In the spirit of Halloween, I have decided to discuss Vlad Tepes (Tepes is Romanian for the Impaler), hence Vlad the Impaler, a.k.a. Vlad III, a.k.a. Vlad Dracula — hence the real Dracula. I should add that he was referred to as Dracula because Dracula in Romanian means son of Dracul (he was the second of Vlad Dracul, King of Wallachia). In addition, Vlad Dracul was a member of the Order of the Dragon, an order which sought to protect the region from the Ottoman Turks. Thus, Vlad Dracula also came to be known as Son of the Dragon, a.k.a. Son of the Devil.
Vlad Dracula was born in 1431 in Transylvania (of which his father was also military governor — this might be why Bram Stoker chose Transylvania for the setting of his novel Dracula). The era in which he was born was chaotic, especially since Wallachia faced enemies not only from the outside (e.g. Hungary, the Turks) but also from within (i.e. the nobles who were known as boyars, as well as various criminals).
It was also during this time that Wallachia became a buffer zone between the Ottoman Empire and Hungary, although not always successfully. In fact, the Hungarians drove Vlad Dracul out of Wallachia in 1442. However, he managed to regain the throne the following year with the help of the Turks under their Sultan Mehmed II. In return for their help, Vlad Dracul sent his sons Vlad Dracula and Radu (along with a group of Wallachian boys to serve as the Sultan’s Janissaries) as a form of tribute in 1444.
During his practical imprisonment, Vlad Dracula was said to have learned various methods of torture and execution, an experience which led him to unleash a series of atrocities in the years to follow. In 1448, Vlad Dracul and his eldest son Mircea were killed by the boyars who had aligned themselves with the Hungarians. As a result, Vlad Dracula was released (Radu being released earlier) and assumed the throne — hence Vlad III. It would be the first of three reigns, in which he sought to rid Wallachia of the boyars who killed his father and brother, in addition to defending his country from both the Turks and the Hungarians.
Needless to say, Vlad III’s reigns were marked by much violence. Those enemies of his faced the possibility of being impaled, for which Vlad III gained his infamous nickname. Other methods of torture and execution included driving nails into people’s heads, dismemberment, being set on fire, being skinned alive, or being fed to wild animals. He was even said to eat human flesh and drink human blood via dipping his bread into it and sucking on the bread (another possible reason he became the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s novel).
Some of his atrocities have been disputed, perhaps the result of propaganda spread by his enemies, or perhaps the stories of such atrocities may have been exaggerated. But it is likely that the stories of his cruelty were true, given his time as a hostage to the Turks, not to mention that such methods were accepted during that time.
In spite of the atrocities, Vlad Dracula is today regarded as a hero among Romanians for defending his country, particularly against the Turks.
But his reign of terror came due to an end in 1477, when he was killed (supposedly by his own people) while in battle against the Turks. His corpse was decapitated, and the head was presented to Mehmed II. Vlad Dracula’s final resting place is unknown, although some believe he is buried in the Comana Monastery in Comana, Romania.
Image: by Jason Rogers; http://www.flickr.com/photos/17642817@N00/4989798173; CC BY 2.0