hells tools: nails in heads, cutting off of limbs, blinding,
strangulation, burning, cutting off of noses and ears, mutilation of sexual organs
(especially in the case of women), scalping, skinning, exposure to the elements or to wild
animals, and burning alive.
No one was immune to Vlads attentions. His victims included women and children,
peasants and great lords, ambassadors from foreign powers and merchants. However, the vast
majority of his victims came from the merchants and boyars of Transylvania and his own
Many have attempted to justify Vlad Draculas actions on the basis of nascent
nationalism and political necessity. Many of the merchants in Transylvania and Wallachia
were German Saxons who were seen as parasites, preying upon Romanian natives of Wallachia.
The wealthy land owning boyars exerted their own often capricious and unfaithful influence
over the reigning princes. Vlads own father and older brother were murdered by
unfaithful boyars. However, many of Vlad Draculas victims were also Wallachians, and
few deny that he derived a perverted pleasure from his actions.
Vlad Dracula began his reign of terror almost as soon as he came to power. His first
significant act of cruelty may have been motivated by a desire for revenge as well as a
need to solidify his power. Early in his main reign he gave a feast for his boyars and
their families to celebrate Easter. Vlad was well aware that many of these same nobles
were part of the conspiracy that led to his fathers assassination and the burying
alive of his elder brother, Mircea. Many had also played a role in the overthrow of
numerous Wallachian princes. During the feast Vlad asked his noble guests how many princes
had ruled during their lifetimes. All of the nobles present had outlived several princes.
None had seen less then seven reigns. 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 Tirgoviste to the ruins of his
castle in the mountains above the Arges River. The enslaved boyars and their families were
forced to labor for months rebuilding the old castle with materials from a nearby ruin.
According to the reports they labored until the clothes fell off their bodies and then
were forced to continue working naked. Very few survived this ordeal.
Throughout his reign Vlad continued to systematically eradicate the old boyar class of
Wallachia. Apparently Vlad was determined that his own power be on a modern and thoroughly
secure footing. In the 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.
Vlad Tepesí atrocities against the people of Wallachia were usually
attempts to enforce his own moral code upon his country. He appears to
have been particularly concerned with female chastity. Maidens who lost
their virginity, adulterous wives and unchaste widows were all targets
of Vladís cruelty. Such women often had their sexual organs cut out or
their breasts cut off, and were often impaled through the vagina on
red-hot stakes. One report tells of the execution of an unfaithful wife.
Vlad had the womanís breasts cut off, then she was skinned and impaled
in a square in Tirgoviste 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.
The End of Vlad III
Vlad III experienced some success in fending off the Turks, his accomplishments were
relatively short-lived. He received little support from his titular overlord, Matthius
Corvinus, King of Hungary (son of John Hunyadi) and Wallachian resources were too limited
to achieve any lasting success against the powerful Turks.
The Turks finally succeeded in forcing Vlad to flee to Transylvania in 1462.
Reportedly, his first wife committed suicide by leaping from the towers of Vlads
castle into the waters of the Arges River rather than surrender to the Turks. Vlad escaped
through a secret passage and fled across the mountains into Transylvania and appealed to
Matthias Corvinus for aid. The king immediately had Vlad arrested and imprisoned in a
There is some debate as to the exact length of Vlads confinement. The Russian
pamphlets indicate that he was a prisoner from 1462 until 1474. However, during this
period he was able to gradually win his way back into the graces of Matthias Corvinus and
ultimately met and married a member of the royal family (possibly the sister of Corvinus)
and fathered two sons. It is unlikely that a prisoner would be allowed to marry a member
of the royal family. As the eldest son was about 10 years old at the point Vlad regained
the Wallachian throne in 1476, his release probably occurred around 1466.
Note: The Russian narrative, normally very favorable to Vlad,
indicates that even in captivity he could not give up his favorite
past-time; he often captured birds and mice and proceeded to torture
and mutilate them. Some were beheaded or tarred-and-feathered and
released. Most were impaled on tiny spears.
Another possible reason for Vlads rehabilitation was that the new successor to
the Wallachian throne, Vlads own brother, Radu the Handsome, had instituted a very
pro-Turkish policy. The Hungarian king may have viewed Dracula as a possible candidate to
retake the throne. The fact that Vlad renounced the Orthodox faith and adopted Catholicism
was also surely meant to appease his Hungarian captor.
In 1476 Vlad was again ready to make a bid for power. Vlad Dracula and Prince Stephen
Bathory of Transylvania invaded Wallachia with a mixed contingent of forces. Vlads
brother, Radu, had by then already died and was replaced by Basarab the Old, a member of
the Danesti clan. At the approach of Vlads army Basarab and his cohorts fled.
However, shortly after retaking the throne, Prince Bathory and most of Vlads forces
returned to Transylvania, leaving Vlad in a vulnerable position. Before he was able to
gather support, a large Turkish army entered Wallachia. Vlad was forced to march and meet
the Turks with less than four thousand men.
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||Vlad Dracula was killed in battle
against the Turks near the town of Bucharest in December of
1476. Some reports indicate that he was assassinated by disloyal
Wallachian boyars just as he was about to sweep the Turks from
the field. Other accounts have him falling in defeat, surrounded
by the ranks of his loyal Moldavian bodyguard. Still other
reports claim that Vlad, at the moment of victory, was
accidentally struck down by one of his own men. The one
undisputed fact is that ultimately his body was decapitated by
the Turks and his head sent to Constantinople where the sultan
had it displayed on a stake as proof that the horrible Impaler
was finally dead. He was reportedly buried at Snagov, an island
monastery located near Bucharest.
evaluating the accounts of Vlad Dracula it is important to realize that much of the
information comes from sources that may not be entirely accurate. With each of the three
main sources there is reason to believe that the information provided may be influenced by
local, mainly political, prejudices. The three main sources are as follows: (1) Pamphlets
published in Germany shortly after Vlads death, (2) pamphlets published in Russia
shortly after the German pamphlets, and (3) Romanian oral tradition.
- German Pamphlets
At the time of Vlad Draculas death Matthias Corvinus of Hungary was seeking to
bolster his own reputation in the Holy Roman Empire and may have intended the early
pamphlets as justification of his less than vigorous support of his vassal. It must also
be remembered that German merchants were often the victims of Vlad Draculas cruelty.
The pamphlets thus painted Vlad Dracula as an inhuman monster who terrorized the land and
butchered innocents with sadistic glee.
The pamphlets were also a form of mass entertainment in a society where the printing
press was just coming into widespread use. The pamphlets were reprinted numerous times
over the thirty or so years following Vlads deathstrong proof of their
- Russian Pamphlets
At the time of Vlad III the princes of Moscow were just beginning to build the basis of
what would become the autocracy of the czars. Just like Vlad III, they were having
considerable problems with the disloyal, often troublesome boyars. In Russia, Vlad Dracula
was thus presented as a cruel but just prince whose actions were intended to benefit the
greater good of his people.
- Romanian Oral Tradition
Legends and tales concerning Vlad 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. As one might imagine, through constant retelling they have become
somewhat garbled and confused and are gradually being forgotten by the younger
generations. However, they still provide valuable information about Vlad Dracula and his
relationship with his people.
Vlad Dracula is remembered as a just prince who defended his people from foreigners,
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. A central part of
the verbal tradition is Vlads insistence on honesty in his effort to eliminate crime
and immoral behavior from the region. However, despite the more positive interpretation of
his life, Vlad Dracula is still remembered as an exceptionally cruel and often capricious
Despite the differences between these various sources, there are
common strains that run among them. The German and Russian pamphlets, in
particular, agree remarkably as to many specifics of Vlad Draculaís
deeds. This level of agreement has led many historians to conclude that
much of the information must at least to some extent be true.
There are about nine anecdotes that are almost universal in the Vlad Dracula
literature. They include the following:
- The Golden Cup
Vlad Dracula was known throughout his land for his fierce insistence on honesty and
order. Thieves seldom dared practice their trade within his domain, for they knew that the
stake awaited any who were caught. Vlad was so confident in the effectiveness of his law
that he laced a golden cup on display in the central square of Tirgoviste. The cup was
never stolen and remained entirely unmolested throughout Vlad Draculas reign.
- The Burning of the Sick and Poor
Vlad Dracula was very concerned that all his subjects work and contribute to the
common welfare. He once notice that the poor, vagrants, beggars and cripples had become
very numerous in his land. Consequently, he issued an invitation to all the poor and sick
in Wallachia to come to Tirgoviste for a great feast, claiming that no one should go
hungry in his land. As the poor and crippled arrived in the city they were ushered into a
great hall where a fabulous feast was prepared for them. The guests ate and drank late
into the night. Vlad himself then made an appearance and asked them, "What else do
you desire? Do you want to be without cares, lacking nothing in this world?" When
they responded positively Vlad ordered the hall boarded up and set on fire. None escaped
the flames. Vlad explained his action to the boyars by claiming that he did this "in
order that they represent no further burden to other men, and that no one will be poor in
- The Foreign Ambassadors
Although there are some discrepancies between the German and Russian pamphlets in
the interpretation of this story, they agree to the following: Two ambassadors of a
foreign power visited Vlads court at Tirgoviste. When in the presence of the prince,
they refused to remove their hats. Vlad ordered that the hats be nailed to their heads,
such that they should never have to remove them again.
Note: The nailing of hats to the heads of those who
displeased a monarch was not an unknown act in eastern Europe and by
the princes of Moscow.
- The Foreign Merchant
A merchant from a foreign land visited Tirgoviste. Aware of the reputation of Vlad
Draculas land for honesty, he left a treasure-laden cart unguarded in the street
over night. Upon returning to his wagon in the morning, the merchant was shocked to find
160 golden ducats missing. Then the merchant complained of his loss to the prince, Vlad
assured him that his money would be returned. Vlad Dracula then issued a proclamation to
the cityfind the thief and return the money or the city will be destroyed. During
the night he ordered that 160 ducats plus one extra be taken from his own treasury and
placed in the merchants cart. On returning to his cart the next morning and counting
his money the merchant discovered the extra ducat. The merchant returned to Vlad and
reported that his money had indeed been returned plus an extra ducat. Meanwhile the thief
had been captured and turned over to the princes guards along with the stolen money.
Vlad ordered the thief impaled and informed the merchant that if he had not reported the
extra ducat he would have been impaled alongside the thief.
- The Lazy Woman
Vlad once noticed a man working in the fields while wearing a caftan (shirt) that
he adjudged to be too short in length. The prince stopped and asked to see the mans
wife. When the woman was brought before him he asked her how she spent her days. The poor,
frightened woman stated that she spent her days washing, baking and sewing. The prince
pointed out her husbands short caftan as evidence of her laziness and dishonesty and
ordered her impaled, despite her husbands protestations that he was well satisfied
with his wife. Vlad then ordered another woman to marry the peasant but admonished her to
work hard or she would suffer the same fate.
- The Nobleman with the Keen Sense of Smell
On St. Bartholomews Day in 1459 Vlad Dracula caused thirty thousand of the
merchants and nobles of the Transylvanian city of Brasov to be impaled. In order that he
might better enjoy the results of his orders, the prince commanded that his table be set
up and that his boyars join him for a feast amongst the forest of impaled corpses. While
dining, Vlad noticed that one of his boyars was holding his nose in an effort to alleviate
the terrible smell of clotting blood and emptied bowels. Vlad then ordered the sensitive
nobleman impaled on a stake higher than all the rest so that he might be above the stench.
- Vlad Draculas Mistress
Vlad Dracula once had a mistress that lived in a house in the back streets of
Tirgoviste. This woman apparently loved the prince to distraction and was always anxious
to please him. Vlad was often moody and depressed and the woman made every effort to
lighten her lovers burdens. Once, when he was particularly depressed, the woman
dared tell him the lie that she was with child. Vlad had the woman examined by the bath
matrons. When informed that the woman was lying, Vlad drew his knife and cut her open from
the groin to her breast, leaving her to die in agony.
- The Polish Nobleman
Benedict de Boithor, a Polish nobleman in the service of the King of Hungary,
visited Vlad Dracula at Tirgoviste in September of 1458. At dinner one evening Vlad
ordered a golden spear brought and set up directly in front of the royal envoy. Vlad then
asked the envoy if he knew why this spear had been set up. Benedict replied that he
imagined some boyar had offended the prince and that Vlad intended to honor him. Vlad
responded that the spear had, in fact, been set up in honor of his noble, Polish guest.
The Pole then responded that if he had done anything to deserve death that Vlad should do
as he thought best. Vlad Dracula was greatly pleased by this answer, showered him with
gifts, and declared that had he answered in any other manner he would have been
- The Two Monks
There is some discrepancy in the telling of this anecdote. The various
sources agree, however, as to the basic story. Two monks from a
foreign land came to visit Vlad Dracula in his palace at Tirgoviste.
Curious to see the reaction of the churchmen, Vlad showed them rows of
impaled corpses in the courtyard. When asked their opinions, the first
monk responded, "You are appointed by God to punish
evil-doers." The other monk had the moral courage to condemn the
cruel prince. In the version of the story most common in the German
pamphlets, Vlad rewarded the sycophantic monk and impaled the honest
one. In the version found in Russian pamphlets and in Romanian verbal
tradition Vlad rewarded the honest monk for his integrity and courage
and impaled the sycophant for his dishonesty.
The Origins of the Vampire Myth
It is certainly no coincidence that Bram Stoker chose the
Balkans as the home of his famous vampire. The Balkans were still
basically medieval even in Stokerís time. They had only recently
shaken off the Turkish yoke when Stoker started working on his novel and
the superstitions of the Dark Ages were still prevalent.
The legend of the vampire was and still is deeply rooted in the
Balkan region. There have always been vampire-like creatures in the
mythologies of many cultures. However, the vampire, as he became known
in Europe and hence America, largely originated in the Slavic and Greek
lands of Eastern Europe.
A veritable epidemic of vampirism swept through Eastern Europe
beginning in the late seventeenth century and continuing through the
eighteenth century. 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 Augustin 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 myth. Stokerís novel
was merely the culminating work of a long series of works that were
inspired by the reports coming from the region.
Did Bram Stoker base his Dracula
upon the historical Dracula?
First Ed. of
||Although it is widely assumed, even among scholars, that Bram
Stoker based his novel upon the historical figure of Vlad Tepes, there is at least one
prominent scholar who challenges this assumption. Her name is Elizabeth Miller, a
professor with the Department of English at Memorial University of Newfoundland. (http://www.ucs.mun.ca/~emiller/owner.htm)
Her primary argument is that Bram Stoker kept meticulous notes of his references in
creating Dracula, and none of the references contain specific information about the life
and/or atrocities of Vlad Tepes.
There is fairly strong evidence the two Draculas are connected. Arguments in favor of
this position include the following:
- The fictional Dracula and the historical Dracula share the same name. There can be no
doubt that Bram Stoker based his character upon some reference to Vlad Dracula.
- Stoker researched various sources prior to writing the novel, including the Library at
Whitby and literature from the British Museum. It is entirely possible that his readings
on Balkan history would have included information about Vlad Tepes.
- Stoker was the friend of a Hungarian professor from Budapest, named Arminius Vambery,
who he met personally on several occasions and who may have given him information about
the historical Dracula.
- Some of the text of Stokers novel provides direct correlations between the
fictional Dracula and Vlad Tepes (e.g., the fighting off of the Turks--also, the physical
description of Dracula in the novel is very similar to the traditional image of Vlad
- Other references in the novel may also be related to the historical Dracula. For
example, the driving of a stake through the vampires heart may be related to
Vlads use of impalement; Renfields fixation with insects and small animals may
have found inspiration in Vlads penchant for torturing small animals during his
period of imprisonment; and Draculas loathing of holy objects may relate to
Vlads renunciation of the Orthodox Church.
Professor Miller counters each of these arguments. In particular she notes the only
reference provided by Stoker in his notes that contains any information about Vlad Tepes
is a book by William Wilkinson entitled An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia
and Moldavia (1820), which Stoker borrowed from the Whitby Public Library in 1890
while there on vacation. The book contains a few brief references to a "Voivode
Dracula" (never referred to as Vlad) who crossed the Danube and attacked Turkish
troops. Also, what seems to have attracted Stoker was a footnote in which Wilkinson states
"Dracula in Wallachian language means Devil." Stoker apparently supplemented
this with scraps of Romanian history from other sources. Professor Miller argues that The
Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia is the only known source for Stokers
information on the historical Dracula, and that everything else is mere speculation.
As far as Stokers acquaintance with the Hungarian professor Vambrey, Miller notes
that the record only documents two meetings between the two individuals, and there is no
evidence that Vambrey ever spoke of Vlad Tepes, vampires or Transylvania during their
As far as any likeness between the historical Vlad Dracula and descriptions provided in
the novel, professor Miller notes that it is most likely Stoker drew his description of
Count Dracula from earlier villains in Gothic literature, or even from his own employer,
In conclusion, Miller makes an assumption of her own: In the novel Stoker provides
thorough historical detail obtained from his various references. Had he known about the
atrocities of Vald Tepes, Miller argues, surely he would have included such information in
For a more detailed argument by professor Miller, see http://www.ucs.mun.ca/~emiller/kalo.htm.
Most of the information provided on this site was
obtained from a
document entitled "The Historical Dracula,"
by Ray Porter. See http://www.eskimo.com/~mwirkk/vladhist.html
for more information.
Additional information was obtained from the following Web sites:
Few online universities and online schools offer Medieval studies courses. More courses at online universities on Medieval studies, and history in general, would benefit students who are interested in Vlad Tepes and Eastern European history.