Introduction Most authorities believe the character of Dracula in Bram Stoker’s novel was based upon the historical figure Vlad Tepes (pronounced tse-pesh), who intermittently ruled an area of the Balkans called Wallachia in the mid 15th century. He was also called by the names Vlad III, Vlad Dracula and Vlad the Impaler. The word Tepes stands for "impaler" and was so coined because of Vlad’s propensity to punish victims by impaling them on stakes, then displaying them publicly to frighten his enemies and to warn would-be transgressors of his strict moral code. He is credited with killing between 40,000 to 100,000 people in this fashion.
Origin of the name "Dracula"
King Sigismund of Hungary, who became the Holy Roman Emperor in 1410, founded a secret fraternal order of knights called the Order of the Dragon to uphold Christianity and defend the Empire against the Ottoman Turks. Its emblem was a dragon, wings extended, hanging on a cross. Vlad III’s father (Vlad II) was admitted to the Order around 1431 because of his bravery in fighting the Turks. From 1431 onward Vlad II wore the emblem of the order and later, as ruler of Wallachia, his coinage bore the dragon symbol.
Order of the Dragon Emblem
The word for dragon in Romanian is "drac" and "ul" is the definitive article. Vlad III’s father thus came to be known as "Vlad Dracul," or "Vlad the dragon." In Romanian the ending "ulea" means "the son of". Under this interpretation, Vlad III thus became Vlad Dracula, or "the son of the dragon." (The word "drac" also means "devil" in Romanian. The sobriquet thus took on a double meaning for enemies of Vlad Tepes and his father.)
To appreciate the story of Vlad III it is essential to understand the social and political forces of the region during the 15th century. In broad terms this is a story of the struggle to obtain control of Wallachia, a region of the Balkans (in present-day southern Romania) which lay directly between the two powerful forces of Hungary and the Ottoman Empire.
Europe, circa 1560
For nearly one thousand years Constantinople had stood as the protecting outpost of the Byzantine or East Roman Empire, and blocked Islam’s access to Europe. The Ottomans nonetheless succeeded in penetrating deep into the Balkans during this time. With the fall of Constantinople in 1453 under Sultan Mohammed the Conqueror, all of Christendom was suddenly threatened by the armed might of the Ottoman Turks. The Hungarian Kingdom to the north and west of Wallachia, which reached its zenith during this same time, assumed the ancient mantle as defender of Christendom.
The rulers of Wallachia were thus forced to appease these two empires to maintain their survival, often forging alliances with one or the other, depending upon what served their self-interest at the time. Vlad III is best known by the Romanian people for his success in standing up to the encroaching Ottoman Turks and establishing relative independence and sovereignty (albeit for a relatively brief time).
Another factor influencing political life was the means of succession to the Wallachian throne. The throne was hereditary, but not by the law of primogeniture. The boyars (wealthy land-owning nobles) had the right to elect the voivode (prince) from among various eligible members of the royal family. This allowed for succession to the throne through violent means. Assassinations and other violent overthrows of reigning parties were thus rampant. In fact, both Vlad III and his father assassinated competitors to attain the throne of Wallachia.
History of Wallachia Prior to Vlad III
Fortress of Belgrade
Wallachia was founded in 1290 by Radu Negru (Rudolph the Black). It was dominated by Hungary until 1330, when it became independent. The first ruler of the new country was Prince Basarab the Great, an ancestor of Dracula. Dracula’s grandfather, Prince Mircea the Old, reigned from 1386 to 1418. Eventually, the House of Basarab was split into two factions—Mircea’s descendant’s, and the descendants of another prince named Dan (called the Danesti). Much of the struggles to assume the throne during Dracula’s time were between these two competing factions.
In 1431 King Sigismund made Vlad Dracul the military governor of Transylvania, a region directly northwest of Wallachia. (Vlad III was born during this time, in the latter part of 1431.) Vlad was not content to serve as mere governor, and so gathered supporters for his plan to seize Wallachia from its current occupant, Alexandru I, a Danesti prince. In 1436 he succeeded in his plan, killing Alexandru and becoming Vlad II. (Presumably there was an earlier prince also named Vlad.)
For six years Vlad Dracul attempted to follow a middle ground between his two powerful neighbors. The prince of Wallachia was officially a vassal of the King of Hungary and Vlad was still a member of the Order of the Dragon and sworn to fight the infidel. At the same time the power of the Ottomans seemed unstoppable. Vlad was forced to pay tribute to the Sultan, just as his father, Mircea the Old, had been forced to do.
In 1442 Vlad attempted to remain neutral when the Turks invaded Transylvania. The Turks were defeated, and the vengeful Hungarians under John Hunyadi—the White Knight of Hungary--forced Vlad Dracul and his family to flee Wallachia. In 1443 Vlad regained the Wallachian throne with Turkish support, but on the condition that Vlad send a yearly contingent of Wallachian boys to join the Sultan’s Janissaries. In 1444, to further assure to the Sultan his good faith, Vlad sent his two younger sons--Vlad III and Radu the Handsome--to Adrianople as hostages. Vlad III remained a hostage in Adrianople until 1448.
In 1444 Hungary broke the peace and launched the Varna Campaign, led by John Hunyadi, in an effort to drive the Turks out of Europe. Hunyadi demanded that Vlad Dracul fulfill his oath as a member of the Order of the Dragon and a vassal of Hungary and join the crusade against the Turks, yet the wily politician still attempted to steer a middle course. Rather than join the Christian forces himself, he sent his oldest son, Mircea. Perhaps he hoped the Sultan would spare his younger sons if he himself did not join the crusade.
The results of the Varna Crusade are well known. The Christian army was utterly destroyed in the Battle of Varna. John Hunyadi managed to escape the battle under inglorious conditions. From this moment forth John Hunyadi was bitterly hostile toward Vlad Dracul and his eldest son. In 1447 Vlad Dracul was assassinated along with his son Mircea. Mircea was apparently buried alive by the boyars and merchants of Tirgoviste. (Vlad III later exacted revenge upon these boyars and merchants.) Hunyadi placed his own candidate, a member of the Danesti clan, on the throne of Wallachia.
On receiving news of Vlad Dracul’s death the Turks released Vlad III and supported him as their own candidate for the Wallachian throne. In 1448, at the age of seventeen, Vlad III managed to briefly seize the Wallachian throne. Yet within two months Hunyadi forced him to surrender the throne and flee to his cousin, the Prince of Moldavia. Vlad III’s successor to the throne, however—Vladislov II—unexpectedly instituted a pro-Turkish policy, which Hunyadi found to be unacceptable. He then turned to Vlad III, the son of his old enemy, as a more reliable candidate for the throne, and forged an allegiance with him to retake the throne by force. Vlad III received the Transylvanian duchies formerly governed by his father and remained there, under the protection of Hunyadi, waitng for an opportunity to retake Wallachia from his rival.
In 1453, however, the Christian world was shocked by the final fall of Constantinople to the Ottomans. Hunyadi thus broadened the scope of his campaign against the insurgent Turks. In 1456 Hunyadi invaded Turkish Serbia while Vlad III simultaneously invaded Wallachia. In the Battle of Belgrade Hunyadi was killed and his army defeated. Meanwhile, Vlad III succeeded in killing Vladislav II and taking the Wallachian throne.
Vlad III then began his main reign of Wallachia, which stretched from 1456-1462. It was during this period that he instituted his strict policies, stood up against the Turks and began his reign of terror by impalement.
The Life of Vlad III (1431-1476)
Vlad III was born in November or December of 1431 in the Transylvanian city of Sighisoara. At the time his father, Vlad II (Vlad Dracul), was living in exile in Transylvania. The house where he was born is still standing. It was located in a prosperous neighborhood surrounded by the homes of Saxon and Magyar merchants and the townhouses of the nobility.
Little is known about the early years of Vlad III’s life. He had an older brother, Mircea, and a younger brother, Radu the Handsome. His early education was left in the hands of his mother, a Transylvanian noblewoman, and her family. His real education began in 1436 after his father succeeded in claiming the Wallachian throne by killing his Danesti rival. His training was typical to that of the sons of nobility throughout Europe. His first tutor in his apprenticeship to knighthood was an elderly boyar who had fought against the Turks at the battle of Nicolopolis. Vlad learned all the skills of war and peace that were deemed necessary for a Christian knight.
In 1444, at the age of thirteen, young Vlad and his brother Radu were sent to Adrianople as hostages, to appease the Sultan. He remained there until 1448, at which time he was released by the Turks, who supported him as their candidate for the Wallachian throne. Vlad’s younger brother apparently chose to remain in Turkey, where he had grown up. (Radu is later supported by the Turks as a candidate for the Wallachian throne, in opposition to his own brother, Vlad.)
As previously noted, Vlad III’s initial reign was quite short (two months), and it was not until 1456, under the support of Hunyadi and the Kingdom of Hungary that he returned to the throne. He established Tirgoviste as his capitol city, and began to build his castle some distance away in the mountains near the Arges River. Most of the atrocities associated with Vlad III took place during this time.
Atrocities of Vlad Tepes
More than anything else the historical Dracula is known for his inhuman cruelty. Impalement was Vlad III’s preferred method of torture and execution. Impalement was and is one of the most gruesome ways of dying imaginable, as it was typically slow and painful.
Vlad usually had a horse attached to each of the victim’s legs and a sharpened stake was gradually forced into the body. The end of the stake was usually oiled and care was taken that the stake not be too sharp, else the victim might die too rapidly from shock. Normally the stake was inserted into the body through the buttocks and was often forced through the body until it emerged from the mouth. However, there were many instances where victims were impaled through other body orifices or through the abdomen or chest. Infants were sometimes impaled on the stake forced through their mother’s chests. The records indicate that victims were sometimes impaled so that they hung upside down on the stake.
Vlad Tepes often had the stakes arranged in various geometric patterns. The most common pattern was a ring of concentric circles in the outskirts of a city that was his target. The height of the spear indicated the rank of the victim. The decaying corpses were often left up for months. It was once reported that an invading Turkish army turned back in fright when it encountered thousands of rotting corpses impaled on the banks of the Danube. In 1461 Mohammed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, a man not noted for his squeamishness, returned to Constantinople after being sickened by the sight of twenty thousand impaled Turkish prisoners outside of the city of Tirgoviste. This gruesome sight is remembered in history as "the Forest of the Impaled."
Thousands were often impaled at a single time. Ten thousand were impaled in the Transylvanian city of Sibiu in 1460. In 1459, on St. Bartholomew’s Day, Vlad III had thirty thousand of the merchants and boyars of the Transylvanian city of Brasov impaled. One of the most famous woodcuts of the period shows Vlad Dracula feasting amongst a forest of stakes and their grisly burdens outside Brasov while a nearby executioner cuts apart other victims.
Although impalement was Vlad Dracula’s favorite method of torture, it was by no means his only method. The list of tortures employed by this cruel prince reads like an inventory of hell’s tools: nails in heads, cutting off of limbs, blinding, strangulation, burning, cutting off of noses and ears, mutilation of sexual organs (especially in the case of women), scalping, skinning, exposure to the elements or to wild animals, and burning alive.
No one was immune to Vlad’s attentions. His victims included women and children, peasants and great lords, ambassadors from foreign powers and merchants. However, the vast majority of his victims came from the merchants and boyars of Transylvania and his own Wallachia.
Many have attempted to justify Vlad Dracula’s actions on the basis of nascent nationalism and political necessity. Many of the merchants in Transylvania and Wallachia were German Saxons who were seen as parasites, preying upon Romanian natives of Wallachia. The wealthy land owning boyars exerted their own often capricious and unfaithful influence over the reigning princes. Vlad’s own father and older brother were murdered by unfaithful boyars. However, many of Vlad Dracula’s victims were also Wallachians, and few deny that he derived a perverted pleasure from his actions.
Vlad Dracula began his reign of terror almost as soon as he came to power. His first significant act of cruelty may have been motivated by a desire for revenge as well as a need to solidify his power. Early in his main reign he gave a feast for his boyars and their families to celebrate Easter. Vlad was well aware that many of these same nobles were part of the conspiracy that led to his father’s assassination and the burying alive of his elder brother, Mircea. Many had also played a role in the overthrow of numerous Wallachian princes. During the feast Vlad asked his noble guests how many princes had ruled during their lifetimes. All of the nobles present had outlived several princes. None had seen less then seven reigns. Vlad immediately had all the assembled nobles arrested. The older boyars and their families were impaled on the spot. The younger and healthier nobles and their families were marched north from Tirgoviste to the ruins of his castle in the mountains above the Arges River. The enslaved boyars and their families were forced to labor for months rebuilding the old castle with materials from a nearby ruin. According to the reports they labored until the clothes fell off their bodies and then were forced to continue working naked. Very few survived this ordeal.
Throughout his reign Vlad continued to systematically eradicate the old boyar class of Wallachia. Apparently Vlad was determined that his own power be on a modern and thoroughly secure footing. In the place of the executed boyars Vlad promoted new men from among the free peasantry and middle class; men who would be loyal only to their prince.
Vlad Tepes’ atrocities against the people of Wallachia were usually attempts to enforce his own moral code upon his country. He appears to have been particularly concerned with female chastity. Maidens who lost their virginity, adulterous wives and unchaste widows were all targets of Vlad’s cruelty. Such women often had their sexual organs cut out or their breasts cut off, and were often impaled through the vagina on red-hot stakes. One report tells of the execution of an unfaithful wife. Vlad had the woman’s breasts cut off, then she was skinned and impaled in a square in Tirgoviste with her skin lying on a nearby table. Vlad also insisted that his people be honest and hard working. Merchants who cheated their customers were likely to find themselves mounted on a stake beside common thieves.
The End of Vlad III
Although Vlad III experienced some success in fending off the Turks, his accomplishments were relatively short-lived. He received little support from his titular overlord, Matthius Corvinus, King of Hungary (son of John Hunyadi) and Wallachian resources were too limited to achieve any lasting success against the powerful Turks.
The Turks finally succeeded in forcing Vlad to flee to Transylvania in 1462. Reportedly, his first wife committed suicide by leaping from the towers of Vlad’s castle into the waters of the Arges River rather than surrender to the Turks. Vlad escaped through a secret passage and fled across the mountains into Transylvania and appealed to Matthias Corvinus for aid. The king immediately had Vlad arrested and imprisoned in a royal tower.
There is some debate as to the exact length of Vlad’s confinement. The Russian pamphlets indicate that he was a prisoner from 1462 until 1474. However, during this period he was able to gradually win his way back into the graces of Matthias Corvinus and ultimately met and married a member of the royal family (possibly the sister of Corvinus) and fathered two sons. It is unlikely that a prisoner would be allowed to marry a member of the royal family. As the eldest son was about 10 years old at the point Vlad regained the Wallachian throne in 1476, his release probably occurred around 1466.
Note: The Russian narrative, normally very favorable to Vlad, indicates that even in captivity he could not give up his favorite past-time; he often captured birds and mice and proceeded to torture and mutilate them. Some were beheaded or tarred-and-feathered and released. Most were impaled on tiny spears.
Another possible reason for Vlad’s rehabilitation was that the new successor to the Wallachian throne, Vlad’s own brother, Radu the Handsome, had instituted a very pro-Turkish policy. The Hungarian king may have viewed Dracula as a possible candidate to retake the throne. The fact that Vlad renounced the Orthodox faith and adopted Catholicism was also surely meant to appease his Hungarian captor.
In 1476 Vlad was again ready to make a bid for power. Vlad Dracula and Prince Stephen Bathory of Transylvania invaded Wallachia with a mixed contingent of forces. Vlad’s brother, Radu, had by then already died and was replaced by Basarab the Old, a member of the Danesti clan. At the approach of Vlad’s army Basarab and his cohorts fled. However, shortly after retaking the throne, Prince Bathory and most of Vlad’s forces returned to Transylvania, leaving Vlad in a vulnerable position. Before he was able to gather support, a large Turkish army entered Wallachia. Vlad was forced to march and meet the Turks with less than four thousand men.
Vlad Dracula was killed in battle against the Turks near the town of Bucharest in December of 1476. Some reports indicate that he was assassinated by disloyal Wallachian boyars just as he was about to sweep the Turks from the field. Other accounts have him falling in defeat, surrounded by the ranks of his loyal Moldavian bodyguard. Still other reports claim that Vlad, at the moment of victory, was accidentally struck down by one of his own men. The one undisputed fact is that ultimately his body was decapitated by the Turks and his head sent to Constantinople where the sultan had it displayed on a stake as proof that the horrible Impaler was finally dead. He was reportedly buried at Snagov, an island monastery located near Bucharest.
In evaluating the accounts of Vlad Dracula it is important to realize that much of the information comes from sources that may not be entirely accurate. With each of the three main sources there is reason to believe that the information provided may be influenced by local, mainly political, prejudices. The three main sources are as follows: (1) Pamphlets published in Germany shortly after Vlad’s death, (2) pamphlets published in Russia shortly after the German pamphlets, and (3) Romanian oral tradition.
At the time of Vlad Dracula’s death Matthias Corvinus of Hungary was seeking to bolster his own reputation in the Holy Roman Empire and may have intended the early pamphlets as justification of his less than vigorous support of his vassal. It must also be remembered that German merchants were often the victims of Vlad Dracula’s cruelty. The pamphlets thus painted Vlad Dracula as an inhuman monster who terrorized the land and butchered innocents with sadistic glee.
The pamphlets were also a form of mass entertainment in a society where the printing press was just coming into widespread use. The pamphlets were reprinted numerous times over the thirty or so years following Vlad’s death—strong proof of their popularity.
At the time of Vlad III the princes of Moscow were just beginning to build the basis of what would become the autocracy of the czars. Just like Vlad III, they were having considerable problems with the disloyal, often troublesome boyars. In Russia, Vlad Dracula was thus presented as a cruel but just prince whose actions were intended to benefit the greater good of his people.
Romanian Oral Tradition
Legends and tales concerning Vlad the Impaler have remained a part of folklore among the Romanian peasantry. These tales have been passed down from generation to generation for five hundred years. As one might imagine, through constant retelling they have become somewhat garbled and confused and are gradually being forgotten by the younger generations. However, they still provide valuable information about Vlad Dracula and his relationship with his people.
Vlad Dracula is remembered as a just prince who defended his people from foreigners, whether those foreigners were Turkish invaders or German merchants. He is also remembered as a champion of the common man against the oppression of the boyars. A central part of the verbal tradition is Vlad’s insistence on honesty in his effort to eliminate crime and immoral behavior from the region. However, despite the more positive interpretation of his life, Vlad Dracula is still remembered as an exceptionally cruel and often capricious ruler.
Despite the differences between these various sources, there are common strains that run among them. The German and Russian pamphlets, in particular, agree remarkably as to many specifics of Vlad Dracula’s deeds. This level of agreement has led many historians to conclude that much of the information must at least to some extent be true.
There are about nine anecdotes that are almost universal in the Vlad Dracula literature. They include the following:
The Golden Cup
Vlad Dracula was known throughout his land for his fierce insistence on honesty and order. Thieves seldom dared practice their trade within his domain, for they knew that the stake awaited any who were caught. Vlad was so confident in the effectiveness of his law that he laced a golden cup on display in the central square of Tirgoviste. The cup was never stolen and remained entirely unmolested throughout Vlad Dracula’s reign.
The Burning of the Sick and Poor
Vlad Dracula was very concerned that all his subjects work and contribute to the common welfare. He once notice that the poor, vagrants, beggars and cripples had become very numerous in his land. Consequently, he issued an invitation to all the poor and sick in Wallachia to come to Tirgoviste for a great feast, claiming that no one should go hungry in his land. As the poor and crippled arrived in the city they were ushered into a great hall where a fabulous feast was prepared for them. The guests ate and drank late into the night. Vlad himself then made an appearance and asked them, "What else do you desire? Do you want to be without cares, lacking nothing in this world?" When they responded positively Vlad ordered the hall boarded up and set on fire. None escaped the flames. Vlad explained his action to the boyars by claiming that he did this "in order that they represent no further burden to other men, and that no one will be poor in my realm."
The Foreign Ambassadors
Although there are some discrepancies between the German and Russian pamphlets in the interpretation of this story, they agree to the following: Two ambassadors of a foreign power visited Vlad’s court at Tirgoviste. When in the presence of the prince, they refused to remove their hats. Vlad ordered that the hats be nailed to their heads, such that they should never have to remove them again.
Note: The nailing of hats to the heads of those who displeased a monarch was not an unknown act in eastern Europe and by the princes of Moscow.
The Foreign Merchant
A merchant from a foreign land visited Tirgoviste. Aware of the reputation of Vlad Dracula’s land for honesty, he left a treasure-laden cart unguarded in the street over night. Upon returning to his wagon in the morning, the merchant was shocked to find 160 golden ducats missing. Then the merchant complained of his loss to the prince, Vlad assured him that his money would be returned. Vlad Dracula then issued a proclamation to the city—find the thief and return the money or the city will be destroyed. During the night he ordered that 160 ducats plus one extra be taken from his own treasury and placed in the merchant’s cart. On returning to his cart the next morning and counting his money the merchant discovered the extra ducat. The merchant returned to Vlad and reported that his money had indeed been returned plus an extra ducat. Meanwhile the thief had been captured and turned over to the prince’s guards along with the stolen money. Vlad ordered the thief impaled and informed the merchant that if he had not reported the extra ducat he would have been impaled alongside the thief.
The Lazy Woman
Vlad once noticed a man working in the fields while wearing a caftan (shirt) that he adjudged to be too short in length. The prince stopped and asked to see the man’s wife. When the woman was brought before him he asked her how she spent her days. The poor, frightened woman stated that she spent her days washing, baking and sewing. The prince pointed out her husband’s short caftan as evidence of her laziness and dishonesty and ordered her impaled, despite her husband’s protestations that he was well satisfied with his wife. Vlad then ordered another woman to marry the peasant but admonished her to work hard or she would suffer the same fate.
The Nobleman with the Keen Sense of Smell
On St. Bartholomew’s Day in 1459 Vlad Dracula caused thirty thousand of the merchants and nobles of the Transylvanian city of Brasov to be impaled. In order that he might better enjoy the results of his orders, the prince commanded that his table be set up and that his boyars join him for a feast amongst the forest of impaled corpses. While dining, Vlad noticed that one of his boyars was holding his nose in an effort to alleviate the terrible smell of clotting blood and emptied bowels. Vlad then ordered the sensitive nobleman impaled on a stake higher than all the rest so that he might be above the stench.
Vlad Dracula’s Mistress
Vlad Dracula once had a mistress that lived in a house in the back streets of Tirgoviste. This woman apparently loved the prince to distraction and was always anxious to please him. Vlad was often moody and depressed and the woman made every effort to lighten her lover’s burdens. Once, when he was particularly depressed, the woman dared tell him the lie that she was with child. Vlad had the woman examined by the bath matrons. When informed that the woman was lying, Vlad drew his knife and cut her open from the groin to her breast, leaving her to die in agony.
The Polish Nobleman
Benedict de Boithor, a Polish nobleman in the service of the King of Hungary, visited Vlad Dracula at Tirgoviste in September of 1458. At dinner one evening Vlad ordered a golden spear brought and set up directly in front of the royal envoy. Vlad then asked the envoy if he knew why this spear had been set up. Benedict replied that he imagined some boyar had offended the prince and that Vlad intended to honor him. Vlad responded that the spear had, in fact, been set up in honor of his noble, Polish guest. The Pole then responded that if he had done anything to deserve death that Vlad should do as he thought best. Vlad Dracula was greatly pleased by this answer, showered him with gifts, and declared that had he answered in any other manner he would have been immediately impaled.
The Two Monks There is some discrepancy in the telling of this anecdote. The various sources agree, however, as to the basic story. Two monks from a foreign land came to visit Vlad Dracula in his palace at Tirgoviste. Curious to see the reaction of the churchmen, Vlad showed them rows of impaled corpses in the courtyard. When asked their opinions, the first monk responded, "You are appointed by God to punish evil-doers." The other monk had the moral courage to condemn the cruel prince. In the version of the story most common in the German pamphlets, Vlad rewarded the sycophantic monk and impaled the honest one. In the version found in Russian pamphlets and in Romanian verbal tradition Vlad rewarded the honest monk for his integrity and courage and impaled the sycophant for his dishonesty.
The Origins of the Vampire Myth
It is certainly no coincidence that Bram Stoker chose the Balkans as the home of his famous vampire. The Balkans were still basically medieval even in Stoker’s time. They had only recently shaken off the Turkish yoke when Stoker started working on his novel and the superstitions of the Dark Ages were still prevalent.
The legend of the vampire was and still is deeply rooted in the Balkan region. There have always been vampire-like creatures in the mythologies of many cultures. However, the vampire, as he became known in Europe and hence America, largely originated in the Slavic and Greek lands of Eastern Europe.
A veritable epidemic of vampirism swept through Eastern Europe beginning in the late seventeenth century and continuing through the eighteenth century. The number of reported cases rose dramatically in Hungary and the Balkans. From the Balkans the plague spread westward into Germany, Italy, France, England and Spain. Travelers returning from the Balkans brought with them tales of the undead, igniting an interest in the vampire that has continued to this day.
Philosophers in the West began to study the phenomenon. It was during this period that Dom Augustin Calmet wrote his famous treatise on vampirism in Hungary. It was also during this period that authors and playwrights first began to explore the vampire myth. Stoker’s novel was merely the culminating work of a long series of works that were inspired by the reports coming from the region.
Did Bram Stoker base his Dracula upon the historical Dracula?
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Although it is widely assumed, even among scholars, that Bram Stoker based his novel upon the historical figure of Vlad Tepes, there is at least one prominent scholar who challenges this assumption. Her name is Elizabeth Miller, a professor with the Department of English at Memorial University of Newfoundland. (http://www.ucs.mun.ca/~emiller/owner.htm) Her primary argument is that Bram Stoker kept meticulous notes of his references in creating Dracula, and none of the references contain specific information about the life and/or atrocities of Vlad Tepes.
There is fairly strong evidence the two Draculas are connected. Arguments in favor of this position include the following:
The fictional Dracula and the historical Dracula share the same name. There can be no doubt that Bram Stoker based his character upon some reference to Vlad Dracula.
Stoker researched various sources prior to writing the novel, including the Library at Whitby and literature from the British Museum. It is entirely possible that his readings on Balkan history would have included information about Vlad Tepes.
Stoker was the friend of a Hungarian professor from Budapest, named Arminius Vambery, who he met personally on several occasions and who may have given him information about the historical Dracula.
Some of the text of Stoker’s novel provides direct correlations between the fictional Dracula and Vlad Tepes (e.g., the fighting off of the Turks--also, the physical description of Dracula in the novel is very similar to the traditional image of Vlad Tepes.).
Other references in the novel may also be related to the historical Dracula. For example, the driving of a stake through the vampire’s heart may be related to Vlad’s use of impalement; Renfield’s fixation with insects and small animals may have found inspiration in Vlad’s penchant for torturing small animals during his period of imprisonment; and Dracula’s loathing of holy objects may relate to Vlad’s renunciation of the Orthodox Church.
Professor Miller counters each of these arguments. In particular she notes the only reference provided by Stoker in his notes that contains any information about Vlad Tepes is a book by William Wilkinson entitled An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia (1820), which Stoker borrowed from the Whitby Public Library in 1890 while there on vacation. The book contains a few brief references to a "Voivode Dracula" (never referred to as Vlad) who crossed the Danube and attacked Turkish troops. Also, what seems to have attracted Stoker was a footnote in which Wilkinson states "Dracula in Wallachian language means Devil." Stoker apparently supplemented this with scraps of Romanian history from other sources. Professor Miller argues that The Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia is the only known source for Stoker’s information on the historical Dracula, and that everything else is mere speculation.
As far as Stoker’s acquaintance with the Hungarian professor Vambrey, Miller notes that the record only documents two meetings between the two individuals, and there is no evidence that Vambrey ever spoke of Vlad Tepes, vampires or Transylvania during their visits.
As far as any likeness between the historical Vlad Dracula and descriptions provided in the novel, professor Miller notes that it is most likely Stoker drew his description of Count Dracula from earlier villains in Gothic literature, or even from his own employer, Henry Irving.
In conclusion, Miller makes an assumption of her own: In the novel Stoker provides thorough historical detail obtained from his various references. Had he known about the atrocities of Vald Tepes, Miller argues, surely he would have included such information in his novel.
Most of the information provided on this site was obtained from a
document entitled "The Historical Dracula," by Ray Porter. See http://www.eskimo.com/~mwirkk/vladhist.html for more information.