Most people are familiar with Bram Stoker’s infamous book – Dracula. What you may not know is that Stoker’s famous writing was based upon a real-life character. Although Bram’s Dracula was indeed quite forbidding, the real life Dracula is the epitome of evil.
The Dracul Family
The historical Dracul family begins with Basarab the Great (1310 – 1352) who ruled the province of Wallachia. Wallachia is located in Romania, bordered by Transylvania to the north and Bulgaria to the South.
From here, history splinters and the path divides. We know that by the 1400’s, the Basarab clan had split into two rival factions. One was led by Prince Dan and the other by Prince Mircea the Old. During these division, battles amongst the rival families became quite bloody. Assassination and massacres were the order of the day.
Prince Mircea the Old became known as Vlad I. His son was known as Vlad Dracul II with the Dracul segment of his name being derived from the phrase ‘son of the Dragon’. Vlad Dracul II’s son, born in 1431, inherited his father’s name and was called Vlad Dracul III. His name further expanded to Vlad Tepes which translated to English means Vlad the Impaler. The shocking derivation of this name is noted below as Vlad Dracul III is the focus of our story.
Vlad Dracul Tepes
Little is known of Vlad Dracul Tepes’s family. It is believed that his father died violently during war. His brother Mircea and younger brother, Radu also suffered untimely deaths (it is rumored that Mircea was buried alive by his enemies).
In 1448, Vlad Dracul Tepes, whom we’ll call Dracula from this point on, took over the throne of Wallachia briefly. Remember, during this time ownership of the throne was not dictated by inheritance but rather by how effective you were in taking control by whatever means necessary. After only 2 months in control, Dracula was forced to surrender the throne to a man known as Vladislav II. Around 1456, Dracula regained his kingdom by killing Vladislav in bloody combat.
Dracula’s primary rule extended from 1456 through 1462. He ruled the land with an iron fist, believing that the only way to keep the civilians and merchants in line was to strike fear in their hearts. Crimes committed by civilians resulted in public torture sessions. Any acts of dishonesty by local merchants meant a severe and painful death. Not surprisingly, Dracula was respected by his subjects as a warrior and a stern ruler.
Impalement was Dracula’s favorite method of punishment. Not only was this method of punishment extremely painful for the victim, but Dracula seemed to derive sick pleasure from watching his people being tortured. In fact, wood cuttings from this time period indicate that Dracula often dined surrounded by the decaying bodies of his dead victims.
Impalement was initiated by taking a oiled stake about as wide as a burly man’s arm, and inserting it through the victim’s buttocks, often until it protruded from their mouths. The stake was purposefully kept dull to keep the victims from dying too soon from shock. The victim’s legs were tied to two horses while the stake was placed in position. Upon command the horses slowly pulled the victim’s legs until the stake was impaled into and through the victim’s body. Mother’s often had additional stakes driven through their chests with their children and infants impaled on the extended portion of the stake. After the stakes were in place, they were driven into the ground and placed around the perimeter of Vlad’s castle complex. Bodies were left in these positions for months, the stench of rotting bodies permeating throughout the kingdom.
It was reported that the invading Turkish army turned back in horror when it encountered twenty thousand decaying corpses along the banks of the Danube river. Their leader proclaiming "how could we possibly fight a monster that could do such atrocities".
Massive impalements such as the one the Turkish army stumbled upon, were by no means uncommon. 10,000 were impaled in the Transylvanian city of Sibiu. On St. Bartholomew’s Day, Dracula had 30,000 merchants impaled in the city of Brasov.
Although impalement seemed to provide sick pleasure for Dracula, it was not the only method of punishment utilized by our deviant subject. Reports indicate that tortures included nails in the head, cutting off of limbs, strangulation, burning, cutting off of noses and ears, mutilation of sexual organs, scalping, skinning, exposure to the elements or wild animals, and boiling persons alive. No one was immune from these horrors – men, woman, children, lords, and ambassadors from foreign powers were all reported to have died at the hands of Dracula.
The End of the Era
Finally, in 1462 the Turks invaded Wallachia and overthrew Dracula. He was imprisoned for 12 years during which time he somehow managed to father two sons. While in prison it was reported that he still practiced his favorite pastime. He often captured mice and birds which he proceeded to torture and mutilate. Some of these creatures were beheaded or tarred-and-feathered and released. Most were impaled on tiny spears.
He was released in 1474 at which time he once again regained control of Wallachia. He ruled for two years until 1476 when he was killed by the Turks. It is rumored that he was decapitated by the Turks and his head sent to Constantinople where it was displayed on a stake as proof of his death. He was reportedly buried in Snagov, an island monastery located near Bucharest.
The Evidential Pamphlets
Much of the Dracula history comes from political pamphlets published in both Germany and Russia during the early 1500’s. The printing press had just been invented and apparently these types of stories served as entertainment for the persons of that era. The German publications portrayed Dracula as a sinister, evil being. The Russian writings, however, took a different view and indicated that Dracula was simply a ruler that got the job done. Either way, historians note that both sides seem in agreement regarding the atrocities that were committed proving that these stories are certainly based upon truth. Here are some of the stories as reported by the press of that era…
Dracula was well known throughout the kingdom for his fierceness. In a brazen and arrogant display of that fear, Dracula placed a golden cup in the center of the city, Unprotected and openly displayed, it was known that anyone who stole the cup would be caught and punished in the most gruesome manner imaginable. The cup remained unmolested throughout Dracula’s 12 year reign.
The Honest Merchant
A merchant from a foreign land once visited Dracula’s castle proclaiming that someone had pilfered his cart. The merchant was shocked to find that 160 golden ducats were missing. Dracula soothed the poor man and assured him that the thief would be caught and his money would be recovered. He then graciously insisted that the merchant spend the night in the castle. Immediately, Dracula order soldiers to place 160 ducats plus 1 into the merchant’s cart. When the merchant returned to his cart the next morning he counted his money and discovered that 161 ducats had been returned. He went back to Dracula and told him that the money had been returned and in fact, the thief had added an extra ducat to the pot. Meanwhile, the real thief had been caught and was order to be impaled. Dracula informed the merchant of the true story of the return of his gold and indicated that if he had not reported the extra ducat, he would have been impaled alongside the thief.
The Foreign Ambassadors
It has been reported that two ambassadors once visited Dracula’s kingdom. Upon greeting the prince it was requested that they remove their hats. They promptly explained that it was against their religion to remove their head coverings and refused to comply. Dracula immediately had their hats nailed to their heads so that they "might never have to break such an excellent tradition".
The old pamphlets indicate that Dracula had a mistress that lived in the back streets of the city of Tirgoviste. Dracula was often moody and depressed and the woman made every effort to bring Dracula out of his gloominess. Once, when Dracula was in a particularly sorrowful state, she attempted to cheer him up by telling a lie, proclaiming that she was pregnant with his child. Dracula warned her not to lie about such a thing but she persisted to insist that she was with child. When Dracula had the woman examined by bath matrons, he was angered to find that she had been dishonest with him. He proceeded to draw his knife and cut her open from the groin to her breasts "while proclaiming his desire for all the world to see where he had been". He then left the woman to die in agony.
The Great Feast
On ST. Bartholomew’s Day in 1459, Dracula held a great dinner for all the merchants and noblemen of the city. In order that he might better enjoy his dinner, he order that the tables be set up and his guests join him for the feast amongst the forest of impaled corpses. While dining, Dracula noticed that one of the nobles kept holding his nose to keep from being overcome by the stench. Dracula then order his sensitive guest be impaled at the head of the table and that the stake be long enough to assure that his guest might be kept above the offending odors.
The Burning of the Village People
Dracula was always concerned about the well being of the kingdom as a whole and insisted that every person contribute to the overall welfare by working diligently every day. During part of his reign, he noticed that beggars and crippled persons had become numerous around the city. He immediately sent out invitations to all these people inviting them to a grand feast and proclaiming that "nobody should go hungry in his land". The guests were treated to a grand dinner at which Dracula himself made an appearance. "What else do you desire? Do you want to be without cares and lacking nothing in this world?" the prince inquired. When all responded loudly, Dracula had the hall boarded up and set afire. All perished in the blaze and Dracula proclaimed that no one would be poor in his realm.