Vlad III, also known as Vlad Dracula and Vlad the Impaler, was a 15th century prince of Wallachia, a region in modern day Romania. Vlad was the voivode, or ruler, of Wallachia three separate times between 1448 and his death in 1477. Vlad was known for his particularly cruel treatment of his enemies and was feared throughout Medieval Europe.
The cruelty of Vlad Dracula was a basis for the fictional Count Dracula, a vampire in Bram Stoker's 1897 horror novel Dracula. While the fictional Dracula may be one of the most famous monsters in literature and film, giving rise to an entire genre of vampire stories, the real Dracula was perhaps even more monstrous and wrote his name in the history books in blood.
It's all a matter of perspective.
Although Vlad is viewed as a cruel, blood-thirsty tyrant by modern-day individuals, many people in his era had a very different view of Vlad. In fact, he was considered to be a folk hero and Christian champion by most of Eastern Europe, and he was seen as fighting to protect Orthodox Christianity from the invading Ottomans.
The real Dracula of Transylvania
The historical Dracula was born in Sighisoara, Transylvania, in 1431. A restaurant sits at the site that is believed to be his birthplace today, and it receives thousands of visitors (mostly tourists and vampire fans) from all over the world every year.
Son of the Dragon
While the name "Dracula" has been misinterpreted to have many different meanings (usually dealing with vampires or devils), it was actually the name used by Vlad III that literally means "son of the dragon."
Order of the Dragon
Vlad's father was called Vlad Dracul (Vlad the Dragon), a name given to him by the Order of the Dragon. The Order was an organization founded in 1408 by then King of Hungary and eventually Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund that was charged with protecting Orthodox Christianity from the Ottoman Empire. While the Order died out in Western Europe after Sigismund's death, it continued to be an important force in Wallachia and other Eastern European countries that bore the blunt of Ottoman incursions.
Mother of Dracula
While the official story was that Vlad's mother was the Princess Cneajna of Moldavia, the wife of Vlad's father, this may not be the truth. Vlad Dracul was known as having literally dozens of mistresses at a time, and Vlad Dracula's mother could have actually been any one of them.
The world that influenced young Dracula
Dracula lived in a time of constant war. Transylvania was at the frontier of two great empires: the Ottoman and the Austrian Habsburgs. He was imprisoned at a young age, first by the Turks, who hauled him away in chains, and later by the Hungarians. Dracula’s father was murdered, while his older brother, Mircea, was blinded with red-hot iron stakes and buried alive, two facts that contributed a lot to him becoming so vile and vicious later in life.
Vlad's time with the last Emperor
Vlad developed his disdain for the Ottomans at a young age, and not just from his father. It is believed that he spent some of his youth at the court of Constantine XI Palaiologos, the final emperor of the Byzantine Empire.
The two wives of Dracula
It is believed that Vlad the Impaler married twice in his life. The first time would have been to a Wallachian noblewoman who bore his son and heir, Mihnea cel Rau, although we do not know her name. Vlad's second marriage was to the daughter of a Hungarian noble after his imprisonment in Hungary. Her name was Ilona Szilagyi, and she would give him two more sons.
Vlad the Impaler
The source of one of Vlad's nickname and much of his infamy came from his favorite form of torture and execution, impaling. It is an especially painful and gruesome form of death in which the victim is impaled with a long, sharp pole that is then placed upright in the ground. The victim will then slide downwards along the pole until eventually dead.
Greatest enemy of the Turks
During his wars with the Ottoman Empire, Vlad is believed to have been responsible for the deaths of over 100,000 Turks, making him the single most infamous and vicous enemy of the Empire.
The fear of the Sultan
It was said that in 1462, Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II was so terrified at the sight of nearly 20,000 impaled Turkish corpses rotting outside the walls of Vlad's capital city that he immediately fled the city and ran back to his own territory to regroup.
The stench of death
During another battle with the Empire, Dracula and his army were forced to retreat into the mountains, and all along the way, he continued to impale enemy soldiers whom he had captured. The stench of the rotting corpses was enough to make the Sultan stop his pursuit, thus securing the way for Vlad's army to fight another day.
Dracula the vampire
The notion that Vlad was a vampire could have come from the combination of multiple factors. The first of these was due to the blood-drained corpses and visible neck-wounds of those whom he imapled. The second, and even more gruesome, was that it was said he would enjoy his evening meals while watching hundreds of his enemies being impaled.
The fear of retreat
One of the reasons why Vlad's soldiers fought so valiantly for him was their fear of what would happen if they failed. During retreats, Vlad would often burn down his own villages and massacre his own people to keep the enemy from capturing the village and imprisoning the people.
Dracula's bloody feast
As his way of cleaning of his capital city of Targoviste, Vlad reportedly invited hundreds of the city's sick, homeless and indigent to one of his lavish homes for a large feast. Once the people were all inside, he locked the doors and burned the building to the ground.
The impaled head of Dracula
Vlad Dracula was eventually defeated and captured in 1477 by the Ottoman Empire he so hated and had spent his entire life battling. After he had been beheaded, the army gave his decapitated head to the Sultan who then impaled it and placed it on a post outside his palace. It was a somewhat fitting end for a man who had impaled so many Turks and left their bodies outside his own walls during his reign.