Dracula - History or legend?
November 13, 2006 7:05am CST
Historical and mythological interference Dracula - as perceived and promoted in tourist brochures today - is the result of legendary yet, genuine historical facts of Vlad the Impaler's reign, as recounted by revisionist historians, interspersed and dramatically accentuated by the Irishman Bram Stoker's 1897 fictional character, Dracula. The truth about Wallachia's ruler, Vlad the Impaler (1456-1462, 1476) is known from countless academic papers written by both Romanian and foreign historiographers. Brave and fair, benevolent with decent people while ruthless with lawbreakers, Vlad the Impaler is convinced that only strong leadership can maintain internal order and thus allow him to mount a strong defence against external peril. This vision is admirably encompassed in his letter to the people of Brasov, on the 10th of September 1456. In it he says: "When a man or lord is strong and powerful he can make peace whichever way he wishes yet, when he is weak, someone stronger will come onto him and submit him to his mercy."1 Thus, Vlad the Impaler resorts to an authoritarian style of leadership by imposing honesty and hard work as virtues to be had; dishonesty (thievery) and sloth were punished harshly by impaling - a practice which was to make him infamous. Every single one of those who chose not to observe the laws or the freedom of the country - regardless of whether they were Transylvanian traders, Turkish soldiers or local landowners (boyars) - would receive this punishment if they were found guilty of any such crimes. Such abominable punishment can be understood in the context of the times when punishments such as crucifixion, or being burnt at the stake were an all too common occurrence. A quite conclusive episode that proves his unflinching desire to strengthen central authority in the face of rulers becoming mere tools in the hands of various boyar interest groups is the one mentioned in the German chronicles. Here, Vlad summons around 500 boyars to accuse them of bearing responsibility for the disastrous state of the country. Before saying, "the responsibility was borne by your shameful disunity" he asked them how many reigns they had lived under. As most had lived under an average of seven, this was to be their last one as Vlad understood that this occurrence owed a lot to their devious intrigues so he impaled every single one of them. Another unforgiving deed of his rather cruel reign was the revenge of his father and brother's killing right on Easter Day when he proceeded to impale the entire elderly population of Targoviste while sparing the younger ones only to condemn them to hard labour to erect the Poienari citadel. Alexandru Vlahuta best illustrates the cruelty with which he punished his adversaries, in a book called "From our Past". In it, he recalls an episode when one of Wallachia's royal claimants, who went by the name of Dan, is chastised for nurturing sedition: "he (Vlad) catches young Dan and, in order that he is cured of his yearning to rule, he lays him between torches that were lit on the margins of a hole in the ground that was big enough to fit him, gets priests to say prayers and wailers to wail him, and then he chops his head of and tosses his body in the eternal resting place."2 The same author recalls the cruelty with which he punishes the people of Brasov for disobedience and for having given his adversaries shelter: "he overruns the Barsa County, plunders and sets fire to its villages and to the Brasov citadel, and there, in a bay of blood pouring out of bodies that were put to the stake and much wailing of these unfortunates that were struggling to die, Vlad sits happy at the top of the table and enjoys himself with his most valiant soldiers whose hand trembles each time they raise their glass for at such a feast, in such a place, and with such a lord at the top of the table, each drink could be their last"3. There are many legends asserting his unequivocal dislike for half-truths and lies. One of those recounts how a trader on his way to trading his goods asked for his protection. Vlad had told him to leave his dray under the open skies for he should fear no thieves. Yet, the next morning, the trader finds his 160 gold pieces missing and he tells Vlad about this. Upon hearing this, Vlad sends his men to find the thief, which they do and the thief is immediately caught and quickly impaled. Vlad then summons the trader to give him the money back and slips in an extra gold piece. The trader counts the money and finds the extra coin and tells Vlad about this. Vlad spares his life for his honesty, as he would have impaled him too had he not told him the truth. Another legend, which denotes Vlad's preoccupation for eradicating thievery, tells the story of a golden cup left at a faraway fountain, in the middle of a forest, which nobody dared steal even long after Vlad the Impaler had passed away. The end result of such drastic measures was that Vlad managed to quell the utter chaos gripping the country and reinstated much needed order and discipline instead. "A stranger to pity and forgiveness - says the historian A.D.Xenopol - he puts his dreadful temper in the service of his country and, as soon as he cleanses it from internal ills, he proceeds to redress the downfall of the country"4. His deeds attracted much ill feeling from his contemporaries. Thus, he was prone to defamation and accusations of secret deals with the Ottomans against the interests of his country - falsehoods that eventually led to his imprisonment by King Matias Corvin. As time went on, his cruel features became associated with those of the vampire Dracula. The so-called Dracula myth has its origins in Vlad Basarab, the father of the future king Vlad the Impaler - Dracula becoming member of the Order of the Dragon, on the 8th of February 1431. Incidentally, this Order was a very exclusive club with a select membership numbering only monarchs, or heirs to the throne. The cape, which Emperor Sigismund of Luxembourg himself bestows on his shoulders, was tied at the front with a golden collar and a medallion in the shape of a dragon. Upon becoming king of Wallachia, Vlad Basarab proceeds to use the image of the dragon not only on his personal seal but also on the coins minted during his reign. This is the reason why his contemporaries calling him Vlad Dracul i.e. Vlad the Devil while the rest of his family as well as his ancestors were called Draculesti i.e. Devilish. His second born, also called Vlad, who was to rule Wallachia between 1456 and 1462 was called by the Turks, Seitanoglu i.e. the Devil's Son or, Kaziklu i.e. the one who impales - after the usual punishment to wrongdoers. The nickname Dracula - which his adversaries use when referring to him - suffers distortions, as it is associated with a sign of the link with the Devil himself. The link Dracula-Devil comes to being used by the Saxons of Transylvania as well, who were hostile to the great King as recounted in the "German Stories about King Dracula." After the First Edition from 1488, this representation of a unimaginably cruel, blood thirsty king becomes ever more gruesome - like the scene depicted in one of the thirty odd representations in the seventeenth century in which he is portrayed as having lunch among many bodies of impaled boyars. Gradually, Vlad's public image shifts from that of a ruthless ruler who was merciless with lawbreakers to that of a vampire. This owes much to speculations about some sort of a blood tie with Countess Elisabeth Bathory. Since HRT was some five centuries away, one of the Countess' middle of the sixteenth century pastimes in her Czech mansion was reputedly to bathe in maiden's blood in order that she could preserve her youthful looks - hence, the reason for her contemporaries believing this was but a family trait. Seventeenth century chronicles collected by Austrian soldiers from Western Wallachia and Transylvania recount popular beliefs about ghosts. In their reports dating from the period between 1718 and 1739, there is mention of a local custom of digging up bodies of people who were suspected to have been ghosts during their lifetime and subsequently stabbing them through the heart with a wooden stake. Their endeavours were rewarded with a burst of thick, black blood that proved their suspicions to be well founded. Bar for the stench, this practice is mentioned in Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula. Such military reports continue to stoke up the fires of an image of Transylvania being a somewhat supernatural place for the Undead, living in ruined castles that are permanently haunted by evil spirits, ghosts and vampires5. In 1897, the famous fictional character Dracula comes to (after-) life in London, out of the Irishman Bram Stoker's pen - a novel considered by Oscar Wilde to be one of the best novel of all times. Yet, according to Stoker's own admission, neither Transylvania nor Dracula have any historical value for Romania as he had used both the place as well as the name only because of the fame they enjoyed at the time, which was but a useful tool in creating a semblance of credibility to a fictional story. The relationship between Bram Stoker's fictional character and king Vlad the Impaler is the one suggested by the author himself: "there was indeed a king Dracula who earned his name fighting against the Ottoman's, over the great river, right on the border with the Ottoman Empire"6. Stoker believes Vlad was no ordinary man since "for centuries, he was spoken of as one of the shrewdest, cunning and bravest son's of his country lying beyond the forests, whose quick spirit and iron will still fight from beyond the grave." This is the point at which the author introduces popular beliefs about ghosts that continue to wander long after the body is gone: "The Un-dead i.e. ghost, vampires etc. suffer the curse of immortality - says Bram Stoker - they pass from age to ag
3 people like this
23 Nov 06
The original Dracula is related to Vlad Dracul (1431 - 1476), beter known through history as Vlad Tepes (read Tsepesh). Vlad has ruled Wallachia (Tara Româneascã, now southern Romania) between 1456 and 1476. THE SIGN OF DRAGON On the 8th of February 1431 emperor Sigismund of Luxemburg conceded the rulership in Wallachia to the father of Vlad (called also Vlad), who has been living at his court, and he gave him a necklace and a golden medalion with a dragon engraved on it, the badge of the knights of the Order. The Order of the Dragon was an order formed by the Holy Roman emperor Sigismund for the purpose of defeating the ottomans (the old name for the Turks). DRACULA THE SON OF DRAGON Vlad spent his childhood in Sighisoara, Transylvania (now central and northern Romania) with his family, waiting for his coronation. He's father used the emblem for his first two monetary emissions: the symbol of the dragon. He also went by the name "Dracul". In old Romanian dracul means the dragon or the devil (in the contemporary Romanian dracul means only the devil). Being the son of a "Dracul", Vlad was called "Dracula", meaning originary the son of the Dragon.
• United States
19 Nov 06
What a wonderful and well researched article!! I feel that a lot of people prefer the "fictional" account of Dracula to the truth, but Vlad the Impaler wasn't a very boring man. He almost seemed super human. Thanks for sharing this. :)
8 Dec 06
Lots of information you gave already. Dracula, the myth of Stocker's. And Dracula the real person. I like that there are some connections between myth and history when talking about Dracula. Stoker came across some information about vampire beliefs in Transylvania which he used in the novel. But Stoker did not make up the name "Dracula". Every myth has an origin somewhere in the reallity. There was a Dracula in the 15th century: Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Tepes in Romanian language), descended from Basarab the Great, a fourteenth-century prince who is credited with having founded the state of Wallachia, part of present- day Romania. This name, from the Turkish nickname "kaziklu bey" ("impaling prince"), was used by Ottoman chroniclers of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries because of Vlad's fondness for impalement as a means of execution. In 1431, the senior Vlad (the futher) received a honor: the initiation into the Order of the Dragon. Vlad then took on the nickname "Dracul". The Wallachian word "dracul" was derived from the Latin "draco" meaning "the dragon". The younger Vlad adopted the name "Dracula" indicating "son of Dracul" or "son of the Dragon". Vlad Dracula is the name he liked to use about himself, most probably and not Vlad the Impaler. Stocker who never visited Wallachia came across his name in a book he was researching entitled AN ACCOUNT OF THE PRINCIPALITIES OF WALLACHIA AND MOLDAVIA (1820). His name was Vlad The Impaler and his bloodthirsty exploits may have led him to being linked with the legends of blood- drinking vampires!