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The Real Life of Dracula August 17, 2006

Posted by ionicflux in People.
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Anyone conversant in vampire lore knows of Bram Stoker’s infamous monster Dracula, but not everyone is aware that the infamous Count is based on a real life monster- Vlad Tepes Dracula, a bloodthirsty fifteenth century ruler of Wallachia (now Romania).

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“Dracula” in Romanian means literally, son of the Dragon. Vladislavs “Tepes” Dracula was born in 1431 (the year Joan of Arc was burned at the stake) in Sighisoara, Romania, in a modest stone house that still stands today. His father and namesake Vlad Dracul was the governor of Transylvania, a Knight of the Order of the Dragon, from which he took the name “Dracul.” The Order of the Dragon was a Catholic chivalric order similar to the Knights Hospitaller, whose mission was defending Christianity against the Turks.

Ironically, the emblem of the order symbolkized the defeat of the dragon at the hands of St. George- but while the elder Dracul was a dragon-slayer, the son was destined to become the dragon.
The seal of the Order of the Dragon

Young Vlad was raised in Wallachia, educated, and trained to become a knight. Unfortunately, politics would soon turn his life upside-down. Turkey soon over-ran Constantinople and became a serious threat. The elder Dracul decided to throw in his lot with the Turks and offered an alliance. At the tender age of eleven, young Vlad was sent, along with his young brother, to live in with the Turkish Sultan as a guarantee of his father’s goodwill toward their former enemy. The boy and his brother Radu became prisoners, confined for four years under strict house arrest. Vlad grew up a bitter, untrusting young man.

Scarcely four years later, Vlad senior found himself in a difficult position- a choice between fighting against the Turks as he had sworn as a Knight, or to save the lives of his young sons and incur the wrath of the Church. Faced with a difficult decision, Vlad opted to do nothing, sending his eldest son in his place. The Christian army was defeated, and in the end, both Vlad and his son were assasinated-tortured and buried alive.

Vlad returned home immediately, and with the aid of the Turkish cavalry, took his father’s throne- a rule that was to last only weeks. Over the next seven years, he plotted to regain Wallachia from his father’s enemies, and in 1456, he succeeded- and thus began one of the cruelest and bloodiest reigns in the history of Europe.

The first of his many infamous cruelties was an act of revenge. He invited the local families who had supported his father’s murderers to a feast, where they were promptly arrested. Many he impaled on stakes, a punishment that became his hallmark and earned him the name “Tepes” or Tepesh- impaler.

The remainder of his prisoners were sent on a forced march and made to build a fortress, a task few survived.

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Vlad quickly became known for his swift and brutal punishments, even for minor crimes. His favorite punishment for lawbreakers was impalement, but he also employed burning, dismemberment, and other cruelties. He loathed the dishonest, beggars, and people who could or would not work. On one infamous occasion, he sent out an invitation to the poor of Wallachia to attend a great feast. When the guests arrived and were seated, he ordered the doors locked, and building was then burned to the ground, leaving no survivors. In Germany, pamphlets describing his atrocities began to circulate, along with rumors of blood drinking and worse.

Many other stories of Vlad’s unusual moral code abounded. He prized honesty above all and devised many tests of the virtue for his citizens, such as leaving valuables to tempt thieves. Word quickly spread, however, and fear of his punishments became so great that it is rumored a golden cup placed within easy reach in a public square was never touched!

Relations with the Turks eventully grew strained, and after a series of raids and other insults, the Turks declared war. The vastly outnumbered Dracula nevertheless employed every psychological and guerilla tactic he could dream up- poisoning water supplies, engaging in sneak attacks, even employing a crude form of germ warfare- and finally, he impaled some twenty thousand Turks, a scene so grisly it caused the Turkish sultan to retreat. However, the Turkish army soon returned- led by Vlad’s own brother, Radu.

When the Turks reached his mountain fortress, Vlad was able to escape to Transylvania, aided by villagers. His wife was not so fortunate- according to legend, she threw herself from the battlements to avoid capture. He sought help from the King of hungary, who instead had him imprisoned on false charges. Later, with the King’s aid, he became the Prince of Wallachia (how, nobody knows) in 1475, and was assassinated less than a year later. In total, his reign lasted just six years. He is regarded as a hero to this day in Romania.

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