The legend of a vampire Count living in the gloomy foothills of Transylvania stems from the real, bloody life of Vlad Dracul, better known as Vlad the Impaler.
In 1897, Bram Stoker published his novel Dracula.
The concept of a figure that would drink the blood of humans and hunt them down in the middle of the night was so terrifying that it was referred to by critics as “the most blood-curdling novel of the paralyzed century.”
Audiences were most terrified of Count Dracula himself, the titular character, who was a man with an insatiable need for human blood. As terrifying as Dracula was, however, there was some solace to be taken in the fact that he was simply a character locked in the pages of a book.
Imagine how much these readers’ blood would have curdled had they known that Stoker had drawn inspiration from a real-life man who was, if possible, even more, terrifying than Count Dracula.
Meet Vlad the Impaler, Prince of Wallachia, a fearsome monarch who ruled over the Romanian region of Transylvania in the 15th century, striking fear into the hearts of everyone who dared to cross him and the real Dracula.
Vlad The Impaler’s Early Life And Reign
It’s largely believed Vlad the Impaler was born Vlad III in 1431 during a time of particular unrest. He was born in the state of Wallachia, which is now the southern portion of present-day Romania.
Because of its proximity to Christian-ruled Europe and the Muslim-ruled Ottoman Empire which were at war, Wallachia was often the site of turmoil.
Vlad’s father, Vlad II, had been granted the surname Dracul, meaning dragon, after being inducted into the Order of the Dragon, a Christian military order supported by the Holy Roman Emperor.
During one bloody battle, a diplomatic meeting was requested between Vlad Dracul and the Sultan Murad II. Vlad Dracul decided to bring along his young sons to teach them about diplomatic order and the importance of meeting with one’s enemies.
Irony struck when, upon arriving at the meeting, the three men were captured and held hostage by the Ottoman diplomats. Vlad Dracul was told he would be released, though only if he left his sons behind.
Dracul agreed, believing it to be the safest option for him and his sons. He was partially correct.
Vlad III and his younger brother were tutored in the arts of war, science, and philosophy. However, back home, Dracul and his oldest son were tortured beyond belief. Dracul was killed in the swamps behind his home by local warlords, while his oldest son was tortured, blinded and buried alive.
After his family’s death, which most experts believe was the point at which Vlad started to become the ruthless Impaler he would be, Vlad took on a new name, calling himself Vlad Dracula, or the son of the dragon.
He fought to bring back power in the region to his family after a rival family took over after Dracul’s death.
Vlad The Impaler’s Horrifying Vengeance
Legend has it that Vlad regained power following a 1456 campaign against the Ottomans in which he personally beheaded his enemy, Vladislav II, in one-on-one combat.
After regaining power, Vlad Dracula’s reign truly turned bloody.
Though taking back his kingdom had been relatively easy, there was still turmoil amongst the people. Some of them had decided that the rival family had been better leaders and there was talk of uproar in the villages throughout Wallachia.
In order to assert dominance and solidify himself as a fearsome leader, Vlad hosted a banquet, inviting all of those who wanted to oppose him.
As they arrived, he stabbed them all and impaled their still-twitching bodies on spikes.
Impaling is a form of torture in which a metal or wooden pole is inserted in of the body’s orifices, for instance, the rectum or vagina. The pole would then be set vertically and gravity would eventually pull the unfortunate victim’s body down until the pole exited through their neck or shoulder.
Unsurprisingly, this gruesome tactic worked to Vlad’s advantage so well that he decided to impose it upon anyone who crossed him.
The Real Dracula’s Reign Of Terror
The real Dracula is often credited with consolidating the power of Wallachia, and while he did bring some organization to the otherwise chaotic region, his reign was nonetheless gruesome.
Literature at the time claims that he killed 80,000 people, and impaled roughly 20,000 of them during his reign, including Saxon merchants, Ottoman deserters, and treasonous prisoners of war.
Legend has it that the real Dracula even hosted a dinner for himself in a “forest” of spikes topped with impaled bodies and displayed throughout Wallachia to ward off his enemies.
The carnage was reportedly so disturbing that several invading Ottoman sultans retreated at the sight of it.
Eventually, the Ottomans gained enough traction and military footing (and iron stomachs) to take the throne from Vlad, marching into the city and overthrowing him.
During the ambush, Vlad the Impaler was killed, beheaded, and, as legend has it, paraded back to Constantinople to be displayed over the gates to the city.
How The Real Dracula Informed Bram Stoker
Vlad the Impaler’s reputation spread throughout Europe. With the invention of the printing press in the late 15th century, horror stories of his bloody but patriotic ways could cross oceans.
He became known as a countryman for Wallachia while nonetheless a ruthless ruler, and with titles about him such as The Frightening and Truly Extraordinary Story of a Wicked Blood-drinking Tyrant Called Prince Dracula, it isn’t difficult to see how Vlad’s seven-year reign would later inspire Bram Stoker.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula resides in a castle in Transylvania, but Vlad the Impaler never lived there. He was born in and ruled over the region of Wallachia, which was one of three principalities that made up Romania in his time. Transylvania was another such principality and Moldova was the third.
Though the legend of his head over the gates of Constantinople survives, there was little mention of his body after his death. To this day, the story of his descendants remains a mystery, perhaps only living on through the fictional accounts of Bram Stoker and Count Dracula.
After this look at Vlad the Impaler, the real Dracula, check out these five legends that have a basis in incredibly creepy facts. Then, take a look inside Dracula’s castle.