Vlad III Dracula of Wallachia: Evil Villain or Hero?
Vlad III Dracula
Vlad III Dracula
Vlad III Dracula, better known as Vlad the Impaler (Tepes), was a member of the House of Draculesti, a branch of the House of Basarab. The lineage of Vlad III shows a long line of voivodes. The word "voivode" is an old Slavic word for warlord. Eventually the term was used for the governor of a province, or, in English, was the same as a prince or duke.
Vlad III was born in late 1431 in Sighisoara, a city in Transylvania, Kingdom of Hungary, where he is a folk hero to the locals. A huge bust of Vlad III sits on a high pedestal just outside the city hall.
His father's surname, Dracul, was bestowed upon Vlad II when he was inducted into the Order of the Dragon. Dracul is the Romanian name for Dragon. Vlad III was given the name Dracula, meaning "son of Dracul, or son of the dragon".
Vlad III Dracula was one of the most notorious leaders in history. After his death, he was dubbed with the name Vlad Tepes, which means Vlad the Impaler. Dracula's supposedly excessive cruelty to his enemies gave him a reputation that kept his name prominent in history. Vlad was famous for impaling his victims and displaying the impaled dead like a forest of corpses, with the leaders on a higher stake than their soldiers.
Vlad III and his brother Radu cel Frumos, were given to the Ottoman sultan in 1442 as hostages when their father made a treaty with the Ottomans. For the next several years, Vlad III was trained in warfare and horseback riding. He was given education in logic, learned the Quran and was taught the Turkish language, which he became fluent in. He was instructed to become familiar with the literature of the Turks.
After his father, Vlad II, and his brother, Mircea II, were brutally murdered, Vlad III was installed on the throne by the Ottomans when they invaded Wallachia. The term of this reign did not last very long, but he ruled again in 1456-1462, and yet again in 1476.
Poenari Castle, the Famed Lair of Vlad III
First Reign, 1447
Vlad III was installed on the Wallachian throne by the Ottomans after Vlad II was killed. This reign did not last long, for John Hunyadi, a powerful warlord of Hungary, invaded Wallachia and put Vladislav II of the House of Danesti on the throne. The Danesti House was another branch of the House of Basarab—members descended from Dan I of Wallachia.
Vlad III had no choice but to go to Bogdan II, his uncle in Moldavia, for refuge. In October of the same year, Bogdan was assassinated and sought protection in Hungary. Hunyadi admired Vlad for his knowledge of how the Ottomans worked in warfare and inner knowledge of the court. They both had a common hatred of Sultan Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire. Hunyadi and Vlad reconciled their former discords—Hunyadi then made Vlad his adviser.
In 1453, Mehmed II conquered Constantinople, and the Ottoman powers stretched over the Carpathians, a serious threat to the mainland of Europe. By 1481 the Ottomans had control of the Balkans peninsula.
When the Ottomans were spreading out their wars and conquests, Vlad III attacked Wallachia in 1456, killed Vladislav II and regained the throne.
Mircea the Elder
Second Reign, 1456-1462
Vlad had his hands full when he was again Voivode of Wallachia. Since Mircea the Elder's reign (1383-1418) the state had declined drastically in all its affairs. Everything had fallen into disrepair from neglect. Agriculture was not producing well, revenue from trade was nearly gone, for trade was no longer desirable for other countries, and crime was completely out of hand.
Vlad was not one to sit and rest on his laurels. He implemented severe methods to restore Wallachia to its former prosperity and order. His aim was to strengthen the economy and defense of Wallachia, and also his own political power.
Under Vlad's orders, new villages for the peasants were built, which they so needed for their well-being and production of new agriculture. Trade was a very clear and important source of development and revenue—Vlad understood this and helped his merchants out by limiting trade to Rargsor, Campulung, and Targoviste.
Vlad knew that the boyars (aristocracy leaders) of Wallachia were not only the cause of the deplorable shape of the state, but also the death of his father and brother. Vlad resolved that problem quickly by having the responsible boyars killed and installed men of his own choice into council, men who would be loyal to only himself. Rather than boyars, Vlad inducted knights and free peasants. New punishment laws for thievery were issued by Vlad, and the remaining boyars were treated as harshly as criminals, for in Vlad's eyes, they were criminals.
Vlad strengthened the Wallachian army to the point where it had never been as strong. As a war leader, Vlad excelled in strategy and battle. The Transylvanian Saxons were allied with the nobility (boyars) of Wallachia, thereby making them Vlad's enemies. Vlad took trading privileges away from the Saxons and conducted raids on their castles, having several Saxons impaled.
Pope Pius II
War With the Ottomans
Pope Pius II was elected to the Papacy in 1458. The following year he journeyed to Mantua, a city in Lombardy, Italy, and called for a council with the rulers of Europe. His purpose was to implement a Crusade against the Ottoman Turks in a stronger effort to conquer their common enemy of Christianity.
Vlad III was one of the rulers to approve and fully endorse the Crusade, but he was unable to send troops he needed for his own purpose of defending Wallachia. The Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmed II, had laid claim to Wallachia, and it was Vlad's life-long effort to protect his father's domain and keep the throne. The Pope chose another ruler, Mathias Corvinus, the son of John Hunyadi, King of Hungary, to lead the Crusade. Pius gave Corvinus a staggering amount of gold coins to finance the war—it would have been enough to purchase 10 warships and amass an army of 12,00 troops.
Vlad pledged his allegiance to the Pope, the Crusade, and to Corvinus.
War with the Ottomans raged on for several years. Vlad had achieved some significant victories, such as the ambush of the Turks at the gorge north of Giurgiu when almost every one of Hamza Bey's army was captured and impaled, including Hamza Bey, who was put on the highest stake.
Vlad devastated the Bulgarian lands between Serbia and the Black Sea. He was fluent in the Turkish language and disguised himself as a Turkish Sipahi (Calvary soldier). Once in the camps, he destroyed everyone and rode on to the next camp. Vlad had over 23,000 Turks impaled. He wrote a letter to Corvinus and reported:
I have killed peasants men and women, old and young, who lived at Oblucitza and Novoselo, where the Danube flows into the sea, up to Rahova, which is located near Chilia, from the lower Danube up to such places as Samovit and Ghighen. We killed 23,884 Turks [most probably Tatars] without counting those whom we burned in homes or the Turks whose heads were cut by our soldiers...Thus, your highness, you must know that I have broken the peace with him [Sultan Mehmed II].— Vlad III
On June 17, 1462, Vlad and Mehmed led their armies to Targoviste, and The Night Attack ensued. Vlad attacked at night on the road to the city where Mehmed's army was camped, and 15,000 Turks were killed. The main goal for Vlad was to assassinate Mehmed, but the Sultan retreated to Targoviste, where to his horror he found 20,000 impaled Turks.
Mehmed II, Ottoman Sultan
Victories and defeats ranged back and forth between Vlad and Mehmed. Vlad's tactics and strategy won him many victories—yet eventually he ran out of money and could not pay his mercenaries. He rode to Hungary and asked Matthias Corvinus for financial help.
In betrayal, Corvinus had Vlad imprisoned for high treason. Corvinus made it look like Vlad was a criminal, when in fact, it was Corvinus who had spent the Papal money meant for the wars on his own personal expenses and pleasure. Corvinus forged a letter from Vlad to the Ottoman's proposing a peace with them. So, the Pope thought Vlad had spent all the money on things other than the war and betrayed the Papal and Wallachia.
The Ottoman Empire and Mehmed had won a victory and Vlad was imprisoned for, not by his enemies, but by the monarchy he had fought so hard to protect.
Visegrad Castle, Summer Castle of Corvinus
Radu cel Frumos
Captivity and Third Reign
Vlad was initially imprisoned in the Oratea Fortress in a village of south central Romania, what is now Podu Dambovicioara; then he was moved to Visegrad, near Badu, the summer castle of Corvinus, where he remained in captivity for ten years, until 1474.
Radu cel Frumos, Vlad's younger brother had been placed on the Wallachian throne by the Ottomans when Vlad was in prison. Radu had remained loyal to the Ottoman Empire and had converted to Islam. Stefan cel Mare, Voivode of Moldavia, a relative of Vlad, eventually intervened and arranged for the release of Vlad.
At the age of 40 (1475), Radu suddenly died, and Vlad returned to Wallachia to reclaim the throne for his third reign on November 26, 1476. Less than three months later, Vlad was killed when in battle with the Turks. The head of Vlad was taken to Constantinople by the Turks to display as a trophy. Where Vlad's body was buried has remained unknown.
1499 German Woodcut
All About Vlad
Have you ever read the real history of Vlad III ?
Since Vlad III Dracula's death, legends arose and often may have been exaggerated, as has been done with other famous leaders of history. The number of his impaled victims is anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000, depending on the author or source.
German and Russian pamphlets and manuscripts from the 15th and 16th centuries expounded on the deeds of Vlad III and created horrific legends that seemed to take hold and last. The woodcut shown above is obviously a manifestation of someone's lust for the macabre. It is also safe to say it is simply imagination because Vlad would not have had time to sit in fields of impaled corpses and luxuriate in such a scene, when he was constantly in battles and working to save Wallachia.
Vlad was not the only one who had victims impaled or approved of the practice. Matthias Corvinus applauded and encouraged Vlad to use impalement. The Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, although it was reported that the sight of rotting corpses impaled on stakes by Vlad's army had sickened him, had himself used impalement as a form of punishment.
However, it is common for only the most bizarre acts to be remembered and written about rather than the good deeds of famous rulers like Vlad III.
Manuscripts and documents in Romania and Bulgaria from the 15th century forward describe Vlad III as a just leader of his people, a hero and formidable warlord. His methods of punishment were harsh yet fair for that time period. His whole life-long effort was to keep the Ottoman Empire from conquering Wallachia. In The Slavonic Tales, it was written about Vlad III that:
"And he hated evil in his country so much that, if anyone committed some harm, theft or robbery or a lye or an injustice, none of those remained alive."
In 1524, Michael Bocignoli, an Italian writer, referred to Vlad III as "a very wise and skillful man in war."
In 1688, Stoica Ludescu, a writer for the "Canatacuzino Chronicle" wrote:
"Voivode Vlad sat on the throne and all the country came to pay respect, and brought many gifts and they went back to their houses with great joy. And Voivode Vlad with the help of God grew into much good and honor as long as he kept the reign of those just people."
In reflection, there was a lot more written about Vlad, yet when examined it is easy to see that all the good written about Vlad III Dracula came from his own people of Wallachia whom he helped and protected—whereas all the negative reputation was spread from Vlad's enemies, such as the Saxons and Matthias Corvinus.
Poenari Castle, Romania
I was excited to find more information on the castle of Vlad III. Poenari Castle, or Citadel as they call it in Romania, is a historic monument.
After Vlad III died in 1476, Poenari was still in use for many years. It was abandoned during the 16th century and was in ruins by the 17th century. An earthquake in 1888 caused a landslide which destroyed some parts. The Arges River, far below the castle, received the destroyed parts. Some repairs had to be made. Fortunately the main walls and towers are still in fairly good condition.
From the early 1960s to 1989, Romania was under nationalistic communism ideology. During that time, many foreign visitors were allowed to spend a night in the castle.
The castle has a fantastic view of the Arges River and Arges Valley.
Poenari Castle, Showing Destruction From Earthquake Landslide in 1888
Poenari Castle Overlooks the Beautiful Valley far Below
Note from the Author
So, was Vlad an evil villain or a hero? A psychotic warrior or a single-minded man of vision? Regardless of opinions, it is obvious he was a very successful warrior and leader of his people and protector of his kingdom.
Thank you for reading my article. Your opinions are important to me and let me know your interests. This helps me to offer more of your favorite subjects to read about. Your time and interest are very much appreciated. I hope to hear from you in the comments section below.
My sources for information in this article:
© 2014 Phyllis Doyle Burns