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Vlad the Impaler and Count Dracula

by Marius Lobontiu

Bram Stoker’s Dracula frightened Europe and started the vampire-fashion.

But few people know that things are not quite as Stoker presented them in his book. The likeliest of assumptions is that the main character, Dracula is a portrayal of the cruel Vlad the Impaler - Vlad Tepes ruler of a medieval Romanian state.
The truth is slightly different.

Vlad the Impaler
What’s in a name?

Vlad the Second was the father of Vlad the Impaler. For his bravery in combat on behalf of the Christian cause, he was accepted into The Order of the Dragon, a group of knights founded by Sigismund of Luxemburg in 1387. Because the idea of dragons was not known to Romanians of those times, they played upon a word similarity and called Vlad the Second Dracul - “the Devil”, in Romanian. As for Draculea, a name that Vlad the Impaler was to frequently use in his correspondence, it ment “the son of Dracul”, as “lea” was a common name-ending that ment “son of”.

From law enforcement to drinking blood
The small medieval states that were to later form Romania were in an almost constant state of chaos. Whether they were weakend by wars, overrun by Muslim invaders or forced to pay tribute to stronger neighbours, internal affairs such as economy or law enforcement were pray to general indifference and decadence. Against a background of political instability and general disrespect for the law, Vlad the Impaler (Tepes in Romanian) appeared as a just and brave ruler, albeit a particularly cruel one. He had a draconian view on restoring order, and preffered the bloodyest possible execution as a deterrant: he impaled and mamed more condemned prisoners than any other ruler before his time.

Some medieval chronicles take a step further and describe him taking pleasure in senseless sadism. They account for the legend of a “blood-drinking” ruler, a metaphor later to be taken literally. These writings are disputed by sources maintaining that he only killed the lazyest and most hopelessly dishonest of lawbreakers. Among them he counted the Transylavanian and German merchants who regularly ignored his state’s borders and its commercial laws. Therefore, a common historical theory states that the stories about his devilish cruelty were mostly spread through medieval German sources, and were generally meant to avenge the damage that Vlad the Impaler caused to German merchants.

Literary fiction seeks historical legend
This was the controversial figure that Bram Stoker stumbled upon and decided to transform into the Vampire figure. The theories about how Stoker wrote his novel and what his sources were are, again, highly controversial. It is certain, for instance, that he took the name Dracula from his readings of Romanian history.

For an extra touch of exoticism, he chose to give this name to his character, instead of the initial Count Wampyr, a simple refference to earlier gothic writings, such as those of Sheridan le Fanou, the first writer to theorise upon the vampyric. It is unlikely that Stoker sought further historical information about Vlad the Impaler, aside from the name itself. If he had, it is likely that he would have been pleasantly surprised to uncover the legends of the ruler’s inhuman cruelty. Yet he does not mention Dracula’s killings, and at a certain point in the book, his character claims to be a “Szeckely”, which is a Hunnic name. Other thories claim that in creating the vampire figure, Stoker was partly inspired by the figure of Countess Erzsébet Báthory, a member of the Hungarian nobility in the XVIth century. She was famous for her sadism and is said to have tortured and killed over 700 maids to bathe in their blood, in order to maintain her beauty. There are, of course, many other theories regarding this subject, but it is unanimously accepted that Vlad the Impaler was the historical figure that inspired Stoker’s character.

Whether you’re interrested in the history, the legend, the literature or the modern cult, you’ll find their rock-hard basis in the place that started it all: you may visit the medieval citadel of Sighisoara, Vlad the Impaler’s birthplace, Bran Castle, his feared residence and supossedly Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula’s castle, or Borgo Pass, the ominously rugged terrain where the Bloody Count claimed his victims. Or you may choose to explore the mysterious, and stroll through any one of the dozens of picturesque villages set against those breathtaking mountain views to which Bram Stoker’s book finally begins to do justice.

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