The Story of Vlad III Tepes, the REAL Dracula
Romania, 1456. As the condemned struggles, the executioner pushes the stake inside his body. With a brutal, but very quick move, the stake is inserted in such a way as not to kill; it is designed to punish, invoke terror and much, much later, death. It has been reported that sometimes it would take several days for the person to die, with the wooden stake inserted in the pelvis (or the posterior) area and its top touching the back of the spinal cord or exiting the mouth. We are in Wallachia [Note 1] and this is the punishment thieves, murderers, even adulterous wives, and any other criminals receive in the land of Vlad Tepes [Note 2], a.k.a. Dracula [Note 3].
Born at the end of 1431 in Sighisoara, Vlad Tepes III Dracula spent his early years by his father's side, in the company of his two brothers, Mircea and Radu. After leaving Transylvania and seizing the Wallachian throne in 1436, their father began a successful six-year reign. Sadly, in 1442, as the Turkish forces invaded Transylvania, Vlad II Dracul was exiled from the throne and country by the superior power Hungary, on the basis of not siding with them at the time of a previous crisis. The following year, in 1443, Vlad II changed his position and decided to abandon his alliances with the Hungarians and prove his loyalty to the Turkish Sultan. As a vassal nation, he had to pay a tribute, but even more important, send his two younger sons to Constantinople and Adrianople as “official” hostages, for education in the spirit of loyalty and dedication for the Sultan [Note 4] (1444-1448). Dracula was about 13 at this time.
In 1447, after a period of war with Hungary, Vlad II and Dracula’s older brother, Mircea were killed while in battle, murdered, possibly buried alive, by Hungarian assassins. What followed, was a period of chaos and controlled rule of Wallachia by the Hungarian power, with puppet kings, or various boyars [Note 5] leading the region. As a counter measure, the Turkish rule freed Dracula, and gave him an army in order to take control of the now corrupt Wallachia. Regaining the power, he kept the throne for only two months, until he was, just like his father, forced to flee to Moldavia [Note 6]. Next, history repeated itself, and Dracula decided to abandon his ties with the Turks and sought help from the Hungarian king. So, in 1456, he successfully took the throne again, and was crowned Prince of Wallachia. What followed, was a reign of power, but above all, justice. His leadership, strong, uncorrupted, created unprecedented unification in the spirit of the Romanian people, a force and resistance against the influence of foreign nations. Until 1462, he ruled with extreme devotion, instituting his infamous methods of execution and punishment such as crude torture and more than often impalement. His nickname is derived from this method of establishing order in the land. At this time, numerous legends and folk tales appeared, describing his atrocities, with an estimated 40,000 to 100,000 people executed over his six year reign.
From his capital at Tirgoviste, near today's Bucharest, Dracula started a campaign to drive the Turkish forces below the Danube. In his efforts, he reached that zone, only to find an army three times larger than his waiting to attack. A massive blood-bath followed, in which about 20,000 Turks were impaled in the name of Dracula and freedom for the Romanian people. The foreign forces retreated, but not before reinforcements were sent, lead by Dracula’s younger brother, now 17, Radu. A series of battles emerged, with no clear winner, but some of which proved Radu’s sole allegiance to the Islam Nation. The battle grounds extended to the north and finally reached Dracula’s castle at Poienari. The Turks seized the castle, and Dracula’s wife committed suicide to prevent having to surrender herself to the invaders. Dracula himself managed to escape through a supposed secret pathway or corridor, below the mountains and into Transylvania. There are variations to the story, as to the location of the famed suicide, the circumstances, and battle, and the name of Dracula's wife.
Once in Transylvania, Dracula sought help, once again, from the Hungarian king, then Matthias Corvinus. Instead of help, the king imprisoned Vlad; after at least 4 years in prison, he slowly recovered and created new alliances through family ties in the Hungarian aristocracy and the royal family. There he remained for 12 years. In the meantime, in Transylvania, his brother, now known as Radu the Handsome, ruled the lands for a brief period of time, after which he mysteriously died. Seeing this as an only chance to regain power, Dracula left Hungary and invaded Wallachia for the third and final time. He would rule for a matter of weeks only.
To retaliate, the Turks sent an army which pushed as far as Bucharest. In battle, while fighting, Dracula was killed, possibly by one of his own men. Although this is not a fact, his death in 1476 could have been an act of assassination or a simple accident as some of the chronicles of the times say. Decapitated, the body remained in Romania, while his head was sent to Constantinople as proof of his death and the ultimate Turkish victory. He was buried at Snagov, in a small rural monastery situated on a remote island.
Years later, in 1897, Bram Stocker published his novel Dracula at Constable and Sons, a fantastic tale of vampirism, blood and seduction. With the introduction of this book, the world met Count Dracula through innovative narrative techniques such as Mina's diary or the correspondence between the two lovers-to-be. Ever since, this figure achieved cult status as one of the most sought-after horror character. From movies (multiple versions, 1931, the sequels, Francis Ford Coppola’s) to merchandise (can you say Count Chocula cereal?) to TV shows and theater, the figure of Dracula, became a household name. But, the Dracula that gained fame was not the same Dracula of history. The historical Dracula, Vlad Tepes, did not drink blood, nor did he fly or transform into a bat, sleep in a coffin, nor was he repelled by sunlight and garlic. These are all elements which acquired a certain secular cultural value in the light of popular and folk tales or myths. The real truth, known by many, is that Vlad Tepes was a strong, powerful, determined leader, a just ruler and forceful king. In his people's eyes, he was a hero who brought the country together, while achieving a sense and a reality governed by order and peace, even if for a brief period only.
So the myth continues, fueled by new stories and legends, new media and web coverage of the subject. Our consumerist society welcomes this new addition to its money-making schemes: from Halloween costumes, to cereal brands, from trips to the land of Dracula in Europe, from copyrighted movies, books, action figures, and characters, the modern world has embraced a shadow, a figure which is known to most of us from Bram Stoker's psychoanalytic account of a Transylvanian prince with certain "children of the night" and love that has no boundaries, between the real and fantastic world that is. In the end, beyond the horror, the real story is even more exiting, more intriguing and more fascinating than any bloody vampire's tale: it is the story of Vlad Tepes, the historical figure, the REAL Dracula.
 Independent province of Romania, a region with a tumultuous history, often caught between the two most powerful countries at the time, Turkey (Ottoman Empire) and Hungary (Holy Roman Empire).
Due to the nature of this topic, the time frame and other circumstances surrounding the figure of Vlad Tepes, the history of the times is quite varied and not very consistent with its facts (the impalement ritual, the battles, etc.), dates (birth dates, deaths, etc.), names (Vlad Tepes' wife, his own, the Turkish Sultan or the different Royal Houses) and places (cities, towns, castles, rivers, forms of relief, etc.). Even Dracula's status in his own royal House of Basarab is contested whether or not he was the third or fourth in that descent line [with the name Vlad]. So, for more detailed information on the historical Dracula, as well as pictures, more text and various commentaries or essays, I suggest the library of books mentioned below, plus some excellent web sites on the same subject (links provided).
McNally, Raymond T. and Florescu, Radu , In Search of Dracula: The History of Dracula and Vampires, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1994)
Stoicescu, Nicolae ; translated from the Romanian by Cristina Krikorian, Vlad Tepes, Prince of Walachia, (Bucharest : Editura Academiei Republicii Socialiste Romania, 1978)
Vlad Dracula Biography
The Historical Dracula
Vlad Dracula - Vlad the Impaler
About Vlad the Impaler
Edited, Researched and Written by Mircea Arsenie
Copyright 1996-9 by David W. Koeller. All rights reserved.