Vlad - Between Myth and History

Sandra Balteanu

© Copyright 2024 by 
Sandra Balteanu

Minature by Nikolaus Ochsenbach at Wikimedia Commons.
Minature by Nikolaus Ochsenbach at Wikimedia Commons.

The story of Dracula by Bram Stoker is by far one of my favorite books, and not only because of the mystery, suspense, intrigue, and perfectly crafted characters by the author but also for the artistic style of expressing ideas and narrating events. I read the novel eagerly on a hot summer, in the mornings when I drank my coffee with my children beside me before the heat overwhelmed us, like a well-deserved break before a day of work. Bram Stoker manages to create that wonderful effect on the reader that takes you out of your world, out of the everyday, and places you quietly between its pages. However, of course, nothing in the whole story is true.

Vlad the Impaler, often called by American movies and world literature, Vlad Dracul, was neither a vampire, nor a werewolf, nor any other mythical bloodthirsty creature. It can be said, however, that he was bloodthirsty but as a simple man. Vlad was, however, an extremely controversial leader, both in Romania and abroad, and at the same time a national hero, beloved by the people, no matter how strange and grotesque that may sound, given the circumstances. Ruler Vlad the Impaler remains, at least for his nation, a true hero, a brave, courageous, daring, honest man endowed with a strong and devastating sense of justice, passionate, romantic, and above all, a fighter for the independence of Wallachia.

The story of this character begins in Sighișoara, Transylvania, in the year 1431. Here, little Vlad is born, his father was Vlad II Basarab, (son of the great ruler Mircea the Elder), known as Vlad Dracul, the governor of Transylvania at that time, one of the Romanian principalities. Vlad II Basarab was the one who received and bore the nickname Vlad Dracul, but not because of any association with the devil, but because he was a member of the Order of the Dragon, a similar order to the Teutonic Knights or the Templars, who fought for the defense of Christianity in Europe. Thus, "Dracul" comes from "draco" in Latin, which means "dragon" - the Order of the Dragon. Vlad the Impaler would later become a member of this order. Some sources say his mother was the daughter of Alexandru the Good, making Vlad the Impaler a direct cousin of Stephen the Great of Moldavia (who ruled from 1457-1504).

In the year 1336, Vlad Dracul becomes the ruler of Wallachia, one of the three Romanian provinces, alongside Transylvania and Moldova. The entire family moves to the Citadel of Târgoviște. Vlad spends six years there. It should be noted that the political and social context was extremely turbulent during that period, especially for Eastern Europe. The Ottoman Empire controlled most of the territories in the Balkan Peninsula, including Serbia, parts of Romania, parts of Hungary, Bulgaria, and other regions. In this context, Sultan Murad II demands Vlad and his brother, Radu the Handsome, as hostages as a guarantee for the payment of tribute. The two children go to the Ottoman court where they spend six significant years. In the year 1447, after his father and older brother are cruelly assassinated by Vladislav II, Vlad is crowned the ruler of Wallachia for the first time at the age of only 17. He heads to Wallachia with the support of the Sultan's troops. He manages to dethrone his father's murderer, but only for a short period because, after two months, Vladislav II defeats him and regains control.

In 1456, Vlad succeeds in regaining the throne and killing Vladislav II, the murderer of his father and brother. Three years later, on Easter, Vlad begins to punish the boyars who conspired against his father and brother, making them accomplices in their deaths. Some of these boyars were impaled, and the others were forced to walk 100 kilometers from Târgoviște to Poienari, where they were compelled to build a fortress, Poenari Castle, which later became one of Vlad Țepeș' residences. Vlad Țepeș ruled until the year 1462. He was loved by the people, considered wise and just, and he had a true obsession with honor and order. He became known throughout Europe for his extremely brutal methods of punishment, one of which was impalement, leading to his nickname "Vlad the Impaler." Of course, it's important to note that cruelty and brutal torture techniques were quite common in medieval Europe. During Vlad's reign, almost any crime could be punished by impalement, whether it was murder or simple theft. All criminals were vigorously pursued and punished without mercy. An interesting story is about the golden cup left in the center of Târgoviște's citadel, placed by a well for thirsty travelers, with the condition that it should not be stolen. It is said that the cup remained there throughout Vlad's rule. Another legend tells of a merchant who complained to the ruler that his money bag had been stolen. Vlad ordered the search for the bag and the culprit. When they found the thief, Vlad added a gold coin to the bag and returned it to the merchant. The merchant opened it, counted the money, and said, "Certainly, this is my bag, but there is one extra coin." Vlad replied, "That's right. You're fortunate you were honest; otherwise, I would have impaled you along with the thief."

Voivode Vlad Țepeș encouraged trade, the construction of roads, villages, monasteries, and fortresses. He protected and defended his subjects, especially merchants and peasants. During his rule, Wallachia prospered and developed. Vlad Țepeș valued morality, diligence, honor, and boldness. He wanted all his subjects to be honest, work, and contribute to the prosperity of society. It is said that he despised beggars. For example, there is a chronicle that tells of a day when Vlad gathered all the parasites and beggars in the city, gave them food and drink, and then asked them, "Do you ever want to feel cold and hungry again?" The crowd responded, "No, Your Highness." Vlad then ordered all the doors and windows to be closed and set the room on fire. His methods were undeniably brutal and merciless, but the medieval period was characterized by violence. Vlad Țepeș never stopped aspiring to and fighting for a political ideal that has always been present in our history—independence. The Ottoman Empire continued to increase the tribute in the form of money, grain, slaves, and livestock. So, in 1459, Vlad decided to organize resistance and fight for independence, aiming to break the heavy chains binding our country to the Ottoman Empire. During that period, the King of Hungary, Matthias Corvinus, had formed a political alliance with the Pope to initiate a crusade against the Ottomans. In this context, Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Țepeș) forged an alliance with Matthias Corvinus, and in the year 1459, he refused to pay tribute to the Ottomans. Dissatisfied with this situation, the Ottomans tried to overthrow Vlad the Impaler through treachery, but the plot was discovered, and all those involved were impaled.

In the year 1462, Vlad launched a campaign south of the Danube against the Ottoman forces, asking for support from Matthias Corvinus, but he did not receive it. In response, Sultan Mehmed II led a massive army towards Târgoviște. The Romanians were unable to stop the Turks at the Danube, so Vlad employed a tactic of harassment: he evacuated his subjects from the area and poisoned the wells, attacked Turkish detachments searching for food, and devastated orchards and cultivated lands. All of this culminated in the Night Attack of June 16/17, mentioned in all historical sources. Vlad attacked the Ottoman camp during the night, causing significant damage. However, the Sultan managed to escape. Near the Citadel of Târgoviște, the Turks encountered a terrifying sight: 20,000 Ottoman prisoners impaled. Terrified, hungry, and disheartened, the Turks began to retreat. Unfortunately, in July of 1462, they dethroned Vlad, naming his brother Radu the Handsome as the ruler, who managed to gain the support of the boyars. Vlad the Impaler sought support from Matthias Corvinus, but instead of receiving assistance, he was arrested on false charges of treason and imprisoned in the capital of Hungary for 12 years. In 1475, he was released at the request of Stephen the Great and returned to the throne, but for a brief period because in 1476, near the Snagov Forest, Vlad was captured and killed, being decapitated. It is said that the Sultan kept his head in Constantinople as a symbol of victory over the Romanians. His body was allegedly taken by the monks near Snagov and buried in a place that remains a mystery to this day.

Despite the sinister legends surrounding this figure, Vlad the Impaler remains a just, honest, and loyal leader to his people. His desire for independence was only realized 400 years later. Vlad was married three times, resulting in a total of five children. However, his great love was Catarina Siegel, a beautiful blonde maiden from Brașov. It is said that the feared ruler was deeply in love with her and loved her throughout his life, having five illegitimate children with her, whom he always cared for. Vlad met Catarina on Christmas Eve 1455 when he saw her on the streets of Brașov, trying to pull a sleigh full of provisions for soldiers with other girls. The stories say that Vlad fell in love with the beautiful girl instantly, and although she initially feared the ruler due to his reputation, she loved him just as much. He wanted to set Brașov on fire after learning that his beloved had been beaten, and she wanted to commit suicide upon his death. After Vlad was killed, Catarina sought refuge in a monastery, where she lived for the rest of her life. Despite his harshness and cruelty, in the story of Catarina, Vlad showed romanticism and passion, proving that he could also be a character with uplifting emotions. In Romanian and world history, Vlad the Impaler remains one of the most fascinating figures that time has ever produced, even though Western stories do him little justice; they nonetheless brought him the well-deserved fame.


Inspiring sources: Vlad the Impaler by Nicolae Stoicescu

My name is Sandra Balteanu, i'm a writer from Ramnicu Valcea, Romania. I only published before an essay in a literary journal from Island. I am a writer of all kinds of essays and fantasy stories.

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