Vlad III Basarab (November or December, 1431 – December 1476), has also been known as Dracula (also Drăculea — see below), or Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Ţepeş IPA: ['tsepeʃ] in Romanian). Vlad III Basarab was the voivode, or prince, of the principality of Wallachia (what is today an informal region in southern Romania). His three reigns were in 1448, from 1456 to 1462, and 1476. His surname 'Dracula' seems to come from his father's surname 'Dracul', due to the 'Order of the Dragon' he got from the Emperor Sigismund.
As voivode he led an independent policy in relation to the Ottoman Empire, and in Romania at least he is best remembered as a Christian knight crusading against Islamic expansionism into Europe and a prince with deep sense of justice. He is known in Turkish as Kazıklı Bey, or the Impaler Prince, Outside of Romania he is known by the exaggerated tales of atrocities (many of which stem from records of debatable authenticity), and even more so — the title of vampire and as the main character of Bram Stoker's 1897 horror novel, Dracula — to the point where he is thought to be the inspiration for it. It has been suggested that this connection stemmed from a certain grotesque eating habit of Vlad's. Rumour has it he would consume bread dipped in his victims' blood and he refused to eat anywhere but in his garden where he had his enemies impaled on 6 foot stakes that were driven into the ground.
His impact on Ottoman Empire expansion is recognizable in that his successful war against the Ottomans bought precious time for western Europe.
His post-mortem moniker of Ţepeş (Impaler) originated in his preferred method for executing his opponents, impalement, popularized by medieval Transylvanian pamphlets.
Wallachian royalty and the family background of Dracula The crown of Wallachia was not passed automatically from father to son; instead, the leader was elected by the boyars, with the requirement that the Prince-elect be of princely lineage (os de domn - "of voivode bones", "of voivode marrow"), including out of wedlock births. This elective monarchy often resulted in instability, family disputes and assassinations. Eventually, the royal house split between two factions: the descendants of Prince Mircea the Elder, Dracula's grandfather; and those of another prince, Dan II (the Dăneşti). In addition to that, like in all feudal states, there was another struggle between the central administration (the prince) and the high nobility for control over the country. To top it off, the two powerful neighbors of Wallachia, the Kingdom of Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, were at the peak of their rivalry for control of southeastern Europe, turning Wallachia into a battle ground.
Order of the Dragon symbolHis father, born around 1390, was Vlad II Dracul, member of the Basarab family, the founders of Wallachia. He was an illegitimate son of Mircea the Elder, an important early Wallachian ruler. As a young man, he joined the court of Sigismund of Luxemburg, King of Hungary and Holy Roman Emperor, whose support for claiming the throne of Wallachia he eventually acquired. A sign of this support was the fact that in 1431 Vlad II was inducted into the Order of the Dragon (Societas Draconis in Latin, Ordo Draco in Romanian), along with the rulers of Poland and Serbia. The purpose of the Order was to protect Eastern Europe and the Holy Roman Empire from the infidel, mainly the muslim turks who were expanding the Ottoman Empire.
Wishing to assert his status, Vlad II displayed the symbol of the Order, (a dragon), in all public appearances, (on flags, clothing, etc.). The old Romanian word for serpent (Cf. drac) is nowadays the most common and casual reference to the devil - while the people of Wallachia did give Vlad II the surname Dracu (Dracul being the more grammatically correct form), any connection with a dark power was most likely coincidental. His son Vlad III would later use in several documents the surname Drăculea, which stands for "son of Dracu" (or, indeed, a diminutive used to imply descent). Through various translations (Draculea, Drakulya) Vlad III eventually came to be known as Dracula (note that this ultimate version is a neologism in Romanian).
Vlad II finally became prince of Wallachia in 1436. During his reign he tried to maneuver between his powerful neighbors, opposing various initiatives of war against the Ottomans, which finally attracted the irritation of the Hungarian side, who accused him of disloyalty and removed him in 1442. With the help of the Turks (where he also had connections) he regained the throne in 1443 and until December 1447 when he was assassinated on the orders of John Hunyadi, regent of Hungary.
The identity of Vlad Dracula’s mother is somewhat uncertain, the most likely variant being that she was a Moldavian princess, niece or daughter of Moldavian prince Alexandru cel Bun. In some sources she is named Cneajna. Vlad seems to have had a very close relationship with Moldavia: he spent several years there after his father’s death; he left with his presumed cousin Ştefan (Stephen the Great) to Transylvania, he helped Ştefan get the throne of Moldavia in 1457 and was later helped by Ştefan to return to the throne of Wallachia in 1476.
Dracula seems to have had three brothers. The oldest, probably named Mircea, born before 1430, briefly held his father's throne in 1442, was sent by Vlad Dracul in 1444 to fight in his place during the crusade against the Turks that ended with the Varna defeat and met his end along with his father in 1447, presumably being buried alive. Vlad IV, also known as Vlad Călugarul (Vlad the Monk), was born around 1425 to 1430, and was Dracula's half-brother. Vlad the Monk spent many years in Transylvania waiting for a chance to get the throne of Wallachia, trying a religious career in the meantime, until he became prince of Wallachia (1482). Radu, known as Radu cel Frumos (Radu the Handsome) was the youngest brother, was also Vlad’s most important rival as he continuously tried to replace Dracula with the support of the Turks, to which he had very strong connections. Dracula apparently had a sister too, named Alexandra.
From his first marriage, to a Wallachian noble woman, Dracula apparently had a son, later prince of Wallachia as Mihnea cel Rău, and another two with his second wife, a relative of the Hungarian king.
The life of Vlad III
Early years Vlad was very likely born in the Transylvanian city (a military fortress) of Sighişoara, during the winter of 1431. He was born as the second son to his father Vlad Dracul and his mother Princess Cneajna of Moldovia. He had an older brother Mircea and a younger brother Radu, the Handsome. Although his native country was Wallachia to the south, the family lived in exile as his father had been ousted by pro-Turkish boyars. In the same year as his birth, his father, Vlad Dracul, could be found in Nuremberg, where he was invested into the Order of the Dragon. At the age of five, young Vlad was also initiated into the Order of the Dragon and given the name Dracula, meaning the son of Dracul.
A hostage of the Ottoman Empire Dracula's father was under considerable political pressure from the Ottoman sultan. Threatened with invasion, he gave a promise to be the vassal of the Sultan and gave up his two younger sons as hostages so that he would keep his promise. If he did not follow the sultan's policies and interests, his sons would surely die.
Dracula suffered much at the hands of the Turks, and was locked up in an underground dungeon. However, his younger brother, Radu, caught the eye of the sultan's son. Radu was released and converted to Islam, before being allowed into the Ottoman royal court.
These years were influential in shaping Vlad's character. He was often whipped by his Turkish captors for being stubborn and rude. It could be argued that the man's fascination with torture truly began under the Ottomans as he witnessed torture and occasionally took part in various discussions on the art of torture.
Brief reign and exile After Dracula's father was assassinated in the marshes near Bălteni in December of 1447 by rebellious boyars (and, allegedly, under the orders of John Hunyadi of Hungary) due to his semi-pro-Turkish policy, the Sultan released Dracula. Dracula's older brother Mircea was also dead at this point, blinded with hot iron stakes and buried alive by his political enemies at Târgovişte. The Turks then invaded Wallachia and the Sultan put Dracula on the throne as his puppet ruler. His rule was brief. It was not long before Hunyadi himself invaded Wallachia with the Hungarian military and ousted the Turks.
Dracula fled to Moldavia until October of 1451 and was put under the protection of his uncle, Bogdan II. During his escape, he had the shoes on his horse put on backwards to confuse anyone who tried to follow him.
Turning tides Bogdan was assassinated and Dracula, taking a gamble, fled to Hungary. Hunyadi pardoned him and put him forward as the Hungarian candidate for the throne of Wallachia.
In 1456, Hungary invaded Serbia to drive out the Turks, and Dracula simultaneously invaded Wallachia with his own contingent. Both campaigns were successful, although Hunyadi died suddenly of fever. Nevertheless, Dracula was now prince of his native land.
The main reign of Dracula (1456–62) Ţepeş’ actions after 1456 are well documented. Except for constantly performing acts of cruelty, he seems to have led the life of all the other princes of Wallachia, spending most of his time at the court of Târgovişte, occasionally in other important cities, such as Bucharest, drafting laws, meeting foreign envoys and presiding over important judicial trials. He probably made public appearances on relevant occasions, such as religious holidays and major fairs. As a pastime he probably enjoyed hunting on the vast princely domain, with his more or less loyal friends. He made some additions to the palace in Târgovişte (out of which Chindia tower is today the most notable remainder), reinforced some castles, like the one at Poienari, where he also had a personal house built nearby. He also made donations to various churches and monasteries, one such place being the monastary at Lake Snagov where he is supposed to have been buried.
The early part of Vlad’s reign was dominated by the idea of eliminating all possible threats to his power, mainly the rival nobility groups. This was done mainly by physical elimination, but also by reducing the economic role of the nobility: the key positions in the Prince’s Council, traditionally belonging to the country’s greatest noblemen, were handed to obscure individuals, some of them of foreign origin, but who manifested loyalty towards Vlad. (Nonetheless, even these people were eliminated regularly). For the less important functions, Vlad also ignored the old nobility, preferring to knight and appoint men from the free peasantry. A key element of the power of the Wallachian nobility was their connections in the German-populated autonomous Saxon towns of Transylvania, so Vlad acted against these cities by eliminating their trade privileges in relation with Wallachia and by organizing violent raids against them.
Another serious threat to Vlad’s power was the anarchical situation (a constant state of war had led to rampant crime, falling agricultural production and virtual disappearance of trade) in which Wallachia stood since the death of his grandfather Mircea the Elder (1418). Vlad used severe methods to restore some order, as he needed an economically stable country if he was to have any chance against his external enemies.
A personal crusade Main article: The Night Attack The greatest threat to Vlad’s position was the rivalry in southeastern Europe between the Ottoman Empire and the Hungarian Kingdom. Following family traditions, Vlad decided to side with the latter. To the end of the 1450s there was once again talk about a war against the Turks, in which the Hungarian king Matthias Corvinus would play the main role. Knowing this, Vlad stopped paying money to the Ottomans in 1459 and around 1460 made a new alliance with Corvinus, much to the dislike of the Turks, who attempted to remove him. They failed; later, in the winter of 1461 to 1462 Vlad crossed south of the Danube and devastated the area between Serbia and the Black Sea, leaving over 20,000 people dead.
In response to this, Sultan Mehmed II, the recent conqueror of Constantinople, raised an army of around 60,000 men and in the spring of 1462 headed towards Wallachia. With his army of 20,000-30,000 men Vlad was unable to stop the Turks from entering Wallachia and occupying the capital Târgovişte (June 4, 1462), so he resorted to guerrilla war, constantly organizing small attacks and ambushes on the Turks. The most important of these attacks took place on the night of June 16/17, when Vlad and some of his men allegedly entered the main Turkish camp (wearing Turkish disguises) and attempted to assassinate Mehmed. The Turks eventually left the country, but not before installing Vlad’s brother, Radu the Handsome, as the new prince; he gathered support from the nobility and chased Vlad to Transylvania, and by August 1462 he had struck a deal with the Hungarian Crown. Consequently, Vlad was imprisoned.
In captivity 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 (the cousin of the king). The openly pro-Turkish policy of Dracula's brother, Radu (who was prince of Wallachia during most of Dracula's captivity), was a probable factor in Dracula's rehabilitation. During his captivity, Dracula also 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 have been 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 the years before his final 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 (the setting of the thief anecdote). Vlad had a son from an earlier marriage, Mihnea cel Rău. According to legend his first wife, whose name is not recorded, died during the siege of his castle in 1462. The Turkish army surrounded Poienari Castle, led by his half-brother Radu the Handsome. An archer shot an arrow through a window into Dracula's main quarters, demanding his surrender. Upon reading the message, Vlad's wife was so frightened that she flung herself off the tower into a tributary of the Argeş River flowing below the castle. Today, the river is called Râul Doamnei (the Lady's River).
Return to Wallachia and death Around 1475 Dracula was again ready to make another bid for power. Dracula and Prince Stefan Báthory 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 III of Moldavia. Dracula's brother, Radu the Handsome, had died a couple of years earlier and had been replaced on the Wallachian throne by another Turkish candidate, Basarab the Elder, a member of the Dăneşti clan. At the approach of Dracula's army, Basarab and his cohorts fled, some to the protection of the Turks, others to the shelter of the Transylvanian Alps. After placing Dracula on the throne, Stephen Báthory and the bulk of Dracula's forces returned to Transylvania, leaving Dracula in a very weak position. 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 disposal, somewhat less than four thousand men.
There are several variants of Dracula's death. Some sources say he was killed in battle against the Turks near Bucharest in December of 1476. Others say he was assassinated by disloyal Wallachian boyars just as he was about to sweep the Turks from the field or during a hunt. Other accounts have Dracula falling in defeat, surrounded by the bodies of his loyal Moldavian bodyguard (the troops loaned by Prince Stephen remained with Dracula after Stephen Báthory returned to his country). 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 decapitated by the Turks and his head was sent to Istanbul/Constantinople and preserved in honey, where the sultan had it displayed on a stake as proof that the Impaler was dead. He was reportedly buried at a monastery located at Snagov, near Bucharest.
Alleged atrocities Woodblock print of Vlad III attending a mass impalement.More than anything else, the historical Dracula is known for his exceeding cruelty. Impalement was Dracula's preferred method of torture and execution, which he had learned in his youth as a prisoner of the Turks. Dracula usually had a horse attached to each of the victim's legs as 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 anus 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.
As expected, 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 constituted his target. The height of the spear indicated the rank of the victim. The corpses were often left decaying for months.
Thousands were often impaled at a single time. 10,000 were impaled in the Transylvanian city of Sibiu (where Dracula had once lived) in 1460. The previous year, on Saint Bartholomew's Day (in August), Dracula had 30,000 of the merchants and officials of the Transylvanian city of Braşov impaled. One of the most famous woodcuts of the period shows Dracula feasting amongst a forest of stakes and their grisly burdens outside Braşov, while a nearby executioner cuts apart other victims.
Impalement was Dracula's favourite but by no means his only method of torture. The list of tortures employed by the prince is extensive: 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 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 European victims came from the merchants and boyars of Transylvania and his own country, Wallachia. Many have attempted to justify Dracula's actions on the basis of nascent nationalism and political necessity. Most 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). It is highly contested whether he was actually insane, though he certainly had no problem giving that impression. His domestic atrocities were largely driven by one or more of three motives: personal or political vendettas, the establishment of iron-fisted law and order in Wallachia, and nationalizing the province's economy through policies that would be identified today as producerism.
Dracula committed even more impalements and other vicious atrocities against invading forces, namely Turks and other Muslims. 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 1462 Mehmed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, a man not noted for his squeamishness, returned to Constantinople after being sickened by the sight of 20,000 impaled corpses outside of Dracula's capital of Târgovişte. Many of the victims were Turkish prisoners of war Vlad had previously captured during the Turkish invasion. The total Turkish casualty toll in this battle reached over 40,000. The warrior sultan turned command of the campaign against Dracula over to subordinates and returned to Istanbul, even though his army had initially tripled Vlad's in size.
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 reign he gave a feast for his boyars and 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 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 Dracula asked his noble guests how many princes had ruled during their life times. All of the nobles present had outlived 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 Târgovişte to the ruins of Poienari Castle in the mountains above the Argeş 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 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 decaying feudal powers of nobility carried over from the Middle Ages.
Anecdotal evidence Much of the information we have about Vlad III comes from pamphlets published in the Holy Roman Empire and chronicles written in Muscovy. The first known German pamphlet dates from 1488 and it is possible that some were printed during Dracula’s lifetime. At least initially, they may have been politically inspired. At that time Matthias Corvinus of Hungary was seeking to bolster his own reputation in the 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 Muscovy were at the time just beginning to build the basis of what would become the autocracy of the tsars. They were also having considerable trouble with disloyal, often troublesome boyars. In Muscovy, Dracula was presented as a cruel but just prince whose 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 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 have gradually been forgotten in later years. However, they still provide valuable information about Dracula and his relationship with his people. Many of the tales contained in the pamphlets are also found in the verbal tradition, though with a somewhat different emphasis. Among the Romanian peasantry, Dracula was 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 somewhat of a champion of the common man against the oppression of the boyars. Dracula's fierce insistence on honesty is a central part of the verbal tradition. Many of the anecdotes contained in the pamphlets and in the verbal tradition demonstrate the prince's efforts to eliminate crime and dishonesty from his domain. However, despite the more positive interpretation, the Romanian verbal tradition also remembers Dracula as an exceptionally cruel and often capricious ruler. There are several events that are common to all the pamphlets, regardless of their nation of origin. Many of these events are also found in the Romanian verbal tradition. Specific details may vary among the different versions of these anecdotes but the general course of events usually agrees to a remarkable extent. For example, in some versions the foreign ambassadors received by Dracula at Târgovişte are Florentine, in others they are Turkish. The nature of their offense against the Prince also varies from version to version. However, all versions agree that Dracula, in response to some real or imagined insult, had their hats nailed to their heads. Some of the sources view Dracula's actions as justified, others view his acts as crimes of wanton and senseless cruelty.
Dracula was also constantly on guard against the adherents of the Dăneşti clan. Some of his raids into Transylvania may have been efforts to capture would-be princes of the Dăneşti. Several members of the Dăneşti clan died at Dracula's hands. Vladislav II of Wallachia was murdered soon after Dracula came to power in 1456. Another Dăneşti 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 Dăneşti 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 country. According to the pamphlets, 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 Târgovişte 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.
The vampire myth and the Romanian attitudes It is unclear why Bram Stoker chose this Wallachian prince as the model for his fictional vampire. Stoker was friends with a Hungarian professor from Budapest, and many have suggested that Dracula's name might have been mentioned by this friend. Regardless of how the name came to Stoker's attention, the cruel history of the Impaler would have readily loaned itself to Stoker's purposes. The events of Dracula's life were played out in a region of the world that was still basically medieval even in Stoker's time. The Balkans had only recently shaken off the Turkish yoke when Stoker started working on his novel and ancient superstitions were still prevalent. Transylvania had long been a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, but it too had endured a long period of Turkish domination and its culture was still largely medieval.
Recent research suggests that Stoker knew little of the Prince of Wallachia. Some have claimed that the novel owes more to the legends about Elizabeth Báthory. (See Dracula - Historical connections for more detail).
The legend of the vampire was and still is deeply rooted in that region. There have always been vampire-like creatures in the mythologies of many cultures. However, the vampire, as he became known in Europe, largely originated in Southern Slavic and Greek folklore — although the myth is virtually absent in Romanian culture. A veritable epidemic of vampirism swept through Eastern Europe beginning in the late 17th century and continuing through the 1700s. 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 Augustine 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. Stoker's novel was merely the culminating work of a long series of works that were inspired by the reports coming from the Balkans and Hungary.
Given the history of the vampire myth in Europe it is perhaps natural that Stoker should place his great vampire in the heart of the region that gave birth to the myth. Once Stoker had determined on a locality Vlad Dracula would stand out as one of the most notorious rulers of the selected region. He was obscure enough that few would recognize the name and those who did would know him for his acts of brutal cruelty; Dracula was a natural candidate for vampirism. Why Stoker chose to relocate his vampire from Wallachia to the north of Transylvania remains a mystery.
The vampire myth is still widespread in Eastern Europe. Similarly, the name of Dracula is still remembered in the Romanian oral tradition but that is the end of any connection between Dracula and the vampire myth in folklore. Outside of Stoker's novel the name of Dracula was never linked with the myth of the vampire. Despite his inhuman cruelty, in Romania Dracula is remembered as a national hero who resisted the Turkish conquerors and asserted Romanian national sovereignty against the powerful Hungarian kingdom. He is also remembered in a similar manner in other Balkan countries, as he fought against the Turks.
There are some legends saying that Vlad, after being taken captive by the Hungarians, had his eyes taken out and then was buried alive. The next day, they dug up the spot where he was buried and found no corpse. Several years later, there were numerous mysterious deaths at his castle.
It is somewhat ironic that Vlad's name has often been thrown into the political and ethnic feuds between Hungarians and Romanians, because he was ultimately far from an enemy of Hungary. While he certainly had violent conflicts with some Hungarian nobles, he had just as many Hungarian friends and allies, and his successes in battle with the Turks largely benefited Hungary in the long term. Hungary later found itself under siege but was never entirely penetrated by Ottoman forces. Though neither the first nor the last powerful ruler to take on the Ottoman Empire, Dracula's demoralizing battle tactics were quite influential in damaging the illusion of Turkish invincibility and reversing the European aura of appeasement.
It should be taken into account that Romanian folklore and poetry paints Vlad Dracula not as a vampire but as a killer of vampires. His favorite weapon being the stake, coupled with his reputation in his native country as a man who stood up to both foreign and domestic "bloodsuckers," gives Dracula the virtual opposite symbolism of Bram Stoker's vampire. For this reason, the association of his name with vampirism does not make sense to Romanians. In Romania he is still considered by some to be a "savior" to the people of his country. He is also considered one of the greatest leaders and defenders of Romania.
A good description of Vlad Dracula survives courtesy of Nicholas of Modrussa, who wrote:
He was not very tall, but very stocky and strong, with a cruel and terrible appearance, a long straight nose, distended nostrils, a thin and reddish face in which the large wide-open green eyes were enframed by bushy black eyebrows, which made them appear threatening. His face and chin were shaven but for a moustache. The swollen temples increased the bulk of his head. A bull's neck supported the head, from which black curly locks were falling to his wide-shouldered person.
His famous contemporary portrait, rediscovered by Romanian historians in the late 1800s, had been featured in the gallery of horrors at Innsbruck's Ambras Castle. It is significant for the Romanian counter-myth that the Romanian intellectual Bogdan Petriceicu Hasdeu, claiming to apply Johann Kaspar Lavater's method to Vlad's depiction in one of the woodcuts, concluded that his subject mostly resembled the likes of William Shakespeare and Cesare Borgia.
Ţepeş' image in modern Romanian culture has been established in reaction to foreign perceptions: while Stoker's book did a lot to generate outrage with nationalists, it is the last part of a rather popular previous poem by Mihai Eminescu, Scrisoarea a III-a, that helped turn Vlad's image into modern myth, by having him stand as a figure to contrast with presumed social decay under the Phanariotes and the political scene of the 1800s (even suggesting that Vlad's violent methods be applied as a cure). This judgement was in tune with the ideology of the inward-looking regime of Nicolae Ceauşescu, although the identification did little justice to Eminescu's personal beliefs.
All accounts of his life describe him as unrepentantly ruthless, but only the ones originating from his Saxon detractors paint him as exceptionally sadistic or somehow insane. These pamphlets continued to be published long after his death, though usually for lurid entertainment rather than propaganda purposes. It has largely been forgotten until recently that his tenacious efforts against the Ottoman Empire won him many staunch supporters in his lifetime, not just in modern day Romania but in the Kingdom of Hungary, Poland, the Republic of Venice, and even the Holy See, not to take into account Balkan countries. A Hungarian court chronicler reported that King Matthias "had acted in opposition to general opinion" in Hungary when he had Dracula imprisoned, and this played a considerable part in Matthias reversing his unpopular decision. During his time as a "distinguished prisoner" before being fully pardoned and allowed to reconquer Wallachia, Vlad was hailed as a Christian hero by visitors from all over Europe.