Vlad the Impaler the Inspiration Behind Count Dracula
Although vampires are often associated with Christianity (vampires are said to be repelled by holy objects such as crucifixes and holy water), the belief in these creatures, or beings with vampiric qualities, has been held since ancient times. In Ancient Greece and Rome, for instance, there are stories about beings that return from the dead to drink the blood of the living. In 1897 AD, Bram Stoker, an Irish writer, wrote a novel called Dracula, which has since become one of the classics of the Gothic horror genre. Despite the fact that Dracula is a fictional character, it should be said that Stoker did not pull him out of thin air. Instead, Dracula is believed to be based on a real, historical figure, though how much of a vampire he was will be decided by the readers.
Stoker’s Dracula is thought to have been based on the 15 th century Prince of Wallachia (modern day Romania), Vlad III. Vlad was born sometime between 1428 and 1431, probably in Sighişaora, Transylvania. His patronymic, ‘Dracul’, means Dragon, derived from the membership of his father, Vlad II Dracul, in the Order of the Dragon. This was an order of chivalry founded by Sigismund, the King of Hungary, for the defence of Christianity in Eastern Europe against the Ottoman Empire.
The Ambras Castle Portrait of Vlad III . Photo source: Wikimedia .
In 1442, Vlad and his brother, Radu, were taken as hostages by the Ottomans to ensure the loyalty of their father. In 1448, Vlad was released, and with Ottoman support, occupied the Wallachian throne before he was overthrown in the autumn of the same year. However, Vlad regained his throne in 1456 and remained the Prince of Wallachia until 1462. In 1462, the Ottomans, under Mehmed II (the same Sultan who conquered Constantinople), invaded Wallachia, but were driven back by Vlad’s use of guerrilla warfare. Vlad’s triumph did not last long, however, as Mehmed II left Vlad’s brother, Radu, with the task of subduing Wallachia. Despite winning a couple more victories against the Ottomans, Vlad was soon short of cash and sought the help of the Hungarians/were intercepted by them whilst retreating. Consequently, Vlad was arrested and thrown into prison. He would only be released from captivity 12 years later. Radu’s sudden death in 1475 enabled Vlad to claim the Wallachian throne once more in 1476, but he died in the same year in a battle against the Ottomans.
Although Vlad was infamous throughout Europe for his cruelty (according to certain sources), it is perhaps his favourite mode of execution that ensured his place in history. Vlad III was known after his death as Vlad Țepeș (the Impaler). Impalement was Vlad’s preferred method of execution, and it is recorded that he did this on a grand scale. It is said that as he retreated from a battle against the Ottomans in 1462, he impaled and put on display some 20,000 people outside the city of Targoviste as a deterrent to the pursuing Ottoman forces. This psychological attack worked, as it is claimed that the sight was so repulsive that Mehmed II, after seeing the scale of Vlad's carnage and the thousands of decaying bodies being picked apart by crows, turned back and retreated to Constantinople.
Nevertheless, this is just one side of the story. Vlad III has been hailed by Romanians as a national hero for defending the country against the invading Ottomans. Even during his time, he was seen as a defender of Christendom, in spite of the atrocities that he committed. It is perhaps Stoker’s Dracula that has propelled Vlad to international stardom. In this modern day, Dracula has become a brand name that fuelled the development of ‘Dracula tourism’ in Romania. In 2001, Romania intended to construct a ‘Dracula Land’, a theme park based on Dracula. Domestic and international opposition to this project, however, resulted in its suspension and eventual abandonment. Yet, this was not a complete loss for Romania, as it brought Romania into the attention of the world and successfully highlighted what that country had to offer tourists, apart from Dracula himself.
Featured image: An artist’s depiction of Vlad III as Dracula. Image source .
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