Dracula’s Balls: Weapons of Hyper-Violence Used by Vlad III Discovered Under Bulgarian Fortress
Archaeologists excavating at the medieval Bulgarian ‘Zishtova Fortress’ have unearthed ‘stone cannonballs’ which are thought to have been used by Vlad III [Tepes], the historical inspiration for Bram Stokers fictional vampire, Dracula.
Zishtova Fortress was built in the 13th century on a hill-top in Svishtov, a town situated on the Danube River just south of the Romanian border. The fortress was used up to 1810, at which time Russian soldiers torched it during the Russo-Turkish War between 1806 and 1812.
Finding the Weapons of Vlad the Impaler
According to the website Archaeology in Bulgaria, last month a team of archaeologists led by Nikolay Ovcharov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofzia, discovered mid-15th century cannonballs which coincide with the time when Vlad III, the Impaler, seized the Zishtova Fortress during the winter of 1461-1462, attempting to retake it from the Ottoman Turks.
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Cannonballs and other artifacts found at Zishtova Fortress. (Svishtov Municipality)
A Gizmodo article covering the discovery discusses the stone balls being having been launched with ‘culverins’, the 15th-century progenitor of the cannon. This report quotes Ovcharov at a press conference last week at which he told reporters “[culverins] were the earliest cannons which were [in use during the] 15th century, up until the 16th century.” He added that they “have a letter by Vlad Dracula to the King of Hungary, in which he boasted that he had taken [the fort] after a fierce battle, and that about 410 Turks were killed during the siege.”
‘Vlad the Impaler and the Turkish Envoys’ by Theodor Aman. (Public Domain)
The team also found a 4th century inscription referring to “a cohort” (One-tenth of a Roman legion) of Legio I Italica, of the Roman Empire’s First Italian Legion, in the same archaeological layer as the cannonballs were unearthed. The Archaeology in Bulgaria article suggests this find is connected with Novae, a nearby “major Ancient Roman military camp and city” which thrived between the 1st and 4th centuries AD.
The ruins of the Zishtova (Kaleto) Fortress in Svishtov are among the tallest surviving ruins of medieval fortresses in Bulgaria. (Svishtov Municipality)
Impale, Or Be Impaled
All of the articles you will read covering this story, for example this Fox News report, ‘big up’ the violent aspects of Vlad Dracula’s military activities suggesting maybe he was "perhaps even more frightening than the [Bram Stoker’s] mythical creature.” While Hollywood and sensationalist authors keep reminding us that Vlad was an Impaler - so was everyone else! They were all at it.
Vlad, having been orphaned, betrayed, exiled, and chased through central Europe’s forests by his enemies finally regained control of Wallachia in 1456 AD, at which time he settled scores with those who had betrayed his family. Vlad, could ‘almost’, justify the ‘ reason’ for his spree of impaling folk for revenge, but he was only mirroring what he saw the Ottoman Empire was doing, en mass.
Known as “Longitudinal impalement” this brutal method of Ottoman execution was deployed at the siege of Constantinople in May 1453 AD, when “40 people were impaled.” Now, while the Ottomans ‘preferred’ impalement to other options, Vlad Tepes took it to a whole new level if we are to believe the historical records recounted in Christian Butnariu’s 2016 book, Dracula - Between Myth and Reality. Brace yourself… for it says, “Vlad Ţepeş, in mid-June AD 1462 filled a "forest" of 20,000 impaled and decaying corpses.”
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Woodcut from the title page of a 1499 pamphlet published by Markus Ayrer in Nuremberg. It depicts Vlad III "the Impaler" (identified as Dracole wyade = Draculea voivode) dining among the impaled corpses of his victims. (Public Domain)
Was Dracula a Real Life Monster?
Whether this actually happened, or not, and how many people he actually impaled is a thing of historical debate, but a significant example of how quickly Vlad Țepeș became archetypal for heinous acts of ultra-violence is apparent in a 1521 AD pamphlet which says “He let children be roasted; those, their mothers were forced to eat. And (he) cut off the breasts of women; those, their husbands were forced to eat. After that, he had them all impaled.”
Not only because today’s society has more than enough problems with violence, all things considered, it’s probably a good thing that Vlad Dracula lived in the 16th century because if he were alive today, he’d spend all his time on-line pressing “Your Account.”
Top Image: Detail of a portrait of Vlad Ţepeş, the Impaler, Prince of Wallachia (1456-1462) (died 1477). Weapons of this man who inspired the vampire Dracula have been found in Bulgaria. Source: Public Domain
By Ashley Cowie