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Prince Vladislav III of Wallachia

By Zeehan Rastam

 Prince Vladislav Dan ruled Wallachia in 1448, 1456-1462, and in 1476ce.  He is of utmost intrigue to any man because of the crimes he committed against humanity, his merciless nature, and his love of watching the suffering of others.  His presence in the history of mankind has been felt because of the countless stories written about him by the Saxons, Romanians, and Russians of his era.  In addition, Bram Stoker’s fiction novel Dracula, has exalted his existence from the parallels of his fictional Dracula and the real Vlad III. This has driven a lot more attention and fascination on him because his name has been used in modern day movies and stories.  In reality, however, Vlad III or Dracula did not attain as much power from the terror he invoked on people, as one would expect of Ivan the Terrible or Genghis Khan.  Despite this, Andrei Otetea says that “He remains, however, a controversial figure because of his cruelty.”  He then adds a quote from R.W Seton-Watson that, “From the distinctly inadequate material at our disposal it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that Vlad was a man of diseased and abnormal tendencies, the victim of acute moral insanity.”  The stories written about him were a testimony to his cruelty and the title given to him, Vlad “the Impaler” or Vlad Dracula, the son of the Devil was appropriately named.


Vlad III was born in 1431 in Transylvania to Prince Vlad II of Wallachia (1436-1442 and 1443-1447) and Princess Cneajna of the Musation dynasty of neighboring Moldavia.  He was the second son of three boys, but Vlad II impregnated his mistress engendering another son.  His brothers were Mircea, Radu, and Vlad “the Monk” in order by age.  His family members met violent deaths or were against him.  In 1447, his father was assassinated by his distant uncle, John Hunyadi, on accounts of disloyalty to Hungary.  In the same period, his eldest brother, Mircea, was buried alive after the Saxons gouged his eyes with red, hot iron stakes.  Dracula’s half –brother, Vlad the Monk, opposed him, hence, was killed by Dracula himself.  His wife or mistress threw herself out the castle window onto a pile of rocks when news came that the Turks had surrounded his castle in Tirgoviste.  It is evident that this string of unfortunate fates for the people closest to him could have hardened his heart even more, attributing to his merciless nature. 


Dracula’s years in Turkish imprisonment (1442-1448) also provide an insight to his cruel ways.  It is not fully known what Dracula encountered and underwent in those years but, “From that time onward (after his years of Turkish imprisonment), Dracula held human nature in low esteem” (McNally, 21).  At the same time, the circumstances by which he was in captive was that no harm would come unto him and his brother unless the father were to prove unfaithful to the Sultan. To Dracula, “life was cheap- after all, his own life was in danger should his father prove disloyal to the sultan.  He needed no Machiavelli to instruct him in the amorality of politics.”  He no longer trusted any man. Therefore, he was easily suspicious of people.  Accounts written about him after those years of imprisonment also state that “he also developed a reputation for trickery, cunning, insubordination, and brutality, and inspired fright in his own guards.”  (McNally, 21).  By the age of 17, Dracula had already showed signs of his aggressive nature.  This can be attributed to the circumstances of his childhood.

Romania in the years 1431-1476 was under the suzerainty of the Turkish empire.  The Ottoman Empire was ruled by Sultan Murad II and Sultan Mehmed II, respectively, in Dracula’s time.  At the same time, there were a number of rivalries and competition to the thrones in the territories of Romania, despite who the opponents were.  In 1462, the Turks sent his brother Radu “the Handsome” to fight for the throne of Wallachia and Dracula was forced to flee his castle in Tirgoviste for Hungary.  Evidently, the political situation was unstable and so was Dracula’s life.   This is further illustrated by the fact that in October 1448, after Dracula was crowned prince of Wallachia by the Turks, he left after a month afraid of being assassinated by the Saxons. The prince of Wallachia, Prince Vladislav II and King John Hunyadi of Hungary were travelling outside of Wallachia at this time.  Dracula’s throne would always be threatened by rivalries.  The throne was also threatened by Dracula when he was not in power.  “Subjects conspired against him; his cousin, a sworn friend, betrayed him; Hungarians, Germans, and Turks pursued him.  When reviewing Dracula’s life in light of his imprisonment and the chaos of his early years, it becomes all too clear that horror begets horror” (McNally, 92).  This instability could have been one of the other causes for his violence and lack of compassion to the victims he killed for he trusted no one.  It seemed that everyone was out for his own gains. 


Dracula killed anyone regardless of race, sex, religion, status, or age.  In the period of 1456-1462, Dracula was at the peak of his royal career.  It was his longest reign on Wallachia and his most bloody and tyrannical one.  Dracula was also appropriately nicknamed “Vlad the Impaler.”  Impaling was one of his favorite tactics of torture and it can be said that roughly over 100,000 people met their death by impaling.  His savageness, and inventive and cruel tactics of torturing have earned him a name in history.  Accounts have been recorded that he would drive a stake through the mother’s breast and the baby’s head would be on the breast.  Accounts also report that men, women, and children were boiled to death, skinned alive, crucified, or had their sexual organs cut off.  “Usually the impaled victims were arranged in concentric circles on the outskirts of the cities where they could be viewed by all.  Victims were subjected to nails driven into their heads, maiming of limbs, blinding, strangulation, or the hacking off of noses and ears” (McNally, 41).  The most vivid account was of his massacre of August 24, 1460 in Amlas where 20,000 were killed.  Dracula was forewarned of the Turks’ intention to capture him, thus he raided the Turk campsite and impaled everyone.  “Legend tells that even the ruthless (Turkish) Conqueror was moved to tears when he visited the scene of Vlad’s hideous exploit and saw a whole valley desolate yet peopled with its thousands of stakes, on which still hung the mangled remains of impaled Turks and Bulgars” (Seton- Watson, 41).  Such is the case of Dracula’s large-scale brutality.


Religion and rationalization were saviors for Dracula’s conscience.  He believed that building monasteries was an act of atonement for past wrongs. “These men felt that good works, particularly the erection of monasteries along with rich endowments and an appropriate ritual at the moment of death, would contribute to the eradication of sin” (Fischer- Galati, 134).  At the same time, he strongly rationalized the killings of the old and sickly as a benefit to the community for they were only burdening their families.  He rationalized the killings of children by saying that this would eradicate revenge.  If these children were not killed, they would cause more unnecessary bloodshed.  Evidently, Dracula was aware of his wrong-doings but took comfort in his monetary contributions to the Orthodox Christian faith and his rationalization.  He believed he was ridding the land of infidels, the alien and the sick.  Despite all this, he remains a brutal tyrant.  Dracula was killed in 1476 close to Bucharest.  He was mistaken for a Turk by his men and was stabbed to death. 

Dracula’s presence has been felt because of his large-scale brutality of impaling and torturing people.  His life story is also very tragic which is a reason for his merciless cruelty to mankind.  Once again, I quote Andrei Otetea and R.W Seton Watson, “He remains, however, a controversial figure because of his cruelty.”  “From the distinctly inadequate material at our disposal it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that Vlad was a man of diseased and abnormal tendencies, the victim of acute moral insanity.”  As a result of this, Vlad “the Impaler” is a very unfathomable man because of his grandiose massacres. 



Fischer- Galati, Stephen; Florescu, Radu; Ursul, George,  Romania Between East and West:  Historical Essays in Memory of Constantin C. Giurescu  East European Monographs, New York, 1982.

 McNally, Raymond T; Florescu, Radu,  In Search of Dracula:  The History of Dracula and Vampires  Houghton Mifflin Co.,  Boston, 1994.

 Otetea, Andrei,  A Concise History of Romania  London, 1985.

 Seton- Watson, R.W,  A History of the Roumanians   Archon Books, 1963.
















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