Who hasn’t heard of one of the most famous characters in the world? It is Dracula, the father of all vampires, patient zero, a mysterious person who attracts and repels at the same time, capable of arousing fascination but also a shiver down the spine for those who hear his name.
Who was Dracula based on?
As is always the case, no matter how rooted in fantasy the legends may be, they all start from a grain of truth, from a real, concrete place or person that has been the inspiration for the story woven over the ages. This is also the case with Dracula, a fantastic character who seems to be based upon a historical figure – Vlad the Impaler.
The story of Vlad the Impaler is shrouded in mystery and legend, and the truth is that no one knows where the legend ends to make way for history.
Being not only a historical but also a literary and folkloric character, the knight was chosen by the writer Bram Stoker as the main hero of his novel published in 1897. Since then, Dracula and Transylvania, the land that houses the mysterious castle full of ghosts and vampires somewhere in the middle of the dark woods, has become the subject of over 750 films, documentaries, or novels inspired by the writings of the Irish writer.
It is said that Vlad the Impaler’s transformation into the bloodthirsty Count Dracula was due to the fact that, according to the custom of the time, the victor of a battle quenched his thirst with the blood of the vanquished.
Could this be the truth about Dracula? Legend or history?
Who was Dracula in history?
Vlad Tepes was born in Sighisoara, Transylvania in 1431, and later became ruler of Wallachia. His father, Vlad Dracul (yes, note the similarity between Dracula and Dracul; in Romanian, however, Dracul means “The Devil”), was a knight in the Order of the Dragon, a chivalric order in Eastern Europe that aimed to stop the expansion of the Ottoman Empire.
The coat of arms of the Order of the Dragon depicted a dragon (the Ottomans) and a cross (a sign of Christianity), and Vlad Dracul wore this symbol everywhere, on flags, coins and seals.
His second son was Vlad II – DRACULA, the A at the end of the word “dragon” being a way of establishing membership – Dracula, son of Dracula.
The Turks called him Kazıklı Bey, translated as Prince the Impaler. This name was first mentioned in a Wallachian chronicle in 1550 and has been preserved in Romanian history.
The nickname “the Impaler” was given to him because of the way he punished the Ottomans, by dragging them into the spine. The dragging was a cruel way of execution, the victim being stuck in a sharp object as thick as a man’s arm. Vlad is said to have liked mass executions, the tips forming a kind of ‘forest’. In order to enjoy these “spectacles” Vlad used to organize feasts in front of those who died in torment.
As a child, Vlad Tepes lived as a hostage of the Turks. While his family was murdered he was made aware of the torments they endured. This seems to be the reason that poisoned his soul so that, once he became a ruler, he punished by cutting, skinning, hanging, beheading or shooting.
Known for his sadism, Vlad was at the same time respected by his subjects for his campaigns against the Turks. He was respected both as a fighter and as a lord who did not tolerate injustice, and during his reign he built several monasteries. He was an adored hero but also feared by his people.
Victor Hugo, in “Legende de Siecles”, recounts how Vlad Tepes met the army of Sultan Mohammed II who had come to conquer the Romanian country. On their way to Targoviste, the soldiers of the Turkish army were horrified by the sight offered by Tepes: burnt houses, parched fields, and fountains of poisoned water.
But it all culminated with the image near the walls of the fortress where Vlad Tepes had taken shelter: a huge forest of corpses. Overcome with fear and terrified by the smell of the 20,000 corpses of Turkish prisoners stuffed into the vats, Mohammed’s officers retreated, acknowledging the victory of the victor.
For the Romanians, Vlad the Impaler remained the known and respected ruler because he had established perfect order. His cruelty and lack of mercy towards thieves made his regime one of terror, but only for enemies and villains. For fear of possible punishment, no one had the courage to break the law. During Vlad Tepes’ reign, you could drink water from the fountain of the Targoviste Fortress with a solid gold goblet without anyone stealing it (historical sources confirm the existence of this goblet which was used until the day Vlad Tepes died).
Death of Vlad the Impaler
Not much is known about Dracula’s death, but there are some hypotheses. The most popular story is that he was killed in a battle against the Turks, near Bucharest, in December 1476. Others claim that he was killed by Wallachian noblemen during the battle.
But what happened to Vlad’s body? This is another mystery, a web of legends, none of which could be confirmed.
Most historians believe that Vlad was buried near the altar of the Snagov Monastery, a monastery on an island in the middle of Lake Snagov, the only connection being the boats. What is certain is that his head was cut off and taken to Constantinople, so that the entire Ottoman world could see that the reign of the fearsome viceroy was truly over.
In 1931-32, the archaeologist Dinu Rosetti, at the order of the Romanian Academy, investigated the Snagov Monastery to discover the body of Vlad Dracula.
But he found only a few looted graves inside the monastery, local legends saying that Vlad’s body was buried right at the entrance of the monastery. Not believing this legend, the researcher dug up and uncovered a tomb in front of the altar. But the tomb was empty. Digging further, he found a pagan shrine with the bones of sacrificed animals.
Giving the legend a chance, he began to search the site at the entrance to the monastery, where he found a tomb that had not been robbed, apparently belonging to a nobleman. The clothes wrapped around the corpse indicated that it belonged to an aristocratic man.
A ring was also found, which had come from Nuremberg. However, the skeleton also had a head and, as mentioned above, it is a fact that Vlad was beheaded.
The Snagov monastery has a high degree of humidity, which makes most of the earthly remains of those buried here decompose very quickly. It is therefore very possible that Vlad’s body also decomposed before the search for his body began.
Vlad the Impaler was Dracula?
Most have made this association and believe that the inspiration for the character in the book about Dracula was the ruler of Transylvania. All the more so as the events in the novel refer concretely to this geographical area. It must be said, however, that Bram Stoker did not actually state this. Moreover, his son – Irving – has stated categorically that there is no connection between the two characters, but that Dracula is a character created from scratch by his father, after having… dreamt him up.
Did Vlad the Impaler drink blood?
Some of the legends that have circulated since Vlad’s lifetime were the basis of his association with Dracula. One such element would be that he was accustomed to drinking the blood of his enemies. Well, there is no evidence of this. Nor is there any evidence to deny it. Indeed, Vlad was a cruel man to the enemies of his people, and stories circulated that he would wash his hands in the blood of his enemies after they were punished. The truth of this remains hidden for now.
We hope we have provided you with more information to distinguish between truth, history and myth. On the other hand, it is true that every legend starts from a bit of truth and it is equally true that in this world we still need legends. They fascinate us and let us enjoy our imagination.
For more information about Romanian personalities and places that have become famous all over the world, we invite you to take our online Romanian language courses. Here we help you to learn Romanian, but also to learn about all the things that make Romania a fascinating country.