The name Dracula invokes visions of Bela Lugosi dressed in a suit and cape biting the necks of victims to suck their blood. Every Halloween, trick-or-treaters buy plastic fangs and a cape at a costume store and go door-to-door as a vampire to get candy. Dracula and vampires alike are famous creatures of the night and nightmares. If you’ve read Bram Stoker’s novel or seen the movies however, you may be wondering why Dracula is represented so differently than in the Universal movies. It’s because Dracula is loosely based off of a real person–Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia.
Vlad was born in 1431 in Sighișoara, Voivodeship of Transylvania, Kingdom of Hungary (modern-day Romania) to Vlad II Dracul, future voivode (military leader) of Wallachia. Vlad II was given the name Dracul by Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund upon his vestment to the knights of the Order of the Dragon who swore to protect Europe and Christianity during the Crusades. Vlad III and his younger brother Radu III the Handsome moved to Targoviste, the capital of Wallachia with their father, who ruled there. They were schooled by the best Byzantine teachers from Constantinople in language, science, math and combat training. While Vlad’s life seemed well at the time, it would not last very long.
In 1442, Vlad II was removed from power by a faction backed by Hungary. He made a deal with the Ottoman Turks who would give him back the throne and he would give them Vlad III and Radu. In their six-year captivity, the boys were trained in horsemanship, read from the Quran and taught the Turkish language. Radu was favored by the Sultan and his son. He converted to Islam and fought for the Ottoman Empire. Vlad did not like being imprisoned. He disobeyed his captors which led to frequent beatings. It is believed his captivity, as well as the deaths of his father and older half-brother Mircea, triggered Vlad’s sadistic behavior.
In 1456, with the backing of Hungarian king Ladislaus, Vlad III assassinated Vladislav II and became ruler of Wallachia. Vlad aligned himself with Matthias Corvinus of Hungary when Pope Pius II called for a crusade to stop the Ottoman Turks from advancing in Europe. Sultan Mehmed II sent envoys to Wallachia to collect tribute from its residents. Vlad III refused to accept the tribute, and the Sultan’s rule over Wallachia, and killed the envoys by nailing their turbans to their heads. From 1459 to 1462, Vlad laid waste to Ottoman forces, impaling them as a warning for the next round of troops who moved in. He led a night attack in Targoviste which killed 15,000 Ottoman troops. Unfortunately, his success would run its course.
Vlad was running out of men and money to keep up his military campaigns. He was forced to retreat to Moldavia, leaving Wallachia undermanned and vulnerable to Ottoman control. His own brother Radu led a strong force into Wallachia, capturing Vlad’s lair and asserting Ottoman control in the region. As if his own brother defeating him wasn’t bad enough, his ally Matthias Corvinus turned on him, captured him and took him prisoner in Hungary for an unknown amount of time. In 1476, with the aid of Stephen V Bathory of Transylvania, Vlad once again took the throne of Wallachia but once again, he could not hold back another Ottoman invasion and was killed in battle. His death and burial remain a mystery but his reputation as a ruthless killer was known throughout the world and the ages. It was not until after his death he became known as Vlad the Impaler and his stories of of brutality circulated around Europe, some stretched out more than others.
He would become the inspiration for Bram Stoker and his novel but even though he was not a vampire, Vlad III did have a bloodlust. He is considered a hero in Romania for his victories against the Ottoman Empire in Wallachia and across Europe. Dracula did not have a cape or a widows peak. Instead, he had long hair and carried a sword into war. This is Vlad III, the man who was called Dracula.
(Joe Grodensky – @joegrodensky)