Vampire is a corpse that supposedly returns to life at night to suck people's blood. According to many folk stories, a vampire must have a constant supply of fresh blood obtained by biting the neck of sleeping victims. The victims lose strength, die, and become vampires themselves.
Vlad III the Impaler Vlad Tepes in common Romanian reference; also known as Vlad Dracula or Vlad Draculea and Kazikli Bey in Turkish; November or December, 1431 – December 1476) was Prince (voivode) of Wallachia, a former polity which is now part of Romania. His three reigns were in 1448, 1456–1462, and 1476. In the English-speaking world, Vlad is best known for the legends of the exceedingly cruel punishments he imposed during his reign, and serving as the inspiration for the vampire main character in Bram Stoker's popular Dracula novel.
His Romanian surname Draculea (transliterated as "Dracula" in foreign languages of the historical documents where his name is mentioned) is a name derived from his father's title Dracul which means "Son of the Dragon" or "The Devil" (see Vlad II Dracul); the latter was a member of the Order of the Dragon created by Emperor Sigismund. Vlad's family had two factions, the Draculesti and the Danesti. The word "dracul" means "the Devil" in modern Romanian but in Vlad's day it also meant "dragon" or "demon", and derives from the Latin word Draco, also meaning "dragon".
It is unclear why Bram Stoker chose this Wallachian prince as the model for his fictional vampire. Vampires are a frequent subject of fictional books and films, although fictional vampires are often attributed traits distinct from those of folkloric vampires.
Stoker was a friend of a Hungarian professor (Arminius Vambery/Hermann Vamberger) from Budapest, and many have suggested that Vlad'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 Vlad'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 had also been an Ottoman vassal (although it never fell under Turkish domination, and was in fact semi-independent and at times under Habsburg influence).
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.
The vampire myth as we know it is most strongly rooted in East European (particularly Slavic) folklore. Here, vampires are usually revenants of suicide victims, criminals or evil sorcerers, though in some cases a vampire could pass his vampirism onto his innocent victims. It was also thought that a victim of a cruel, untimely or violent death was susceptible to becoming a vampire. Vampires were accused of killing people, often by drinking blood, but also by throttling, or sitting on them to prevent breathing. In this folklore, a vampire could be destroyed by cutting off its head, by driving a wooden stake into its heart, or by burning the corpse.
The Feast of St. Andrew, accompanied with the Feast of St. George and Easter was acknowledged as one of the most feared times of the year in Romania. The Feast of St. Andrew was in honor of St. Andrew who was the patron of wolves and donor of garlic. It was on St. Andrew’s Eve, in certain parts of Romania, that the vampire was believed to be the most active and dangerous, the vampires was also believed to continue their activity through out the winter and rest at epiphany (January). During these perilous times, it was considered wise to rub garlic on the doors and windows to protect families within the residence from any vampire attacks. Livestock was also at risk of an attack, so precautions were taken with them as well by rubbing them down with garlic.
A vampire in the grave could be discerned by holes in the earth, an undecomposed corpse with a red face, or with one foot in the corner of the coffin. Living vampires were identified by distributing garlic in church and observing who would refuse to eat it.
Graves were often opened three years after the death of a child, five years after the death of a young person, or seven years after the death of an adult to check for vampirism.
Measures to prevent a person from becoming a vampire included removing the caul from a newborn and destroying it before the baby could eat it, careful preparation of dead bodies, including preventing animals from passing over the corpse, placing a thorny branch of wild rose in the grave, and placing garlic on windows and rubbing it on cattle, especially on St George's and St Andrew's day.
To destroy a vampire, a stake was driven through the body, followed by decapitation and placing garlic in the mouth. By the 19th century, one would also shoot a bullet through the coffin. For resistant cases, the body was dismembered and the pieces burned,.
Vlad was very likely born in the city (a military fortress) of Sighisoara in Transylvania, during the winter of 1431. He was born as the second son to his father Vlad Dracul and his mother Princess Cneajna of Moldavia. 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 in Transylvania as his father had been ousted by pro-Ottoman 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.
Vlad'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.
Vlad suffered much at the hands of the Ottoman, 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 Ottoman captors for being stubborn and rude. He developed a well-known hatred for Radu and for Mehmed, who would later become the sultan. According to McNally and Florescu, he also distrusted his own father for trading him to the Turks and betraying the Order of the Dragon oath to fight them.
Vlad's father was assassinated in the marshes near Balteni in December of 1447 by rebellious boyars allegedly under the orders of John Hunyadi. Vlad's older brother Mircea was also dead at this point, blinded with hot iron stakes and buried alive by his political enemies at Târgoviste. To protect their political power in the region, the Ottomans invaded Wallachia and the Sultan put Vlad III on the throne as his puppet ruler. His rule at this time would be brief; Hunyadi himself invaded Wallachia and ousted him the same year. Vlad fled to Moldavia until October of 1451 and was put under the protection of his uncle, Bogdan II.
Bogdan was assassinated by Petru Aron, and Vlad, taking a gamble, fled to Hungary. Impressed by Vlad's vast knowledge of the mindset, military and inner workings of the Ottoman Empire as well as his hatred of the new sultan Mehmed II, Hunyadi pardoned him and took him in as an advisor. Eventually Hunyadi put him forward as the Kingdom of Hungary's candidate for the throne of Wallachia.
In 1456, Hungary invaded Serbia to drive out the Ottomans, and Vlad III simultaneously invaded Wallachia with his own contingent. Both campaigns were successful, although Hunyadi died suddenly of the plague. Nevertheless, Vlad was now prince of his native land.
Vlad's actions after 1456 are well documented. He seems to have led the life of all the other princes of Wallachia, spending most of his time at the court of Târgoviste, occasionally in other important cities, such as Bucharest - that he founded, 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 Târgoviste (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 monastery 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, i.e. the boyars. 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 boyars, were handed to obscure individuals, some of them of foreign origin, but who manifested loyalty towards Vlad. For the less important functions, Vlad also ignored the old boyars, 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 Saxon - populated autonomous towns of Transylvania, so Vlad acted against these cities by eliminating their trade privileges in relation with Wallachia and by organizing 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 was brought 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.
Vlad III 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 Vlad's hands. Vladislav II of Wallachia was murdered soon after Vlad came to power in 1456. Another Danesti prince was captured during one of Vlad's forays into Transylvania. Rumors (spread by his enemies) say thousands of citizens of the town that had sheltered his rival were impaled by Vlad. The captured Danesti prince was forced to read his own funeral oration while kneeling before an open grave before his execution.
The legendary vampire was and still is deeply rooted in that region. There have always been vampire-like creatures in various stories from across the world. However, the vampire, as he became known in Europe, largely originated in Southern Slavic and Greek folklore — although the tale 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 legend. 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 legend in Europe it is perhaps natural that Stoker should place his great vampire in the heart of the region that gave birth to the story. 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.
Tales of vampires are 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 folkloric vampire. Outside of Stoker's novel the name of Dracula was never linked with the vampires encountered in the folklore. 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 Tepes as a hero, anything but a vampire. 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 enemies, 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 and was voted one of "100 Greatest Romanians" in the Mari Români television series aired in 2006.
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 support for the Romanian counter-legend 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.
Tepes' 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 legend, 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 Ceausescu, 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.
Of the recent literary works written in Romania about the real Vlad, only Marin Sorescu's play Vlad Dracula, the Impaler has been translated into English.
Florescu, Radu R.; McNally, Raymond T. (1989). Dracula: Prince of Many Faces. Little Brown and Company. ISBN 0-316-28655-9.
Radu R., Florescu; McNally, Raymond T. (1994). In Search of Dracula. Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-395-65783-0.
Treptow, Kurt W. (2000). Vlad III Dracula: The Life and Times of the Historical Dracula. Center for Romanian Studies. ISBN 973-98392-2-3.
Babinger, Franz (1992). Mehmed the Conqueror and His Time. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-0691010786.
Lost Worlds: The Real Dracula (History Channel, Season #1, Episode #9, Sept. 4, 2006)
Follow these Vampire and WereWolf links to learn more:
Originally released in 1922 as Nosferatu, Eine Symphonie Des Grauens, director F.W. Munarau's chilling and eerie ... all » adaption of Stoker's Dracula is a silent masterpiece of terror which to this day is the most striking and frightening portrayal of the legend.Director: F.W. Murnau