Ancient history

Vlad III Tepes the Impaler (Dracula)

Vlad III the Impaler
Vlad Tepes
Wallachia Prince of Wallachia
1448, 1456-1462 and 1476
Vlad III the Impaler

Vlad the Impaler
His life
1431:born in Schässburg/Sighisoara on ? December
Father:Vlad II the Dragon (Vlad Dracul)

1476:died in Bucharest on ?

Voivode Vlad III Tepes (“the Impaler”), known as Draculea (in Romanian “son of the Devil”). Dracula, so nicknamed by chroniclers after his family belonged to the Order of the Dragon (born in December 1431 in Schässburg/Sighisoara - died in 1476 in Bucharest), was Prince of Wallachia in 1448, then from 1456 in 1462 and in 1476.

His nickname

Vlad comes from the Basarabi family, to which we owe many historical figures in Wallachia and Transylvania, and whose first outstanding representative is Basarab cel Mare.


His nickname in Western chronicles, written well after his death, is Tepes (“the Impaler” in Romanian), which means the one who leads to the pal, named after his favorite method of execution. Turkish chroniclers themselves called him Kaziglu Bey, which means “The Impaler Prince”. This nickname was never used by Vlad's contemporaries, and only appears for the first time in 1550, in a chronicle of Wallachia, a century after his death.

His life and actions take place in the extremely turbulent context of the middle of the 15th century for Eastern Europe. The Holy Roman Empire and the Christian countries of Western Europe, in particular the kingdoms of Austria, Hungary and Poland are seriously threatened by the thrust of the Ottoman Empire, which has just brought down the Byzantine Empire with the fall of Constantinople on May 29, 1453. The regions between the two empires constitute the last bastion of Christianity (Catholic and Orthodox) against the Muslims, and are the scene of fierce battles. The sultans consolidate their control over Constantinople, and besiege the Balkans, until they become masters of most of this region, future modern states such as Serbia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Armenia, and the Greece, to be finally arrested at the gates of Vienna.


He was also nicknamed Dracula. This name is that of his family, the Draculea, from the Basarab dynasty. The first to bear this name was his father, Vlad II the Dragon (Vlad Dracul). In Romanian, dracul directly translates to "the dragon" or "the devil". The coat of arms of the Draculea bears the figure of a dragon, a sort of (legendary) totemic animal of the family.

Vlad Tepes already enjoyed significant fame during his lifetime, spread especially by the Saxon merchants of Transylvania, and by Mathias I Corvin the Just (Matthias Corvin), the king of Hungary. He is indeed known as a cruel ruler who impales his enemies. He is said to have impaled hundreds of thousands of men, and in particular, the German merchants of Transylvania, members of the old nobility, the peasants who rose up against him, as well as the Turkish-Ottoman prisoners. By being even more cruel than his enemies, he thus allowed to insinuate doubt among the Turco-Ottomans as to their warlike superiority.

This popularity really spread with the dissemination of the character of Dracula, invented by Bram Stoker for his novel in 1897. This novel, however, is not based directly on the cruel reign of Vlad Tepes. It is a fiction supposed to take place in Transylvania and the United Kingdom in the 19th century. Nevertheless, due to his bloody reign, Vlad Tepes Dracula was immortalized by Stoker as a vampire drinking the blood of his victims. The image of Transylvania, through Vlad Tepes, is now associated for a long time with the vampire Count Dracula, whose name is the Devil.

Origins of the legend

His life, we know it thanks to the written sources which relate the facts and gestures of Vlad III, prince of Wallachia in the middle of the 15th century:

* Vlad Tepes was a monster, a model of cruelty. He was also a brute who liked to spread blood, fire, death everywhere (it was even claimed that he drank the blood of his victims, that he "sauced" his bread with it!), who killed all those who put themselves across its path, reserving atrocious deaths for them, including that of the pal:a stake is driven, if possible through the anus for men or through the vagina for women, and it is brought out through the mouth, then the stake on which the victim rots is left for days in plain sight. His victims numbered in the thousands, tens or hundreds of thousands according to some sources.

This essentially Western thesis finds its origin in the hatred and resentment of its adversaries, the Saxon merchants and the boyars of Transylvania, who have always fought to preserve their privileges in these regions. The diffusion of writings favorable to this version in Europe was strongly encouraged by Mathias I Corvin the Just (Mathias Corvin), the king of Hungary, who sought to justify his change of attitude:after having supported Vlad in all his actions, especially those against the Turks, he supported his brother Radu III the Elegant (Radu cel Frumos), who was the candidate of the Ottomans and leader of the Ottoman armies, when Vlad was defeated and asked him for help, alone in Brasov. It was better to make Vlad look like an uncontrollable, almost supernatural madman.

At the beginning of the 19th century, this thesis was revived by the publication in German of the Histories of Moldavia and Wallachia by Johann Christian Engel, which presents Vlad Tepes as a bloodthirsty tyrant:

"Vlad Tepes was a leader who used terror to gain respect from his enemies. This is the thesis of the Eastern chroniclers, for whom Vlad was a formidable and respectable adversary. We can cite A. Bonfini or L. Chalcocondil, as well than the anonymous author of the Histoires slavonnes, who have admiration for this authoritarian but just voivode, who used all the methods to consolidate a central power, and to bring order to his territories."


* His father is Vlad II the Dragon (Vlad Dracul), prince of Wallachia from 1436 to 1442. Origin of the Draculea family.
o His uncle is Alexandru I Aldea (Alexandru Aldea), prince of Wallachia from 1431 to 1436.
* His grandfather is Mircea I the Elder (Mircea cel Batrân), prince of Wallachia from 1383 to 1418.
o His grandfather's brother is Dan I of Wallachia (Dan), prince of Wallachia from 1383 to 1386, associated with his brother Mircea the Elder. He is at the origin of the Danesti family adversary of the Dracul
* His grandfather is Radu I of Wallachia (Radu), prince of Wallachia from 1436 to 1442.
* His great-grandfather was Nicolae I Alexandru from 1352 to 1364.
* His great-grandfather was Basarab Ier cel Mare, Prince of Wallachia from 1310 to 1352.
* The father of his great-grandfather is Tihomir, Prince of Wallachia from 1290 to 1310.


He was legally married to Ilona Hunyade, sister of Mathias Corvin, King of Hungary. In this branch all his descendants bore the name of Draculea:his son Vlad, his grandsons Vlad de Sinesti and Ion de Sinesti, his great-grandson Ioan de Band.

His non-legitimate descent, resulting from his affair with the daughter of the armas Dracea de Manesti, is more visible:

* his son is Mihnea Ier cel Rau (Mihnéa "The Bad"), prince of Wallachia from 1508 to 1509, and will marry Voica, daughter of Vlad IV Calugarul, he died in 1510;
* his granddaughter is Ruxandra Dracula, who will marry Bogdan cel Orb prince of Moldavia from 1504 to 1517;
* her great-grandson is Petru Schiopul, prince of Moldavia from 1574 to 1577;
* his great great grandson is Mihnea II Turcitul, Prince of Wallachia from 1577 to 1591;
* his great great great grandson is Radu IX Mihnea, Prince of Wallachia from 1611 to 1626;
* his great great great great grandson is Alexandru III Coconul, Prince of Wallachia from 1623 to 1627, Prince of Moldavia from 1629 to 1630.

Vlad Dracula had three recognized wives, Jusztina Szilagyi (mother of Mihnéa I), Cnaejna Bathory from Transylvania (probably from the family of Erzsébet Báthory) and Ilona Hunyade (Nelipic) from Wallachia.

Mihnéa ("The Bad") had with Voica, a daughter, Ruxandra Dracula, and with Smaranda Szapolya, a son, Mircea III.

This son had with Despina of Moldavia, two sons, Milos Voda (died 1577) and Petru III "La Lame" (died 1594).

Petru III had three recognized wives:Maria Gronitz, with whom he had a son Mircéa V, Irini "La Gitane" and Maria Aroisali. His daughter Maria Dracula, married Peter Bornemisza of Kapolna. They in turn had a daughter, Zsuzsanna Bornemisza de Kapolna who, with her husband Gaspar Kendeffy de Malomviz (or Malmoliz), were direct ascendants of the Windsor Royal Family.

Born in Schässburg, Transylvania in 1431, Vlad spent his early years at the court of his father, Vlad II the Dragon (Vlad Dracul), Prince of Wallachia, in Târgoviste.

In 1442, he was sent as a hostage to Sultan Murad II, together with his younger brother Radu III the Elegant (Radu cel Frumos); he was kept in Turkey until 1448, and his brother until 1462. This period of Turkish captivity played an important role in Vlad's rise to power. Probably in this period he adopted his uncompromising attitude to life.

The fight for the throne

In this first half of the 15th century, the throne of Wallachia was disputed by the cousin families, the Danesti and the Draculea family. The Danesti call on the Hungarians to help them, on the pretext of fighting the Ottomans, while the Draculea negotiate with them.

In 1447, Vlad's father, Vlad II the Dragon (Vlad Dracul), made peace with the Ottomans. In November 1447, Jean Hunyade (Ioan Hunedoara), governor of Hungary since 1446, undertook an expedition to Wallachia from Brasov. Vlad II is captured and killed at Balteni, along with his first son Mircea II the Younger (Mircea cel Tânar). Hunyade proclaimed himself on December 4, 1447 voivode of the transalpine regions in Târgoviste. This title allows him to install a Danesti, the son of Dan II, Vladislav II of Wallachia (Vladislav) on the throne of Wallachia.

In 1448, Vlad III the Impaler then returned from Adrianople, supported by a Turkish cavalry and a contingent of troops loaned by the pasha Mustafa Hassan, and took advantage of the absence of Vladislav, away from Targoviste by the fighting at the second battle. of Kosovo, to ascend the throne. But Vladislav chased him two months later (October-November 1448) when he returned, and he had to go into exile in Moldavia, where Bogdan II reigned. He befriends the future Stephen III the Great (Stefan cel Mare).

Later, Jean Hunyade (János Hunyadi), who must leave to defend Belgrade, entrusts him with an army to defend southern Transylvania. Vlad Tepes took advantage of this, with the help of boyars from Muntenia to regain the throne of Wallachia by getting rid of Vladislav II in August 1456. Vlad began his longest period of reign - six years - during which he knew he could not keep one's place only by defending it dearly against all those who covet it. In order to consolidate his power, he strives to centralize authority, in the same way as Mathias Corvin in Hungary, or Louis XI in France. It was necessary for that to eliminate without pity all those who could destabilize it. So he installed a regime of terror, in such a way that everyone dreads and fears him.

Inflexible and upright

He is adamant when it comes to honesty and order. The smallest offence, from a lie to a crime, could be punished with a stake. In fact, Dracula knew the educational virtues of terror. Sure of the effectiveness of his law, Vlad one day places a golden cup in the middle of the central square of Târgoviste. Thirsty travelers will have the right to use the cup but it must remain in place. According to historical sources, it was never stolen, and remained practically unused throughout Vlad's reign.

He also directs his revenge against the boyars responsible for the death of his father and his brother Mircea. On Easter Sunday 1459, he arrested all the families of boyars who were partying at the princely court. After paling the older ones, he forces the rest to walk to the town of Poenari. The road is a hundred kilometers long, and is difficult. He does not allow the survivors to rest on their arrival, he immediately orders them to build a fortress on the ruins of an old outpost, with a view of the Arges. Many die. Vlad creates a new nobility among his peasants, and manages to quickly build a fortress with the old one. This fortress is identified today as Bran Castle.

The pal's punishment

Vlad Tepes remains known for his brutal punishment techniques; according to the words of the Saxon boyars of Transylvania, he orders that the punished be flayed, boiled, beheaded, blinded, strangled, hanged, burned, fried, nailed, buried alive, etc. He enjoys cutting off his victims' noses, ears, genitals, and tongues. But his favorite method is the stake, hence his nickname of Impaler.

He applied this technique in 1457, 1459 and 1460 against the merchants of Transylvania who rebelled against his laws. In 1457, the traders of Sibiu tried to replace him with a priest of the Romanians, identified as the future sovereign Vlad IV Calugarul, who promised them customs advantages. The merchants of Brasov choose another suitor, Dan III Danicul, the brother of Vladislav II of Wallachia. Vlad then crossed the Carpathians and ran from village to village punishing the rebels, until the moment when Matthias Corvin the Righteous son of Jean Hunyade, who had become king of Hungary, was obliged to intervene by negotiating an agreement, which shows the limits of the independence of the power of Vlad Tepes, even on his land, in front of the Hungarian power. Dan III, supported by Mathias, crosses the Carpathians from Brasov to Wallachia, where he is taken and executed by Vlad on April 22, 1460. The reprisals against the merchants of Transylvania are then terrible, and Vlad well deserves his nickname of Impaler.

Against the Turks

At the beginning of 1462, Vlad felt stronger, and the participation promised to him by Mathias in person in an expedition against the Turks emboldened him to the point of breaking his allegiance to the Ottomans. He then launched a campaign against the Turks on the Danube, killing more than 30,000 men. Vlad provokes the wrath of Sultan Mehmed II, son of Murad, when he refuses to accede to the request of Turkish emissaries for the payment of tribute to the Sultan. When the sultan's emissaries refuse to take off their turbans in front of him, he makes sure they will keep them that way by nailing them directly to their heads. When the sultan learns of the execution of his emissaries, he decides to punish Vlad by massively invading Wallachia. Another objective of the sultan is to transform this land into a Turkish province. He enters Wallachia with an army three times larger than that of Vlad. Without allies, he must resolve to withdraw to Târgoviste, to burn his own villages, and to poison the springs on his way, so as to leave nothing more to drink and eat for the Turkish army.

When the sultan arrives in Târgoviste, he is confronted with a vision of horror:on thousands of pals, the bodies of more than 20,000 Turkish prisoners are erected, a terrifying scene which has been nicknamed "the Forest of the Pals". Mehmed, tired and hungry, recognizes his defeat, and returns to Istanbul (the scene, described by Victor Hugo, in his Legend of the Centuries, testifies to this astonishing incident). Mehmed II prefers to leave his place in battle to Radu III the Elegant (Radu cel Frumos), the youngest brother of Vlad, the Turks' candidate for the throne of Wallachia.

At the head of the Turkish army and men whom he convinces to join his camp rather than obey Vlad, he pursues his brother to Château Poenari, on the Arges. According to legend, Vlad's wife, who wants to escape from a Turkish dungeon, kills herself by throwing herself from the top of the cliff - a scene exploited by Francis Ford Coppola in the film Bram Stoker's Dracula. Vlad, who is not the kind of man to commit suicide, manages to escape from the siege of his fortress, taking a secret passage through the mountain. Radu the Handsome ascends the throne of Wallachia on August 15, 1462.

Prisoner in Hungary

Vlad returns to Transylvania to meet Mathias who he thinks is arriving in Brasov to come to his aid. But the local authorities of Brasov have already changed their minds by recognizing Radu as sovereign for two months, and Mathias, who observes the situation, and who is "helped" in his decision by the Saxon merchants, has Vlad arrested by a Hussite chief known, Jan Jiskra in November 1462. Vlad was held prisoner in Buda for twelve years, released, he returned to Bucharest.

The tragic end

In 1476, Vlad was recognized again as Prince of Wallachia, but he only briefly rejoiced in his third reign. He was assassinated at the end of December 1476 in Bucharest. The body of Vlad Tepes is decapitated and his head sent to the Sultan, who pricks it on a stake as proof that he is indeed dead. Vlad Tepes is buried in the monastery of Snagov, on an island near Bucharest. According to the famous historian Constantin Rezachevici, this tomb could be located on the locality of the monastery of Comana (Constantin Rezachevici „Unde a fost mormântul lui Vlad Tepes?“ (II), Magazin Istoric, nr.3, 2002, p.41) .

Recent studies have shown that the "tomb" of Vlad Tepes at the Snagov Monastery contains only a few horse bones, dated to the Neolithic period, and does not correspond to the real remains of the Wallachian prince.

Contemporary legend:Dracula

It is unclear why Bram Stoker took as a model for his fictional character the 15th century Prince of Wallachia. A few have offered the idea that Stoker met a Hungarian professor from the University of Budapest, Arminius Vambery (Hermann Vamberger), and it is possible that he may have had information about Vlad Tepes. Also, the fact that Dr. Abraham Van Helsing mentions his friend Arminius in the 1897 novel as the source of his knowledge of Vlad Tepes seems to support this hypothesis. Likewise, the only real connection between the historical Vlad Tepes (1431-1476) and the modern literary vampire myth is Stoker's book; Bram Stoker used popular sources, historical details and some personal life experiences to bring a complex creature to life. On the other hand, Vlad's main political opponents - the Transylvanian Saxons - used the devilish meaning of the Romanian word drac to discredit the prince's reputation. Indeed, they could have associated the two senses of the Romanian word, dragon and devil to explain a closer relationship between Vlad Tepes and vampires.

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