Thomas Swan has a PhD in experimental psychology. He specializes in the cognitive science of religion.
Vlad the Impaler was a 15th century Prince of Wallachia who lived during a time of Ottoman (Muslim) expansion into Europe. He went by many names including Vlad Tepes, Vlad III, and Vlad Dracula, with the latter serving as inspiration for numerous supernatural tales about vampires and devilry.
History remembers Vlad Tepes as a sadistic madman, though in his native land he is revered as a savior from Turkish domination. This list of facts explains how he got his name, how Bram Stoker came to use it, and why opinion on the Impaler is divided. It also covers the main occurrences in the life of this controversial character.
1. Vlad Tepes the Impaler was born in 1431 in Transylvania and died in 1476 at the age of 45.
2. Vlad was Prince of Wallachia three times in 1448, 1456–1462, and 1476. Wallachia was a kingdom that now comprises the southern half of Romania. His official title was Vlad III, or Voivode of Wallachia.
3. The name "Tepes" is a Romanian translation for "the Impaler." It was a title given to him posthumously.
4. Vlad earned this name by impaling his enemies through the torso with large stakes and erecting these stakes in the ground. Impalement would proceed either vertically or horizontally through the core of the body. Sometimes thousands of prisoners would be impaled at the same time. Many victims lived for several days in agony.
5. The Ottoman (Turkish) Empire was at war with Wallachia. In 1462, Sultan Mehmed II fled with his army at the sight of 20,000 impaled corpses rotting on the outskirts of Vlad’s capital city, Targoviste.
6. Upper limits on the Impaler’s combined atrocities put the death toll at around 100,000.
7. His father's name was Vlad II Dracul. "Dracul" originally meant "dragon", although it later came to mean "devil." His father adopted this name when he joined the “order of the dragon,” a Christian group opposed to Ottoman domination in Europe. As a result, the Impaler was often called Vlad Dracula, which means “son of the dragon” and later “son of the devil.”
8. Bram Stoker borrowed this infamous man’s name for his vampire novel, Dracula. Stoker was friends with the Hungarian history professor, Armin Vambery, and may have gotten the idea from him.
9. Despite an association with Transylvania, this land lay to the north of Wallachia, and was part of the Kingdom of Hungary. However, Vlad did persecute the Transylvanian Saxons during his rule. He made frequent raids across the border, and many Transylvanians were allegedly impaled.
A 1992 Movie Blurs the Line Between Vlad and the Vampire
10. During his childhood, Vlad is believed to have studied all of the academic disciplines. He was also educated in warfare and close combat.
11. Vlad’s father (Dracul) was toppled from power in 1442 by factions allied with Hungary. He was forced to pay a tax to the Ottomans to secure their support for his return to power. As part of the deal, Vlad Tepes and his brother Radu were sent to the Ottoman royal court as effective hostages.
12. Dracul was finally killed by these rival factions in 1447 by being buried alive with his oldest son and heir. Vlad Tepes received permission from the Ottomans to return to claim his throne in Wallachia. The Ottoman’s accompanied him to prevent the land from falling into Hungarian hands.
13. Once the Ottomans left, the Hungarians quickly removed the Impaler from power. He left to live in exile in Moldavia (to the north east).
14. When the Moldavian leader was assassinated, Vlad had nowhere left to go. He offered himself to the Hungarian leader, John Hunyadi, who mercifully allowed him to live. Vlad’s knowledge of the Ottoman Empire made him useful as an advisor to Hunyadi.
15. After Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453, war raged between Hunyadi and Sultan Mehmed. In 1456, Vlad was allowed to lead an army into Wallachia where he reclaimed his throne and allegedly killed the Hungarian puppet leader, Vladislav II, in personal combat.
16. Vlad’s second reign as Prince of Wallachia lasted six years. During this time, he strengthened the agricultural economy and the military. He ruthlessly punished thieves and criminals in an effort to restore order to the population. However, he also built them new villages and helped local merchants by limiting foreign trade. He ruthlessly punished the boyars (nobles) who he saw as betraying Wallachia by surreptitiously making alliances with Hungary.
17. Three years into his second reign, the Pope called for a crusade against the Ottomans. It was to be led by the new Hungarian leader, Matthias Corvinus. The Impaler allied with Corvinus against the Ottomans after executing the Turkish emissaries sent to make peace with him.
18. Between 1459 and 1462, Vlad used his knowledge of the Ottomans to annihilate their campaign in Europe. Meanwhile, Corvinus sat on the sidelines and pocketed the money given to him by the Pope.
19. When Vlad ran out of money and was threatened with defeat, he sought the help of Corvinus. Having spent the Pope's money on luxuries, Corvinus imprisoned him and forged a letter to the Ottomans in which Vlad requested peace. He then blamed Vlad for making victory impossible and used this as an excuse for the war's failure in subsequent letters to the Pope.
20. Vlad spent 12 years in prison while his brother Radu became the Ottoman puppet leader in Wallachia.
21. When Radu died in 1475, pressure on Corvinus had grown sufficient enough to allow the Impaler to reclaim his throne with Hungarian support.
22. Vlad Tepes was killed in battle near Bucharest shortly after returning to conquer Wallachia in 1476. The Turks took his head to Constantinople as a trophy. Some rumors suggest he was betrayed and murdered by the boyars.
23. Vlad may have been buried at the Comana monastery in southern Wallachia, though the exact location remains unknown. A less likely location is a monastery at Snagov.
24. He was married twice during his lifetime. His first wife's identity is unknown, though she may have been a Transylvanian noblewoman. She bore his son and heir, Mihnea cel Rau. He married a second time after his period of imprisonment in Hungary. Ilona Szilagyi was the daughter of a Hungarian noble, and she bore him two sons, neither of which became rulers.
25. Vlad Tepes the Impaler is revered in Romania and Bulgaria for defending them against Ottoman rule. In Turkey and Western Europe, he is regarded as a monstrous and vile leader who took gratuitous pleasure in the painful execution of his enemies. This is principally due to popular embellishments of his sadism in German stories. Russian sources describe his deeds as justified, though authorship can be attributed to Romanian scholars.
Despite being a brutal wartime leader, perception of Vlad the Impaler is unduly negative for a number of reasons. While contemporaneous leaders have killed more people, his method of execution was unusual and brutal. This led to a macabre fascination with his crimes in Western Europe which exaggerated his unholy reputation.
He also made numerous enemies, including most of the Wallachian nobility and Matthias Corvinus, who sought to degrade Vlad's reputation in the eyes of the Pope. Once the frenzied curiosity finally died down, Bram Stoker's Dracula novel ignited it once again. Ironically, as the story would have us believe, the memory of Vlad Tepes the Impaler may never be completely put to rest.
Jerry Lee on June 19, 2020:
I "love" how all these commentators judge how a person was back in the 1400's. We barely know the recipe for Elvis' peanut butter sandwich and he lived less than 50 years ago and some of you claim that Vlad was nuts, madman, kid with problems, etc.? How do you know? Admittedly, he wasn't the daVinci of his country but he kept the Ottomans at a distance and thus he did his job. Just say thank you and be grateful that because of him and others like him you are not speaking Turkish today. Afert you do that, move on with your lives. Suffice to say that us--Romanians revere the King of Valahia (wrongly named Prince of Wallachia--wherever this name came from) and are proud of what he has done, cruel or not cruel. Now, stop your whining and understand that whatever you are doing today might be perceived as insensitive in the next 400 years (including posting comments like this ;) )
Kirikou on February 14, 2020:
What is the physical problem of Vlad ?
The Prince of spades on February 05, 2020:
He died by being decaptated
Ryan on July 19, 2019:
He did what he did. He was the son of a member of the Order of the Dragon, and thus was held to defend Christianity. His religion and country were under attack and he did what needed to be done to protect it, only if to show his enemies he was not beyond being cruel and impaling them to frighten them. Evil? Yes. Evil? No. As far as Bram Stoker goes, he did not know anything about Vlad except what he heard or picked up. His book is NOT about Vlad. He used some details but did not write a "biography" of him. It was all made up with little details thrown in. Stoker places the story in Transylvania and the Carpathias but Vlad was NOT in Transylvania. Vlad also did not have a castle like in the book. There are several castles in the region that claim to be related to Vlad but none of them are.
Carolyn Carmody from Santa Ana, California on May 20, 2019:
I met a man in my home State of New York, USA, who was originally from an upper class family in Yugoslavia. His family knows it's own "family tree" going way back. He was aware that he is distantly related to Vlad the Impaler. He also said that he has a problem with enjoying it when people are physically suffering, in other words, he's sadistic.
I can't help but think that this problem must run in his family, that it's genetic. Vlad the Impaler must have had this problem, and he put it to good use getting rid of the Ottomans.
anonimus_dud on May 16, 2019:
I really wonder if he actually dipped his bread in blood...
Gilgul75 on October 13, 2018:
I am a westerner and agree that Vlad is not a evil 9r bad Prince. he did exactly whay others have done in the name of protecting his kingdom. He was a great hero and loved his people dearly. what would one of us do if we were forced to give our sons up? Wherever he or whayever he is, he is not bad he was a savior to manu and suffered dearly for his great love.
atz2 on July 18, 2018:
As a Romanian citizen, I find it appalling when Westerners trash Vlad's name. First of all, he is a national hero, who unlike other kings or princes, led the battle for his people, fought alongside his soldiers, being an inspiration to them all. He didn't hide behind the walls of his castles, like so many other leaders before him, that is one of the reasons Romanians respected him so much. Secondly, his cruel methods of punishment only applied to local criminals and the Ottomans who kept invading our country for centuries. The Ottomans used to poison wells, kidnap and rape women and set homes on fire. These were their signature battle moves. So, no, there wasn't a lot of sympathy among the locals for these barbarians. And impaling 20,000 Ottomans saved thousands of lives, next time when the country was invaded....the Sultan ordered the troops to retreat. Vlad had to be tough in a desperate attempt to finally get some peace. And because he was so tough on criminals, Valachia had the lowest crime rate ever during his reign. Legend says that one night, Vlad dressed as a peasant and left a bag filled with gold coins in the middle of town square. One week later, he rode his horse in that same place and sure enough, found the bag where he left it. So, in conclusion, the writer of this article knows nothing about Romanian history. To this day, Vlad Tepes is held in high regards for his bravery on the battlefield, for his fight against crime, for his fierce patriotism. And that person who says that Vlad is like Hitler should try reading a book.
Evil on June 08, 2018:
I think, its exaggeneration to get a pretext to kill Vlad and to get his position for boyars. Ottoman chronicles is full of intrigues to get position of princes, pashas, viziers. I think they lied Mehmed about Vlad, when Mehmed ordered they sent Vlad's head and get his position.
Wolfgang Pendragon on June 05, 2018:
A little known fact about the death of Vlad Dracula is that when his coffin was found in the 1920s Vlad's body was NOT in it & as far as I know his body has not been found which has led to rumours that he might have become a real vampire . After all it was in that part of eastern Europe in the year 1711 that there were at least 3 reported cases of vampires within a week of each other . The first case involved a soldier who was lodging with a farmer & his family when one night a stranger appeared & even though they gave him food the soldier noticed they were afraid for some reason & the next morning the farmer was dead . The family revealed the stranger was the farmers father who himself had died 10 years earlier so the soldier reported what had happened to his commanding officer who ordered the grave of the farmers father to be opened & when it was opened the mans body was found to be completely intact with fresh blood on his lips so the townspeople staked the body & cut off his head . I was then they learned of two other cases of vampires one dead 15 years & the other 30 years & in both cases both bodies were found intact & in the case of the 30 year old body Fresh blood was found trickling down the corner of its mouth & again both bodies were staked & beheaded.
Don Bessen on May 03, 2018:
Nice to read and get info about a cruel prince who got nicknamed as The Impaler. But it's not good seeing here all these racists commenting about the atrocities of a madman. He's no different than Hitler. If he didn't lose WWII he would be considered as a hero today. And before saying it was a common thing in old times to impale people you may be right but those who practiced it weren't good people. Da Vinci lived in old times yet I haven't heard him impaling anybody. Psychos as Tepes, Bathory still live in today's society and pose as regular people. Those who glorify killings and praise Tepes are those sickos who lack morals and compassion.
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on March 29, 2018:
Thank you Zillah. I meant to say "by being buried alive", meaning that's how he was killed. I have edited the article.
Zillah722 on March 29, 2018:
Item #12 states "Dracul was finally killed by these rival factions in 1447 and was buried alive with his oldest son and heir." So...was he killed, or was he buried alive? Surely I can't be the only one to have noticed this.
Dan on November 09, 2017:
Prince Vlad III was a diehard patriot, with nothing to do with vampire stuff...more so, he is resting now in my country. Naples hosts his glorious tomb!!!
chupboy on October 29, 2017:
I think Prince Vlad was a Vampire
Claus on September 12, 2017:
Great article. While the Bram Stoker version of him is silly and pure fiction, it has to be said that he was not a nice guy. He is considered a hero by many Romanians, cause he was seen as an uncorrupted law and order guy. But in reality he was totally nuts and a madman. Most likely his imprisonment in Istanbul as a kid drove him insane.
Anti-dandruff on September 05, 2017:
In the end he was hunted down and executed with his head sent to the Ottoman leaders palace where it was placed on the gates. He was hunted by his own brother from what I had read. vlad killed many people
Including many Christians who considered him evil
And a servant of satan.
Wings to fly on August 22, 2017:
Evil and inhuman, lesson to be learned. How some people still don't understand humanity.....shame on the ignorant minority!
The best rulers, rule with respect and responsibility. Not fear and insanity!
Greg White on May 25, 2017:
Impalement is no longer used because it's too barbaric.
AshlynBonar on March 23, 2017:
Excellent article Dr. Swan.
Being a Vampire Researcher, this information was great. Alot of it I already knew, but the information I didn't know, were a treasure trove of info to update my "Vampire Timeline".
Thanks Ashlyn Bonar
Michael M. What Vlad was about on February 20, 2017:
Western civilizations have not learned history. "Dracula" prevented or helped prevent the invasion of Europe in the fifteenth century by Arab/Muslims. Now they give it away, how dumb can are these people? Read, learn, and think.
Cheryl Braziel Montoya on February 11, 2017:
Prince Vlad Tepes (Dracula) is not only a heroic, patriotic figure
in Romania, but also in Texas; he is spoken of with respect in Austin, San Antonio and Comanche, Texas, the latter being where I grew up and first began defending this case; may I remind y'all that impalement was a common type of execution and was used in many countries in Europe, also in the Middle East and Africa; there are possible accounts of impalements in the Old Testament. Some of y'all need to wake up and smell the chili! -- Cheryl Braziel Montoya, SA TX. Don't mess with Texas!
truy2 on July 14, 2016:
Good on him. Nothing like impaling smelly turks!
Aurel Dan from Bucharest, Romania on July 26, 2014:
Regarding his cruelty, there are no historical evidences to prove that he was as cruel as we know today! We should not forget that a cruelty atmosphere dominated Europe of the XV century! Many horrible methods of torture were created and used to all the European courts from Western Europe until Russia, as: the iron maiden, the saw, the impalement, the pulling on wheel, the hot iron, etc. The impalement was an usual method of punishing that times. Prince Vlad did not became famous because of using it, but for the great number of victims impaled! Nevertheless, many of his deeds were exagerated by the saxon merchandisers from Southern Transylvania who were permanently in conflict with Vlad. There is a lot to say.
Alina Manescu on May 01, 2014:
Will people stop woobifying this kind of as******?! I am Romanian and I just feel insulted that he's considered as "hero" in my country! Just because something was accepted in the particular era, does not make it excusable or defendable! Would you say that Hungarians must love Erszebeth Bathory!? These two may have had hard life, but their actions are simply inexcusable!!!!!!!!!
The emporer on March 24, 2014:
Vlad III tepes may be the most interesting human being to ever exist.
awordlover on March 03, 2014:
Hi Thomas Swan,
I am enjoying your hubs about facts regarding certain people in history. It is funny how we are taught, then believe certain negative facts about historical figures, which color the way we think of them. We dwell on the less savory parts of their lives and view their acts as barbaric, yet in their own countries, they are looked upon as heroes. I didn't know the background of this character and thank you for publishing this hub to enlighten us. Shared and voted up.
Thomas Swan (author) from New Zealand on May 12, 2013:
Indeed, this was one Christian who was more of an "Old Testament" type! Thanks for commenting.
ParadigmEnacted on May 12, 2013:
Wow. Not one of the more pleasant characters anybody is going to meet.