Vlad III has been immortalized by his preferred method of killing people by impaling them. Historyplex will let you in on some interesting Vlad the Impaler facts, including his history, life and death, and most importantly, the stories of his legendary cruelty.
Did You Know?
Vlad the Impaler is considered as one of the first European rulers to popularize the use of gunpowder in battle.
Vlad the Impaler, also called Vlad Tepes or Vlad III, was a Voivode (military ruler) of the Romanian province of Wallachia. He was born in a turbulent time, and fought throughout his life against the Ottomans who were trying to spread deeper inside Europe.
His alleged atrocities and massacres have captured much more attention than either his rule or military victories. His method of killing his enemies and troublemakers―impalement―came to define his era.
Numerous documents recovered from all over Europe chronicle his obsession with killing people. While Germanic texts spare no effort at painting his picture as a vile, perverted, and cruel leader, who was a monster of humanity, Russian texts are surprisingly generous in his praise as a great and just leader, though somewhat harsh.
The story of this ancient Romanian leader was brought to the forefront during the late 19th century, when Bram Stoker wrote his famous book 'Dracula', about a blood-thirsty Count in a Romanian castle, who has an appetite for blood.
While the book is entirely a work of fiction, it has been accepted that Stoker was in part inspired by the real Dracula, Vlad III, when he was informed of his feats by a Romanian historian friend. While his tale has been a victim of gross exaggeration, let us check out some facts about this enigmatic, yet terrifying ruler.
Birth and Childhood
The word 'tepes' means 'impaler' in Romanian. This name was given to Vlad posthumously. During his lifetime, he was known as 'Kazikli Bey', which means 'Sir Impaler', by the Turks.
Vlad III was born in Sighisoara, to Vlad II or Vlad Dracul, the ruler of Wallachia, in the year 1431. Little is known about his mother, though it is said that she was a noblewoman from Moldavia.
His father, Vlad II, was betrayed by his own nobility, called the Boyars, and killed. His elder half-brother, Mircea, was first blinded with hot stakes, before being buried alive at Targoviste.
When Vlad was a child, he and his brother Radu the Handsome were sent as hostages to the Ottoman Empire, from 1442 to 1448. This was done so that Vlad's father Vlad II, who was a puppet ruler of Wallachia, would not betray the Turks who were controlling him.
When in his teens, Vlad was sent by the Turks back to Wallachia to serve as another puppet ruler, while his brother Radu converted to Islam, and served as a member of the Ottoman court.
When Vlad was a hostage to the Turks, he and his brother were educated in literature, geography, science, Persian language, and logic. Vlad became an expert in using the crossbow and close combat warfare.
Vlad reportedly saw how prisoners were tortured by the Turks, and it was here when he first came across impalement.
His Life and Rule
Vlad was a member of the 'Order of the Dragon', a secret society working for the protection of Christianity. His father was a member too, and young Vlad joined when he was just a boy of 5.
He ruled Wallachia in three phases: 1448, 1455-1462, and 1476. He was even imprisoned for 12 years in between, by Hungarian Emperor Matthias Corvinus, who was trying to hide his own financial irregularities by blaming Vlad for treason.
When Vlad was installed as the ruler of Wallachia, he began his reign of terror by inviting hundreds of Boyars to his castle for a feast, knowing fully well that several of them were involved in his father's death.
After they had eaten well, he had the elderly Boyars impaled on the spot, while the young and their families were forced to march to Poienari, where they were made to construct his fortress with their bare hands. The survivors were then impaled.
Throughout his life, Vlad III fought with the Ottoman Turks, whom he hated. The kingdom was also threatened by the Hungarians in the north, and the rulers of Wallachia had to forge friendships or fight battles between their two enemies, depending on the circumstances.
One of his wives committed suicide by leaping from the castle into the river below, to avoid being captured by the invading Turks.
He even used biological warfare against the Turks, by sending citizens infected with contagious illnesses into the enemy camp disguised as Turks.
During the war with the Turks, his tactic was to ambush the enemy in lightning attacks on horseback, impale enemy soldiers, and then escape as fast as they had arrived. He did this because he had a small army which could not fight face-to-face with the enormous Turkish army.
Despite his limited resources and precarious position, he inflicted several humiliating defeats on the Ottoman Turks, the most famous of which was 'The Night Attack', when 15,000 enemy troops were killed. Sultan Mehmet II is even said to have remarked that it seemed 'impossible' to defeat a ruler so 'great', when he saw a forest of impaled corpses.
Vlad III was a devout Christian, and his success even lead the Pope to call him a crusader of Christianity. Vlad even wanted to be canonized as a saint, and once had a priest impaled when he said this was not possible.
During his reign, every crime, be it dishonesty, thieving, adultery, incest or murder, was dealt with a heavy hand. His preferred method of punishment was impalement, but he also had people skinned, scalped, boiled, roasted, and eaten by each other.
Tales of Torture
Impalement is a painful method of killing, in which a long wooden pole is inserted into any one of the body's openings, and the pole is lifted vertically, making the person suffer for hours or even days, until he dies. Care was taken that the pole was not sharp, as this could cause instantaneous death, something that Vlad did not want.
He hated laziness, and once invited hundreds of beggars for a feast in a castle. They feasted well into the night, until suddenly Vlad asked them if they wanted an end to all their hardship and lead a life of luxury. When they answered in the affirmative, he had all the doors locked from outside, and burned the castle to ashes-with the beggars still inside.
Once his soldiers were on the run from the Turkish army. While fleeing, he ordered about 23,000 enemy soldiers to be impaled behind them to create a 'Forest of Impaled'. When the enemy forces arrived, despite having the upper hand, they turned and fled in terror and disgust.
Food and impalement went hand in hand for Vlad. It is said that on multiple occasions, he had meals right in the midst of impaled victims, even as they writhed and moaned. It is also claimed that he dipped his bread in their blood.
Once Turkish emissaries visited his castle, but they did not take off their headgear when they greeted him. On being questioned, they said that they never removed their hats as it was a custom of their fathers. In response, Vlad had their hats nailed to their skulls, ensuring that they 'never broke this excellent custom'.
Vlad was a stickler for honesty. One of his mistresses claimed that she was pregnant, when she actually wasn't. She was checked by the matrons who revealed her lie. He had her chest and abdomen sliced open to show the world 'where he had been'.
In another story, a couple of children were caught stealing apples. They were caught and buried together, with holes made in the mud allowing them to breathe. Vlad did this so that 'they could eat each other and live longer'.
In another famous tale, a merchant complained to him about 160 gold coins being stolen from his cart. Vlad ordered a search for the culprit, and till then, he had 161 gold coins from his own treasury placed in the man's cart.
When the merchant counted the coins, he found one extra, which he promptly reported to Vlad. The prince revealed that this was done to test the man's honesty. If he had lied, he would have been impaled alongside the thief.
Vlad the Impaler is said to have been killed while fighting the Turks in December 1476, or by the Boyars, according to different sources. Some say that during a victory over the Ottomans, his own men accidentally struck and killed him.
Whatever the case, his decapitated head was preserved in honey, and taken to Constantinople, where it was impaled on a pike to show the Turkish subjects that Vlad the Impaler was finally dead.
Little is known about his tomb. According to some legends, he was buried in the Snagov Monastery near Balteni, while others say that his remains are in the Comana Monastery. The fact is, despite excavations, his remains have never been found.
While it's easy to label Vlad as cruel, a tyrant, and even demonic, one should remember that he lived in the Europe of the Middle Ages, when such punishments and even worse were commonplace. It was a treacherous time, when princes and nobles betrayed and killed each other to consolidate their power.
One should also not forget that Vlad spent his childhood in the prison of an enemy king in a far-away land. In fact, he is regarded as a hero and patriot by the Romanians even today, because he fought fearlessly against the Ottoman Empire, at a time when even great emperors feared to take them on.