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Brad and Sherry Steiger

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Conscious Channeler Edward Shanahan

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Vlad Tepes (1431-1476 )

Dracula has been attributed to many literary genres including horror fiction, the gothic novel and invasion literature. Structurally it is an epistolary novel, that is, told as a series of diary letters. Literary critics have examined many themes in the novel, such as the role of women in Victorian culture, conventional and repressed sexuality, immigration, colonialism, postcolonialism and folklore. Although Stoker did not invent the vampire, the novel's influence on the popularity of vampires has been singularly responsible for many theatrical and film interpretations throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.

Vladislav III, called "Vlad the Impaler" (that is, Vlad Tepes, pronounced ['tsepe?] in Romanian; also known as Vladislav Dracula or simply Dracula, in Romanian Draculea; November/December 8, 1431 – December 1476), was a Wallachian (Romanian) voivode (nobleman). His three reigns were in 1448, 1456 – 1462, and 1476. Vlad the Impaler is known for the exceedingly cruel punishments he imposed during his reign.

His Romanian surname Draculea, is derived from his father's title Dracul, meaning affiliation to and/or descent from "Dracul" (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" or "demon" in modern Romanian but in Vlad's day also meant "dragon", and derives from the Latin word Draco, also meaning "dragon".

His post-mortem moniker of Tepes (Impaler) originated in his preferred method for executing his opponents, impalement — as popularized by medieval Transylvanian pamphlets. In Turkish, he was known as "Kazikli Bey" which means "Impaler Prince". Vlad was referred to as Dracula in a number of documents of his times, mainly the Transylvanian Saxon pamphlets and The Annals of Jan Dlugosz.

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 nominally Basarab 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 princely house split between two factions: the descendants of Mircea the Elder, Vlad's grandfather; and those of another prince, Dan II (Danesti faction). In addition to that, as 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.


Vlad was very likely born in the citadel (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 named Mircea and a younger brother named 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 vested into the Order of the Dragon. At the tender age of five, young "Vlad" was also initiated into the Order of the Dragon.

Order of the Dragon symbol

His father, Vlad II Dracul, born around 1395, was an illegitimate son of Mircea the Elder, an important early Wallachian ruler. As a young man, he had joined the court of Sigismund of Luxemburg, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Hungary, 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), along with the rulers of Poland and Serbia. The purpose of the Order was to protect Eastern Europe and the Holy Roman Empire from Islamic expansion as embodied in the campaigns of 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 Draculea. Through various translations (Draculea, Drakulya) Vlad III eventually came to be known as Dracula (note that this ultimate version is a neologism).

Vlad II Dracul 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 Ottoman, 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 by means of scalping ("scalping", for the Turks, meant cutting the edges of the face and pulling the face's skin off, while the person was still alive and conscious[citation needed]) 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 Chiajna — Princess. 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 Stephen the Great to Transylvania, and helped the latter gain the crown as Prince of Moldavia in 1457 and was later helped by Stephen to return to the throne of Wallachia in 1476.

Vlad III seems to have had three brothers. The oldest was Mircea II, born before 1430, and who briefly held his father's throne in 1442, and who was sent by Vlad Dracul in 1444 to fight in his place during the crusade against the Turks that ended with the Varna defeat. Mircea II was an able military leader, and fought some successful yet small campaigns against the Ottomans prior to his capture along with his father in 1447. Mircea II, captured by the boyars, had his eyes burned out, after which he was buried alive. Vlad IV, also known as Vlad Calugarul (Vlad the Monk), was born around 1425 to 1430, and was Vlad'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), the youngest brother, was also Vlad’s rival as he continuously tried to replace Vlad with the support of the Turks, to which he had very strong connections. Radu seems to have been also favoured by the Turkish Sultan Mehmed II.

From his first marriage, to a Wallachian noble woman, Vlad III apparently had a son, later prince of Wallachia as Mihnea cel Rau, and another two with his second wife, a relative of Matthias Corvinus of Hungary.

The reputation of Vlad Tepes was considerably darker in the Western Europe than in the Eastern Europe and Romania. In the West, Vlad III Tepes had been characterized as an exceedingly cruel madman. The number of his victims ranges from 40 000 to 100 000. Much of the information about his atrocities and cruelness comes from the German stories written about him, which were for the most part politically, religiously and economically inspired propaganda against Vlad Tepes. Although some of the stories have some base in reality, most of them are either fictional or exaggerated. According to the German stories the number of victims he had killed was at least 80 000. In addition to the 80 000 victims mentioned he also had whole villages and fortresses burned and destroyed to the ground. These numbers are most likely exaggerated. For example in one episode in the German stories Vlad impaled 600 merchants from Brasov and confiscated all their goods. A document written by Vlad’s rival Dan III in 1459 mentions the merchants number who were impaled to be forty-one. It is highly unlikely that a rival of Vlad’s would have reduced the number of Vlads victims.

The atrocities made by Vlad in the German stories include impaling, torturing, burning, skinning, roasting, and boiling people, feeding people human flesh (their friends or relatives), cutting off limbs, drowning and nailing of hats to the heads of people. His victims included men and women of all ages, religions and social classes, children and babies. The exaggeration of cruelties in the German stories is quite clear when compared to the Russian or the Romanian stories about Vlad Tepes from which the meaningless violence and cruel atrocities are almost absent. The exaggerated and propagandistic view is especially clear in one sentence in the stories: He caused so much pain and suffering that even the most bloodthirstiest persecutors of christianity like Herodes, Nero, Diocletius and all other pagans compined hadn’t even thought of.

In the memoirs of the Serbian Janissary Konstantin Mihailovic, it is documented by Mihailovic that the Ottomans feared Vlad III, and Mihailovic goes into great detail about how Vlad III would often cut off the noses of Turkish soldiers, sending them to Hungary to boast of how many of the enemy he had killed. Mihailovic also documents that the Ottomans were fearful of Wallachian attacks at night. He does elude to the famed "forrest of the impaled", where Vlad III was alleged to have lined the roadways with thousands of impaled Turkish soldiers. However, Mihailovic did not actually see this. He was with the army at that time, but was in the rear portion of the Ottoman army, recounting it based on the word of others.

The actions taken by Vlad Tepes must be viewed in the light of the standards and morality of his time. Most of the actions taken by Vlad can be justified on moral grounds or they had a utilitarian purpose or in some cases both. Most of the tortures done by Tepes in the different stories are actually normal punisments in that time. It is also common sense to think that if Vlad really was a bloodthirsty tyrant and a madman, the Hungarian king would not have had him marry a relative of his and put him on the throne of Wallachia.

Impalement was Tepes's preferred method of torture and execution. His method of torture was 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. Vlad 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.

There are claims that thousands of people were impaled at a single time. One such claim says 10,000 were impaled in the Transylvanian city of Sibiu (where Vlad the Impaler had once lived) in 1460. Another allegation asserts that during the previous year, on Saint Bartholomew's Day (in August), Vlad the Impaler had 30,000 of the merchants and officials of the Transylvanian city of Brasov that were breaking his authority impaled. One of the most famous woodcuts of the period shows Vlad the Impaler feasting amongst a forest of stakes and their grisly burdens outside Brasov, while a nearby executioner cuts apart other victims.

An old Romanian story says that Vlad left a gold cup in the middle of the street, then returned to pick it up the next day since no one touched it, as people were so afraid to commit crimes during his reign due to these horrific means of torture and capital punishment.

Many have attempted to justify Vlad'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 (Vlad's own father and older brother were murdered by unfaithful boyars). His actions were likely driven by one or more of three motives: personal or political vendettas, and the establishment of iron-fisted law and order in Wallachia.

Vlad Tepes is alleged to have committed even more impalements and other tortures against invading Ottoman forces. It was reported that an invading Ottoman army turned back in fright when it encountered thousands of rotting corpses impaled on the banks of the Danube. It has also been said that in 1462 Mehmed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, a man noted for his own psychological warfare tactics, returned to Constantinople after being sickened by the sight of 20,000 impaled corpses outside Vlad's capital of Târgoviste. 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 Vlad over to subordinates and returned to Constantinople, even though his army had initially outnumbered Vlad's three to one and was better equipped.

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. Vlad 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 Vlad 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. Vlad 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 Târgoviste to the ruins of Poienari Castle in the mountains above the Arges River. Vlad the Impaler was determined to rebuild this ancient fortress as his own stronghold and refuge. The enslaved boyars and their families were forced to labour for months rebuilding the old castle with materials from another nearby ruin. According to the stories, 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 Vlad's castle.

Throughout his reign, Vlad 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 Vlad Tepes was determined that his own power be on a modern and thoroughly secure footing. In place of the executed boyars, Vlad promoted new men from among the free peasantry and middle class; men who would be loyal only to their prince. Many of Vlad's acts 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.

It is most likely that Bram Stoker found the name for his vampire from William Wilkinsons book called An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia: with various Political Observations Relating to Them. It is known that Stoker made notes about this book. It is also suggested by some that because Stoker was a friend of a Hungarian professor (Arminius Vambery/Hermann Vamberger) from Budapest, 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 lent 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 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.

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 alleged 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 19th century, 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 19th century (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.