Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, member of the House of Drăculești, and known as Vlad the Impaler or Dracula, was the inspiration for Irish author Bram Stoker’s world-famous novel Dracula, published in 1897. Vlad III is famous for the brutal punishments he imposed on his enemies and anyone he considered a threat or annoyance.
Vlad III was born in November or December 1431 in Transylvania into the Romanian Court. At the time, there was constant turmoil between Hungary and the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey), and power plays abounded for control among the regal families. Vlad’s father (Vlad II) gained control of the Wallachia (present-day Romania) and ascended the throne. During this time of political unrest, Vlad III and his 2 siblings, Mircea (his older brother) and Radu (his younger brother), were raised to be warriors.
When he was 11 year old, Vlad III traveled with his brother Radu, age 7, and his father to broker a deal with the Ottomans for military support. Upon arrival at the Turkish court, they were immediately arrested and imprisoned. Their father agreed to leave his 2 sons behind as political prisoners for an indefinite period of time as a good-faith effort to ensure his loyalty. The boys were held in captivity for 5 years, during which time Radu adapted to his new life and the Ottoman culture, but Vlad III rebelled against his confinement. In turn, he received repeated punishment by way of beatings from the guards. The brothers bore witness to executions of prisoners, including the practice of impalement. It’s speculated that the physical and mental abuse Vlad endured during this time did much to turn him into the man he would eventually become. His father did not keep his word with the Ottomans, and more battles ensued. The family palace in Wallachia was attacked and Vlad’s mother, father, and older brother were put to death. Soon thereafter, the Turkish Sultan released Vlad III and Radu, and offered Vlad III a post in the cavalry. He went on to escape Turkey, avenge his family’s deaths, and claim the throne of Wallachia.
Once on the throne, he proceeded to settle the score with his enemies and earned his reputation as Vlad the Impaler, creating a legacy of murdering men, women, and children. Impaling is a truly gruesome form of torture and death. The still-alive victim is pierced by a wooden or metal pole that is inserted into the rectum or vagina until it exits the neck, shoulder, or mouth. The poles often had rounded edges to avoid damage to major internal organs in order to prolong the agony of the victim as the pole was raised and planted to leave them on display. Vlad killed in droves, impaling victims in a forest of spikes around his castle as a message to his people of what their fate would be if they did not obey.
His brutality and blood thirst became legendary. One story claims that he had all of the poor, homeless, and retched people of Wallachia gathered together for a great feast. As they ate and drank, he ordered the doors locked and had the whole building burned down so that he could be rid of them. Another retells a time when foreign emissaries refused to remove their headgear, so Vlad III ordered that their hats be nailed to their heads. Another tale tells of Vlad dining in the field where defeated soldiers had been impaled, dipping his bread in the blood of his victims and eating it.
Vlad III died in battle against the Ottomans in the winter of 1476-1477 near Bucharest. He was decapitated and his head was taken to Constantinople, where it was put on display as proof that Vlad the Impaler was dead. Today, there are Romanians who will argue that this mass murderer was in fact a national hero. Statues stand in his honor at his birthplace, and his resting place is considered sacred to some.
The Middle Ages were a turbulent and violent time in world history. The story of Vlad III may have gone unnoticed had it not been for the success of the Gothic novel Dracula.
- Geringer J. Vlad the Impaler. Crime Library website. http://www.crimelibrary.com/serial_killers/history/vlad/index_1.html.
- Klein C. “Dracula’s dungeon” unearthed in Turkey. History website. October 1, 2014. http://www.history.com/news/draculas-dungeon-unearthed-in-turkey.
- Wilde R. Vlad the Impaler/Vlad III Dracula/Vlad Tepes. About.com website. http://europeanhistory.about.com/od/famouspeople/a/Vlad-The-Impaler.htm.