VLAD TEPES, 1431-1476
I. Historical Background
Vlad III Dracula
(call (sic) Tepes, pronounced tse-pesh); a fifteenth century viovode or prince of Wallachia of the princely House
of Basarab. Wallachia is a provence of Romania bordered to the north by Transylvania and Moldavia, to the east
by the Black Sea and to the south by Bulgaria. Wallachia first emerged as a political entity during the late
thirteenth centuryfrom the weltering confusion left behind in the Balkans as the East Roman Empire slowly
crumbled. The first prince of Wallachia was Basarab the Great (1310-1352), an ancestor of Dracula. Despite the
splintering of the family into two rival, clans some member (sic) of the House of Basarab continued to govern
Wallachia from that time until well after the Ottomans reduced the principality to the status of a client state.
Dracula was the last prince of Wallachia to retain any real measure of independence.
In order to understand the life of Vlad Dracula it is first necessary to understand something about the nature of
Wallachian society and politics. The throne of Wallachia was hereditary but not by the law of primogeniture; the
boyers or great nobles had the right to elect the voivode from among the various eligable members of the royal
family. As with most elective monarchies during the Middle Ages the power of the central government tended to
be dissipated among the nobility as various members of the ruling family vied for the throne. Wallachian politics
also tended to be very bloody. Assasination was a common means of eliminating rivals and many of the voivodes
ended their lives violently and prematurely. By the late fifteenth century the House of Basarab had split into two
rival clans; the descendants of Prince Dan and those of Prince Mircea the Old (Dracula's grandfather). These two
branches of the royal house were bitter rivals. Both Dracula and his father, Vlad II Dracul, murdered rivals from
the Danesti upon reaching the throne.
The second ascendant fact of the fifteenth century Wallachian political life was the influence of powerful
neighbors. In 1453 Constantinople and the last vestiges of the Byzantine or East Roman Empire, which had
blocked the Islam's access to Europe for nearly one thousand years, succumbed to the armed might of the
Ottoman Turks under Sultan Mohammed the Conqueror. Long before the fall of the Imperial City the Ottomans
had penetrated deep into the Balkans. Dracula's grandfather, Mircea the Old, was forced to pay tribute to the
sultan early in the fifteenth century. The Hungarian Kingdom to the north and west of Wallachia reached the zenith
of its power during the fifteenth century and assumed Constantinople's ancient mantle as defender of
Christendom. Throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the princes of Wallachia attempted to maintain a
precarious independence by constantly shifting allegiances between these powerful neighbors.
Dracula ruled as Prince of Wallachia on three seperate occasions. He first claimed the throne with Turkish
support in 1448. On this occasion he ruled for only two months (November-October (sic)) before being driven
out by a Danesti claimant supported by Hungary. Dracula dwelt in exile for several years before returning to
Wallachia to kill the Danesti prince, Vladislov II, and reclaim the Wallachian throne with Hungarian support.
Dracu;a's second regnal period streched from 1456 to 1462. It was during this time that Dracula carried out his
most famous military exploits against the Turks and also committed his most gruesome atrocities.
In 1462 Dracula fled to Transylvania to seek the aid of the King of Hungary when a Turkish army overwhelmed
Wallachia. Instead of receiving the assistance he expected Dracula was imprisoned by the Hungarian king. He
remained a prisoner of Matthius Corvinus of Hungary for several years. For most of the period of Dracula's
incarceration his brother, Radu the Handsome, ruled Wallachia as a puppet of the Ottoman sultan. When Radu
died (ca. 1474-1475) the sultan appointed Basarab the Old, a member of the Danesti clan, as prince.
Eventually, Dracula regained the favor and support of the Hungarian king. In 1476 he once again invaded
Wallachia. His small force consisted of a few loyal Wallachians, a contingent of Moldavians sent by his cousin
Prince Stephen the Great of Moldavia, and a contingent of Transylvanians under their prince, Stephen Bathory.
The allies succeeded in driving Basarab out of the country and placing Dracula on the throne (November 1476).
However, after Dracula was once again in control, Stephen Bathory returned to Transylvania taking most of
Dracula's army with him. The Turk's soon counterattacked with overwhelming force. Dracula was killed fighting
the Turks near Bucharest in December of 1476. His head was sent to Constantinople where the Sultan had it
displayed on a stake to prove that the terrible Impaler was really dead.
There has been considerable debate among scholars concerning the meaning of the name 'Dracula'. The name is
clearly related to Dracula's father's sobriquet 'Dracul'. Drac in Romanian means devil and 'ul' is the definitive
article. Therefore, 'Dracul' literally means 'the devil'. The 'ulea' ending in Romanian indicates 'the son of'. Under
this interpretation Dracula becomes Vlad III, son of the devil. The experts who support this interpretation usually
claim that Vlad II earned his devlish nickname by his clever and wily political maneuvering.
The second interpretation of the name is more widely accepted. In 1431 Vlad II was invested with the Order of
the Dragon by the Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg. The Order of the Dragon was a knightly
order dedicated to fighting the Turk. Its emblem was a dragon, wings extended, hanging on a cross. From 1431
onward Vlad II wore the emblem of the order. His coinage bore the dragon symbol. The dragon was the symbol
of the devil and consequently and (sic) alternate meaning of 'drac' was dragon. Under this interpretation Vlad II
Dracul becomes Vlad II, the Dragon and his son, Vlad III Dracula, becomes Vlad III, the Son of the Dragon.
Dracula was born in 1431 in the Transylvanian city of Sighisoara. At that time Draculas father, Vlad II Dracul,
was living in exile in Transylvania. Vlad Dracul was in Transylvania attempting to gather support for his planned
effort to seize the Wallachian throne from the Danesti Prince, Alexandru I. The house where dracula was born is
still standing. In 1431 it was located in a prosperous neighborhood surrounded by the homes of Saxon and
Magyar merchants and the townhouses of the nobility.
Little is known about the early years of Dracula's life. It is known he had an elder brother, Mircea, and a younger
brother named Radu. 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 and
killing his Danesti rival. His training was typical to that common to the sons of the nobility throughout Europe. His
first tutor in his apprenticeship to knighthood was an elderly boyer who (sic) had fought under the banner of
Enguerrand de Courcy at the battle of Nicolopolis against the Turks. Dracula learned all the skills of war and
peace that were deemed necessary for a Christian knight.
The political situation in Wallachia remained unstable after Vlad Dracul seized the throne in 1436. The power of
the Turks was growing rapidly as one by one the small states of the Balkans surrendered to the Ottoman
onslaught. At the same time the power of hungary was reaching its zenith and would peak during the time of John
Hunyadi, the White Knight of Hungary, and his son King Matthius Corvinus. Any prince of Wallachia had to
balance his policies precariously between these two powerful neighbors. The prince of Walla chia (sic) was
officially a vassal of the King of Hungary. In addition, Vlad Dracul was 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. Even in the time of
Vlad's father, Mircea the Old, Wallachia had been forced to pay tribute to the Sultan. Vlad was forced to renew
that tribute and from 1436-1442 attempted to walk a middle coarse between his powerful neighbors.
In 1442 Vlad attempted to remain neutral when the Turks invaded Transylvania. The Turks were defeated and
the vengeful Hungarians under John Hunyadi forced Dracul and his family to flee Wallachia. Hunyadi placed a
Danesti, Basarab II, on the Wallachian throne. In 1443 Vlad II regained the Wallachian throne with Turkish
support, on the condition that he sign a new treaty with the sultan that included not only the customary annual
tribute but the promise to yearly send contingents of Wallachian boys to join the sultans Janissaries. In 1444, to
further assure to the sultan of his good faith, Vlad sent his two younger sons to Adrianople as hostages. Dracule
remained as a hostage in Adrianople until 1448.
In 1444 the King of Hungary, Ladislas Poshumous, broke the peace and launched the Varna campaign under the
command of John Hunyadi in an effort to drive the Turks out of Europe. Hunyadi demanded that Vlad II fulfill his
oath as a member of the Order of the Dragon and a vassal of Hungary and join the crusade against the Turk. The
Pope absolved Dracul of his Turkish oath but the wily politician still attempted to steer a middle coarse. 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 conditions that add little glory to the White Knight's
reputation. Many, apparently including Mircea and his father, blamed Hunyadi for the debacle. From this moment
forth John Hunyadi was bitterly hostile toward Vlad Dracul and his eldest son. In 1447 Vlad Dracul was
assasinated along with his son Mircea. Mircea was apparently buried alive by the boyars and merchants of
Tirgoviste. Hunyadi placed his own candidate, a member of the Danesti clan, on the throne of Wallachia.
On receiving the news of Vlad Dracul's death the Turks released Dracula and supported him as their own
candidate for the Wallachian throne. In 1448 Dracula managed to briefly seize the Wallachian throne with Turkish
support. Within two months Hunyadi forced Dracula to surrender the throne and flee to his cousin, the Prince of
Moldavia, while Hunyadi once again placed Vladislav II on the Wallachian throne.
Dracula remained in exile in Moldavia for three years, until Prince Bogdan of Moldavia was assasinated in 1451.
The resulting turmoil in Muldavia forced Dracula to flee to Transylvania and seek the protection of his family
enemy, Hunyadi. The timing was propitious; Hunyadi's puppet on the Wallachian throne, Vladislov II, had
instituted a pro-Turkish policy and Hunyadi needed a more reliable man in Wallachia. Consequently, Hunyadi
accepted the allegiance of his old enemy's son and put him forward as the Hungarian candidate for the throne of
Wallachia. Dracula became Hunyadi's vassal and received his father's old Transylvanian duchies of Faragas and
Almas. Dracula remained in Transylvania, under Hunyadi's protection, until 1456 waiting for an opportunity to
retake Wallachia from his rival.
In 1453 the Christian world was shocked by the final fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans. The East Roman
Empire which had existed since the time of Constantine the Great and which for a thousand years had shielded the
rest of Christendom from Islam was no more. Hunyadi immediately began planning another campaign against the
Turks. In 1456 Hunyadi invaded Turkish Serbia while Dracula simultaniously invaded Wallachia. In the Battle of
Belgrade Hunyadi was killed and his army defeated. Meanwhile, Dracula succeeded in killing Vladislav II and
taking the Wallachian throne but Hunyadi's defeat made his long term tenure questionable. For a time at least,
Dracula was forced to attempt to placate the Turks while he solidified his own position.
Dracula's main reign stretched from 1456 to 1462. His capital was the city of Tirgoviste while his castle was
raised some distance away in the mountains near the Arges River. Most of the atrocities associated with Dracula's
name took place in these years. It was also during this time that he launched his own campaign against the Turks.
His campaign was relatively successful at first. His skill as a warrior and his well-known cruelty made him a much
feared enemy. However, he received little support from his titular overlord, Matthius Corvinus, King of Hungary
(the son of John Hunyadi) and Wallachia's resources were too limited to achieve any lasting success against the
conquerer (sic) of Constantinople.
The Turks finally suceeded in forcing Dracula to flee to Transylvania in 1462. Reportedly, his first wife committed
suicide by leaping from the towers of Dracula's castle into the waters of the Arges River rather than surrender to
the Turks. Dracula escaped across the mountains into Transylvania and appealed to Matthius Corvinus for aid.
Instead the King had Dracula arrested and imprisoned in a royal tower near Buda. Dracula remained a prisoner
for twelve years.
Apparently his imprisonment was none too onerous. He was able to gradually win his way back into the graces of
Hungary's monarch; so much so that he was able to meet and marry a member of the royal family (some of the
sources claim Dracula's second wife was actually the sister of Matthius Corvinus). The openly pro-Turkish policy
of Dracula's brother, Radu the Handsome, who was prince of Wallachia during most of Dracula's captivity
probably was a factor in Dracula's rehabilitation. During his captivity Dracula also renounced the Orthodox faith
and adopted Catholicism. It is interesting to note that the Russian narrative, normally very favorable to Dracula,
indicates that even in captivity he could not give up his favorite past-time; he often captured birds and mice which
he proceeded to torture and mutilate -- some were beheaded or tarred-and-feathered and released, most were
impaled on tiny spears.
The exact length of Dracula's period of captivity is open to some debate. The Russian pamphlets indicate that he
was a prisoner from 1462 until 1474. However, during that period Dracula managed to marry a member of the
Hungarian royal family and have two sons who were about ten years old when he reconquered Wallachia in
1476. McNally and Florescu place Dracula's actual period of confinement at about four years from 1462 to
1466. It is unlikely that a prisoner would be allowed to marry into the royal family. Diplomatic correspondence
from Buda during the period in question also seems to support the claim that Dracula's actual period of
confinement was relatively short.
Apparently in years between his release in 1474 when he began preparations for the reconquest of Wallachia
Dracula resided with his new wife in a house in the Hungarian capital. One anecdote from that period tells how a
Hungarian captain followed a thief into Dracula's house. When Dracula discovered the intruders he killed the
Hungarian officer rather than the thief. When questioned about his actions by the king Dracula answered that a
gentleman does not enter the presence of a great ruler without an introduction -- had the captain followed proper
protocol he would not have incurred the wrath of the prince.
In 1476 Dracula was again ready to make another bid for power. Dracula and Prince Stephen Bathory of
Transylvania invaded Wallachia with a mixed force of Transylvanians, a few dissatisfied Wallachian boyars and a
contingent of Moldavians sent by Dracula's cousin, Prince Stephen the Great of Moldavia. Dracula's brother,
Radu the Handsome, had died a coulpe of years earlier and had been replaced on the Wallachian throne by
another Turkish candidate, Basarab the Old, a member of the Danesti clan. At the approach of Dracula's army
Basarab and his coherents fled, some to the protection of the Turks, others to the shelter of the mountains. After
placing Dracula on the throne Stephen Bathory and the bulk of Dracula's forces returned to Transylvania, leaving
Dracula's tactical position very weak. Dracula had little time to gather support before a large Turkish army
entered Wallachia determined to return Basarab to the throne. Dracula's cruelties over the years had alienated the
boyars who felt they had a better chance of surviving under Prince Basarab. Apparently, even the peasants, tired
of the depredations of the Impaler, abandoned him to his fate. Dracula was forced to march to meet the Turks
with the small forces at his diposal, somewhat less than four thousand men.
Dracula was killed in battle against the Turks near the small town of Bucharest in December of 1476. Some
reports indicated that he was assasinated by disloyal Wallachian boyars just as he was about to sweep the Turks
from the field. Other accounts have Dracula falling in defeat, surrounded by the bodies of his loyal Moldavian
bodyguard (the troops loaned by Prince Stephen of Moldavia remained with Dracula after Stephen Bathory
returned to Transylvania). Still other reports claim that Dracula, at the moment of victory, was accidentally struck
down by one of his own men. Dracula's body was decapitatedby the Turks and his head sent to Constantnople
where the sultan had it displayed on a stake as proof that the Impaler was dead. He was reportedly buried at
Snagov, an island monastery located near Bucharest.
More than anything else the historical Dracula is known for his inhuman cruelty. Impalement was Dracula's
preferred method of torture and execution. Impalement was and is one of the most gruesome ways of dying
imaginable. Dracula usually had a horse attached to each of the victim's legs an 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 bodily orifices or through the abdomen or chest. Infants were
sometimes impaled on the stake forced through their mother's chests. The records indicate that victims were
sometimes impaled so that they hung upside down on the stake.
Death by impalement was slow and painful. Victims sometimes endured for hours or days. Dracula 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 corpses outside of Dracula's capital of Tirgoviste. The warrior
sultan turned command of the campaign against Dracula over to subordinates and returned to Constantinople.
Thousands were often impaled at a single time. Ten thousand were impaled in the Transylvanian city of Sibiu
(where Dracula had once lived) in 1460. In 1459, on St. Bartholomew's Day, Dracula 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 Dracula feasting amongst a forest of stakes and their grisly burdens outside Brasov while a nearby
executioner cuts apart other victims.
Impalement was Dracula's favorite but by no means hjis only method of torture. The list of tortues employed by
this cruel prince reads like an inventory of hell's (sic) 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 boiling alive.
No one was immune to Dracula's 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 Wallachia. Many have attempted to justify Dracula's actions
on the basis of nascent nationalism and political necessity. Many of the merchants in Transylvania and Wallachia
were Saxons who were seen as parasites, preying upon Romanian natives of Wallachia, while the boyars had
proven their disloyalty time and time again. Dracula's own father and older brother were murdered by unfaithful
boyars. However, many of Dracula's victims were Wallachians and few deny that he derived a perverted pleasure
from his actions.
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 of revenge as well as a need to solidify his power. Early in his main reign he gave a
feast for his boyarsand their families to celebrate Easter. Dracula was well aware that many of these same nobles
were part of the conspiracy that led to his father's assasination 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 Dracula asked his
noble guests how many princes had ruled during their life times. All of the nobles present had out lived several
princes. One answered that at least thirty princes had held the throne during his life. None had seen less than
seven reigns. Dracula 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 a castle in the mountains above the Arges River. Dracula was determined to rebuild this ancient
fortress as his own stronghold and refuge. The enslaved boyars and their families were forced to labor for months
rebuilding the old castle with materials from another 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 of the old gentry survived
the ordeal of building Castle Dracula.
Throughout his reign Dracula systematically eradicated the old boyar class of Wallachia. The old boyars had
repeatedly undermined the power of the prince during previous reigns and had been responsible for the violent
overthrow of several princes. Apparently Dracula was determined that his own power be on a modern and
thoroughly secure footing. In the place of the executed boyars Dracula promoted new men from among the free
peasantry and middle class; men who would be loyal only to their prince. Many of Dracula's acts of cruelty can
be interpreted as efforts to strengthen and modernize the central government at the expense of the feudal powers
of nobility and great towns.
Dracula was also constantly on guard against the adherents of the Danesti clan. Some of his raids into
Transylvania may have been efforts to capture would-be princes of the Danesti. Several members of the Danesti
clan died at Dracula's hands. Vladislav II was murdered soon after Dracula came to power in 1456. Another
Danesti prince was captured during one of Dracula's forays into Transylvania. Thousands of citizens of the town
that had sheltered his rival were impaled by Dracula. The captured Danesti prince was forced to read his own
funeral oration while kneeling before an open grave before his execution.
Dracula's atrocities against the people of Wallachia were usually attempts to enforce his own moral code upon his
county. He appears to have been particularly concerned with female chastity. Maidens who lost their virginity,
adulterous wives and unchaste widows were all targets of Dracula's cruelty. Such women often had their sexual
organs cut out or their breasts cut off. They were also often impaled through the vagina on red-hot stakes that
were forced through the body until they emerged from the mouth. One report tells of the execution of an unfaithful
wife. Dracula had the woman's breasts cut off, then she was skinned and impaled in a square in Tirgoviste with
her skin lying on a nearby table. Dracula 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.
Much of the information we have about Vlad III comes from pamphlets published in Germany and Russia after his
death. The German pamphlets appeared shortly after Dracula's death and, at least initially, may have been
politically inspired. At that time 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. The pamphlets were also a form of mass entertainment in a society where the printing press was just
coming into widespread use. Much like the subject matter of the supermarket tabloids of today, the cruel life of
the Wallachian tyrant was easily sensationalized. The pamphlets were reprinted numerous times over the thirty or
so years following Dracula's death -- strong proof of their popularity.
The German pamphlets painted Dracula as an inhuman monster who terrorized the land and butchered innocents
with sadistic glee. The Russian pamphlets took a somewhat different view. The princes of Moscow were at the
time just beginning to build the basis of what would become the autocracy of the czars. They were also having
considerable trouble with disloyal, often troublesome boyars. In Russia, Dracula was presented as a cruel but just
prince whose (sic) actions were directed toward the greater good of his people. Despite the differences in
interpretation the pamphlets, regardless of their land of origin, agree remarkably well as to specifics. The level of
agreement between that various pamphlets has led most historians to conclude that at least the broad outlines of
the events covered actually occurred.
Romanian verbal tradition provides another important source for the life of Vlad Dracula. Legends and tales
concerning 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. Through constant retelling they have become
somewhat garbled and confused and they are gradually being forgotten by the younger generation