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Who Was Vlad the Impaler? The Legendary Killer of Over 80,000 People

Vlad the Impaler - Vlad III Dracula - was bloodthirsty and brutal. Learn more about how he earned the sobriquet "Impaler" here.

Vlad III Dracula/Vlad the Impaler. Voivode of Wallachia.

Vlad III Dracula/Vlad the Impaler. Voivode of Wallachia.

The House of Draculesti

The brutal Vlad the Impaler, believed to be the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, was born in Sighisoara, Transylvania (today’s Romania) in 1431. He was part of the Draculesti dynasty.

Vlad was the 2nd son of Vlad II Dracul and Eupraxia of Moldavia. The addition of an a to his surname denoted that he was Vlad II’s son. Draco meant dragon and Vlad II Dracul was a member of the Order of the Dragon. In modern Romanian “drac” means devil.

Even by medieval standards Transylvania and its neighbours were violent. It was prime territory between the European countries that fought to maintain Christianity and the Ottomans who sought land gains and to increase the spread of the Islamic faith.

Vlad II Dracul was appointed as the ruler or voivode of the Principality of Wallachia when his son Vlad was 5 years old. The family relocated to Targoviste.

The locations of Transylvania, Wallachia and the Ottoman Empire.

The locations of Transylvania, Wallachia and the Ottoman Empire.

Ottoman Sultan Murad II Holds Vlad Hostage

In 1442 Vlad and his younger brother Radu travelled to the Ottoman court with their father. Sultan Murad II craftily used the boys as collateral after discussions with Vlad II Dracul. The Sultan arrested his guests because he wanted to ensure that the Voivode of Wallachia fulfilled his promises of allegiance. Vlad II was released and sent back to Wallachia but his sons remained with Murad II and his son Mehmed for almost 6 years.

The boys were educated in philosophy and science and were taught how to be warriors and capable horsemen. However, as Vlad and Radu were also tortured they were under constant threat from the Sultan’s whims.

It was probably at the Ottoman court that Vlad first saw people being impaled on stakes. This was a device he used with devastating effects later in his life.

In 1447 Vlad II Dracul and his eldest son Mircea II were assassinated by rebel Wallachian nobles called boyars. The father’s life ended in the swamps of Balteni and Mircea was tortured, blinded and buried alive.

Vlad the Impaler: Voivode of Wallachia

Vlad returned to Wallachia and tried to claim leadership as Voivode Vlad III Dracula (Vlad III Draculea in Romanian). Unfortunately for Vlad his younger brother Radu, the boyars and the Sultan opposed him. After a troubled 2-month rule, Vlad III Dracula was deposed. It took him 8 years to regain control.

Throughout his 2nd period as Voivode of Wallachia Vlad showed little, if any, mercy towards his enemies and he earned the sobriquet of Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Tepes in Romanian.

He favoured impaling his foes on wooden stakes rising from the ground. The victim was impaled through the rectum and the stake came out through the mouth or neck.

Vlad left the impaled bodies on the stakes during a torturous death and as lifeless corpses. Although some of the stakes he used were not sharply tipped this was a way of prolonging the agony rather than diminishing the suffering; a blunt stake didn’t puncture the vital organs and so the impaled person took longer to die.

The History of Vlad the Impaler

Vlad III Dracula Leaves Over 80000 Dead

He did not limit impalement to domestic enemies, his international opponents were just as likely to find themselves impaled and staring up to the sky screaming as their life ebbed away. There were unconfirmed reports that Vlad liked to dip bread in the blood of his dying victims and eat the morsels as they watched.

In 1453 the Ottomans took control of the important city of Constantinople and in the following years, they tried to invade several European countries to get further inland. A story emerged that Sultan Mehmed II was so repulsed by the sight of 20000 impaled and decaying corpses outside the city of Targoviste that he rode back to Constantinople instead of engaging in battle.

Vlad the Impaler's success in creating order in Wallachia was seen as positive by contemporaries but his rule was undeniably one of carnage. Over 80000 people—men, women, children, soldiers, peasants and nobles (including his rival from the House of Danesti Vladislav II)—were not safe from his butchery.

One horrendous example of his barbarity was the invitation that he issued to the boyars of Wallachia to dine with him. He had each one of his guests stabbed and then thrust onto a stake to die painfully.

Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II. Vlad III Dracula's primary enemy.

Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II. Vlad III Dracula's primary enemy.

Capture and Imprisonment: 1462-1475

In 1462 Vlad the Impaler left an entire battlefield littered with bodies impaled on stakes as a warning to advancing Ottoman soldiers. He was said to have dined among the bodies before he departed.

The same year Vlad was only saved from capture by the Ottoman army by the Hungarians who he thought were allies. Their ruler Matthias Corvinus I of Hungary decided to lock Vlad up. Matthias arranged marriages for his prisoner.

Vlad’s 1st wife’s identity remains unconfirmed but she may have been an illegitimate sister of the Hungarian king. She died in circa 1473. His 2nd wife was Justina Szilagyi, a cousin of Matthais I, they married in 1475.

The Russian ambassador Fyodor Kuritsyn wrote that Vlad had 3 sons but by whom is disputed.

A 1499 woodcut of Vlad the Impaler dining among the impaled corpses on a battlefield.

A 1499 woodcut of Vlad the Impaler dining among the impaled corpses on a battlefield.

Vlad the Impaler Beheaded

In 1476 Vlad III Dracula was released by Matthias I and he managed to reclaim power in Wallachia. His victory was short-lived. He was killed in battle near Bucharest on the 14th December 1476. After he was unceremoniously beheaded his head was sent to Sultan Mehmed II and displayed.

Vlad’s successor was his younger brother Radu as Radu III cel Frumos (the handsome). His reign was just as fleeting; he died aged 36 or 37 the following year. The Danesti dynasty took control of Wallachia. The Sultan died 4 years later, possibly poisoned.

Whatever achievements Vlad III Dracula, Voivode of Wallachia made during his 3 terms as leader he will forever be remembered for his barbarity.

Actor Bela Lugosi was one of the first to portray Dracula in 1931.

Actor Bela Lugosi was one of the first to portray Dracula in 1931.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Joanne Hayle