Vlad III Dracula (Also known as Vlad Ţepeş /tse'pesh/ or Vlad the Impaler), lived November/December, 1431- December, 1476, reigned as Prince of Wallachia 1448, 1456-1462 and 1476. He was born in Sighişoara, Transylvania. Thanks to his rule, Wallachia preserved its independence in relation with the Ottoman threat. However, he was a savage ruler - his enemies were impaled.

Bram Stoker's Dracula is not directly based on Vlad III Dracula's cruel reign. It is a work of fiction set in nineteenth century Transylvania and England.

His name

Vlad III Dracula was born in November or December 1431, in the fortress of Sighişoara, Transylvania. His father, Vlad II Dracul, had been inducted into the Order of the Dragon about one year before. The order - which could be compared to the Knights of the Hospital of St. John or even to the Teutonic Order of Knights - was a semi-military and religious society, originally created in 1387 by Sigismund, King of Hungary (later Holy Roman Emperor) and his second wife, Barbara Cilli. The order used a dragon as its symbol. The main goals of such a secret fraternal order of knights were mainly to protect the interests of Catholicism, and to crusade against the Turks of the Ottoman Empire. There are different reasons why this society is notable in reference to Vlad III Dracula. First, it provides an explanation for the name Dracula; dracul in Romanian means devil or dragon, and the boyars of Romania, who knew of Vlad II's induction into the Order of the Dragon, decided to call him Dracul. Drăculea means son of Dracul and was often used by Vlad III in the official corespondence. A second major role of this Order as a source of inspiration for Stoker's evil character is the Order's official dress - a black cape over a red garment - to be worn only on Fridays or during the commemoration of Jesus Christ's Passion.

Another name that was used, especially by the common people, was the nickname "Ţepeş", which means The Impaler in Romanian, since impalement was his favourite execution method. Even the Turks referred to him as Kaziglu Bey, meaning The Impaler Prince. This name was first used in a Wallachian chronicle of 1550 and it then remain in Romanian history.

The Prince of Wallachia

In the winter of 1436-1437, Vlad II Dracul became prince of Wallachia (one of three Romanian provinces, the others being Moldavia and Transylvania) and took up residence at the palace in Târgovişte, the princely capital. Vlad III Dracula followed his father and lived six years at the princely court. In 1442, for political reasons, Vlad III and his younger brother Radu cel Frumos were taken hostage by the sultan Murad II; Vlad III was held in Turkey until 1448, while his brother Radu stayed there until 1462. This period of Turkish captivity played an important role in Vlad III's upbringing; it must be at this period that he adopted a very pessimistic view of life. Indeed, the Turks set him free after informing him of his father's assassination in 1447 - organized by Vladislav II, a rival for the throne of Wallachia. He also learned about his older brother Mircea's death and how the oldest legitimate son of Dracul had been tortured and buried alive by the boyars of Târgovişte.

At 17 years old, Vlad III Dracula, supported by a force of Turkish cavalry and a contingent of troops lent to him by pasha Mustafa Hassan, made his first major move toward seizing the Wallachian throne. But another claimant, no other than Vladislav II himself, defeated him only two months later. In order to secure his second and major reign over Wallachia, Vlad III had to wait until August 20, 1456, when he had the satisfaction of killing his mortal enemy and his father's assassin. Vlad III then began his longest reign - 6 years - during which he committed many cruelties, and hence established his controversial reputation.

His first major act of revenge was aimed at the boyars of Târgovişte for the killing of his father and his brother Mircea. On Easter Sunday of what we believe to be 1459, he arrested all the boyar families who had participated at the princely feast. He impaled the older ones on stakes while forcing the others to march from the capital to the town of Poenari. This fifty-mile trek was quite grueling, and those who survived were not permitted to rest until they reached destination. Vlad III then ordered them to build him a fortress on the ruins of an older outpost overlooking the Arges river. Many died in the process, and Vlad III therefore succeeded in creating a new nobility and obtaining a fortress for future emergencies. What is left today of the building is identified as Castle Dracula.

Vlad III became well known for his brutal punishment techniques; as described by its Saxon (from Transylvania) detractors, he often ordered people to be skinned, boiled, decapitated, blinded, strangled, hanged, burned, roasted, hacked, nailed, buried alive, stabbed, etc. He also liked to cut off noses, ears, genitalia and limbs. But his favorite method was impalement on stakes, hence the moniker Ţepeş which means The Impaler in Romanian. It was this technique he used in 1457, 1459 and 1460 against Transylvanian merchants who had ignored his trade laws. The raids he led against the German Siebenbuergen Saxons of Transylvania were also acts of proto-nationalism in order to protect and favour Wallachian commerce activities. In that period was almost a custom that challangers to Wallachia tron find support in Transylvania where they waited for the right moment to make their move.

There are many anecdotes about the philosophy of Vlad III Dracula. He was, for instance, particularly known throughout his land for his fierce insistence on honesty and order. Almost any crime, from lying and stealing to killing, could be punished by impalement. Being so confident in the effectiveness of his law, Vlad III placed a golden cup on display in the central square of Târgovişte. The cup could be used by thirsty travelers, but had to remain on the square. According to the available historic sources, it was never stolen and remained entirely unmolested throughout Vlad's reign. Vlad III was also very concerned that all his subjects work and be productive to the community. He looked upon the poor, vagrants and beggars as thieves. Consequently, one day he invited all the poor and sick of Wallachia to his princely court in Targoviste for a great feast. After the guests ate and drank, he asked them if they'd like to never be poor again. When they said yes, Vlad ordered the hall boarded up and set on fire. No one survived.

In the beginning of 1462, Vlad III launched a campaign against the Turks along the Danube river, killing over 38,000 people in the process, after his men count. Vlad had angered Mehmed by refusing the demands of two Turkish emissaries to pay tribute to the Sultan, then, because they refuse to take off their turbans in front of him, he make sure that they keep their turbans on by hammering spikes onto their heads. It was quite risky, the military force of Sultan Mehmed II being far more powerful than the Wallachian army. However, during the winter of 1462, Vlad III was very successful and managed to gain many victories. To punish him, the Sultan decided to launch a full-scale invasion of Wallachia. Of course, the Sultan's other goal was to transform this land into a Turkish province and he entered Wallachia with an army three times larger than Vlad III's. Finding himself without allies, Vlad III, forced to retreat towards Târgovişte, burned his own villages and poisoned the wells along the way, so that the Turkish army would find nothing to eat or drink. Moreover, when the Sultan, exhausted, finally reached the capital city, he was confronted by a most gruesome sight: thousands of stakes held the remaining carcasses of some 20,000 Turkish captives, a horror scene which was ultimately nicknamed the Forest of the Impaled. This terror tactic deliberately stage-managed by Vlad III was successful; the scene had a strong effect on Mehmed's most stout-hearted officers, and the Sultan, tired and hungry, admitted defeat (it is worth mentioning that even Victor Hugo, in his Legende des Siècles, recalls this particular incident). Nevertheless, following his retreat from Wallachian territory, Mehmed left the next phase of the battle to Vlad III's younger brother Radu, the Turkish favorite for the Wallachian throne. At the head of a Turkish army and joined by Vlad III's detractors, Radu pursued his brother to Poenari castle on the Argeş river.

Vlad Tepes' tomb at Snagov Monastery
According to the legend, this is when Vlad III's wife, in order to escape Turkish capture, committed suicide by hurling herself from the upper battlements, her body falling down the precipice into the river below - a scene exploited by Francis Ford Coppola's movie Bram Stoker's Dracula. Vlad III, who was definitely not the kind of man to kill himself, managed to escape the siege of his fortress by using a secret passage into the mountain. Helped by some peasants of the Arefu village, he was able to reach Transylvania where he met the new king of Hungary, Matthias Corvinus. However, instead of providing some help, Matthias arrested Vlad III and imprisoned him at the Hungarian capital of Visegrad. It was not until 1475 that Vlad III was again recognized as the prince of Wallachia, enjoying a very short third reign. He was assassinated toward the end of December, 1476. Dracula's body was decapitated and his head sent to the Sultan, who had it displayed on a stake as proof that the Impaler was dead. Vlad III Dracula was buried at Snagov monastery, on an isolated island near Bucharest.

However recent examinations showed that in Tepes' tomb contains only some horse bones not actual remains of Wallachia's ruler.


We do not know exactly why Bram Stoker chose this 15th century Wallachian prince as a model for his fictional character. Some scholars have proposed that Stoker had a friendly relationship with a Hungarian professor from the University of Budapest, Arminius Vambery (Hermann Vamberger) , and it is likely that this man gave Stoker some information about Vlad III Dracula. Moreover, the fact that Dr. Abraham Van Helsing mentions his friend Arminius in the 1897 novel as the source of his knowledge on Vlad III Dracula seems to support this hypothesis. It should also be kept in mind that the only real link between the historical Vlad III Dracula (1431-1476) and the modern literary myth of the vampire is in fact Stoker's novel; Bram Stoker made use of folkloric sources, historical references and some of his own life experiences to create his composite creature. On the other hand, it is worth mentioning that Vlad III Dracula's political detractors - mainly German Saxons - made use of the other meaning of the Romanian word dracul - devil - in order to blacken the prince's reputation. Could the association of the word's double meaning, dragon and devil in Romanian, explain an earlier link between Vlad III and vampirism?

Today, as Romania opens itself to the tourism industry, many Dracula Tours are being offered throughout the country.

External Links