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Vlad the Impaler vs. Dracula - the difference for dummies
The most known painting of Vlad the Impaler, painter unknown
How the names confusion appeared
Before Vlad Tepes (the Impaler) was born, his father, Vlad II, became a member of the Order of the Dragon, a military-religious organization, whose purpose was protecting the interests of the Catholic Church and the crusades against the Turks. Given the rassemblance of a dragon with a devil in the eyes of the superstitious ones, Vlad II was nicknamed "Dracul", which means "The Devil".
Vlad III Tepes, his son, used to sign sometimes under the name Vlad Drăculea, possibly meaning "the son of Dracul". Hence the confusion with the name "Dracula".
A Bit of History
Vlad Dracul has been an ally of the Transylvanian prince Iancu de Hunedoara (also known as Ioan Huniade, or John Hunyadi), another fighter for the interests of the Catholic Church, given that Transylvania was a Hungarian territory back then (and has been untill 1918 even if 90% of the population was Romanian) and Hungary was catholic. To be able to stay on the throne of Wallachia (the south of the actual Romania, from the Carpatian Mountains to the Danube), Vlad II had to send his two sons, Vlad and Radu, hostages at Istanbul, at the court of Murad II, as a guarantee he was not going to attack the Turk fronteer (not that he could have done so and still be king, given that the Otoman Empire was lot, lot bigger and stronger than the poor Wallachia, and its habitants were not poor peasants too busy trying to recolt a handful of food between two invasions).
Radu quickly accepted the Turk habits, and forgot his country, while Vlad pretended to want to fight under the Otoman flag, so that he can find out everything about the Turks ways of fighting, organisations, et cetera.
When he finally came back in Wallachia, escorted by an Otoman army so he could fight the king of the moment, Vladislav II, that had killed Vlad II, he started reforming it and doing the best he could to turn it from a poor country always threatened by otoman invasions into something better. It is true that he started by punishing the aristocrats that had betrayed his father, impaling the older ones and forcing the rest of them to build a fortress for him.
Then, imagine how the country should have looked like: peasants not able to have a house because of the soldiers always burning it down, not having food because the Turks and the aristocracy took almost everything, not being allowed to have a cow or a horse to help them, often tortured, killed or taken in slavery by the turks, with their daughters and wifes raped and taken to become slaves in the harems, that in case they were beautiful enough. It was pretty much the anarchy there, those that got on the throne sucked off everything they could, for their fortune and for the heavy taxes for the Empire, the aristocracy (called boieri) did the same so they can be rich, paying at the same time the taxes towards the king and the turks, and so on, a vicious circle that the country could not break.
That is why Vlad had to apply harsh measures against criminals, thiefs, traitors, and especially against the transylvanian merchants that were ignoring his commercial laws, and were avoiding the fronteer points so they can pass without paying the legal taxes for Wallachia, and do whatever he could to stop the invasions. Knowing that simply facing the Turksh army in a fight could not bring victory and in any case could not bring freedom, he used terror to keep them away. That's why he took the impaling torture from them (I already said they invented it, I think) and used it against themselves.
In 1462, he launched a campaign against Turks, killing over 30 thousand soldiers and refused to pay the taxes anymore. This is why the sultan Mahomed II decided to invade Wallachia once more and turn it once for all into Otoman territory. He had an army three times bigger than Vlad's, which, left without allies, had to retreat to Targoviste, ex-capital of Wallachia, and lead a guerrilla war, burning down the fields and poisoning the fountains to cut off Mahomed's ressources. Attacking here and there, sneaking, always avoiding a frontal battle, he obtained many victories during the winter of 1462. When, exhausted, the Turkish army arrived in front of Targoviste, they found a terrifying scene: over 20000 Turks heads impaled. This tactic had the effect Vlad expected, and the sultan admitted he was defeated and returned to Istanbul (which is even mentioned by Victor Hugo in "Legends of the Centuries/ Legendes des siècles".
I admit his ways were cruel, but so were the Turks that invaded, tortured, raped, stole, burnt and destroyed the country for centuries, before, during and after Vlad's reign, and not only the Romanian countries (because they weren't united back then, they partially did in 1857, Wallachia and Moldavia, then in 1918 Transylvania and the actual territory of the Republic of Moldavia, which we lost after WW2 in the favour of USSR).
Vlad could not, however, remain on the throne of Wallachia, because he had no army anymore (it was mostly made of peasants, which of course wanted to go back home and rest after the exhausting fights), the aristocrats were against him, the merchants (remember their hatred towards him because of his laws and punishments) were against him too. In his way home, Mohamed left some of his army at Bucharest to protect his favourite Radu, Vlad's brother, now new king of Wallachia and servant of the Turks.
Vlad tried to find help from king of Hungary and Transylvania, Matei Corvin, son of Iancu de Hunedoara (which, remember, had been friend of Vlad's father). Instead of helping him, Matei waited for Vlad at the Bran castle, arrested him and threw him in prison at Budapest. The reason? The aristocrats had sent a fake letter, pretended to be written by Vlad to Mahomed, in which he would have proposed to the sultan his help to invade Hungary in change for Wallachia's throne.
In 1475, finally set free, Vlad becomes again king of Wallachia, but for a very short while. He disappeared in december 1475, and, indeed, there are more theories: that he was killed and his head sent to the sultan and impalet, that he had escaped and hid, trying to find a new army, or that he died in a battle. We still don't know that for sure, nor where his body is.
These are the historical facts. You now see - I hope - that he did not impal or torture people for his own pleasure, but for political needs.
Who was Dracula, then?
Bram Stoker's Dracula is not directly based on the reign of Vlad the Impaler, but it is a fiction novel developing in the 19th century's Transylvania and England. Due to the novel's success, the Romanian province of Transylvania is associated to the fictitious character Dracula. There is no real liaison between the historical Vlad the Impaler and the litterary myth of the vampire.
It is possible that Stoker had studied the chronicles of the German populations that lived in Transylvania, near Brasov, chronicles that can be found in the collections of British Museum. It must be mentioned that Vlad's political enemies (generally coming from the minority mentioned above)were using the word "dracul" (=devil) to ruin the prince's reputation.
Vlad was a good Christian that encouraged and supported the religion by building many churches. His cruelty was exagerated by benedictins and capucin monks that refused to respect the country's rules. They refugiated in the German villages of Transylvania (see above) where they created horror stories about Vlad, spread around the world by the same German merchants that hated him for the restrictions he put on their commerce to Wallachia (as they were usually avoiding the fronteer points so they could pass without paying the taxes). A monk named Jacob seems to be the author of a document found at the monastery of Saint Galin in Switzerland, the most ancient Anti-Vlad manuscript, that seemed to have a major impact on the German world.
I'm asked sometimes why, if Dracula came from Transylvania, I keep saying he is not Romanian. Well first of all, because Stoker himself stated he was Hungarian. Then, the province has nothing to do with him being Romanian, because untill 1918, Transylvania has been under Hungarian occupation. Although Romanians were the majority, they weren't allowed to have noble titles, or, in the novel, Dracula was a COUNT. So here you have the reasons for which he couldn't possibly be either Romanian or Vlad the Impaler. Q.e.d.
For you who want to read more about this (though I doubt it), look for these books:
Denis Buican - Dracula and his avatars, Bucharest, Scripta, 1993.
Denis Buican - Dracula's Metamorphoses, Bucharest, Scripta, 1996.
Neagu Djuvara - From Vlad the Impaler to Dracula the Vampire, Editura Humanitas,
Florin Andreescu - Romania - Vlad the Impaler - Dracula, Editura Ad Libri
Emil Stoian - Vlad the Impaler - myth and hystorical reality, Editura Albatros
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