The Quick 10: 10 Stories About the Real Dracula

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Happy Friday!! To celebrate the end of the week, today's Q10 will be part three of my sporadic Halloween series. Since you're mental_floss readers and lovers of all things knowledge, I'm sure you already know that there was a real Dracula. He probably wasn't a vampire and he definitely couldn't turn into a bat, but he did do some really horrible things. We'll discuss them, but first a little history: Vlad Tepes was the son of Vlad II Dracul. He became known as Vlad Dracula because the suffix tacked on there makes the surname mean "son of Dracul." He ruled Wallachia three times "“ 1448, 1456-1462 and 1476. A lot of the horrible stories are hard to verify, because some of what we know about Vlad's cruelty is based on German stories "“ which, of course, would make him out to be a terrible man. As a counterpoint, most Romanian stories about Vlad portray him as heroic and one of the greatest leaders they've ever had.

Anyway, the terrible tales:

vlad1. Vlad Tepes first ruled in 1448 after his father was assassinated. His older brother was also horribly killed "“ blinded with hot pokers and then buried alive. Vlad Tepes was immediately put on the throne so Wallachia's political enemies wouldn't think the position was free for the taking, but Vlad was ruler pretty much in name only. After all, he was only 17 at the time.

2. In 1459-1460, he had an entire village of German settlers killed when a trade dispute erupted. The village was burned to the ground and every single resident was impaled or executed in some horrible manner "“ women and children included.

3. In 1462, he raided the southern banks of the Danube. He claimed to have killed "men and women, old and young"¦ 23.884 Turks and Bulgarians without counting those whom we burned alive in their homes or whose heads were not chopped off by our soldiers." Soldiers brought back some souvenirs of this raid for Vlad "“ sacks of heads, noses and ears. Vlad would then send those bits and pieces out to other rulers as warnings.

4. Let it be known that Vlad had a sense of humor "“ a dark, terrible sense of humor.

When some Turkish ambassadors refused to remove their caps in his presence, he asked why they would dishonor him like that. They replied that it was their custom to not remove the caps in public; only in the privacy of their homes. So Vlad helped them out by having their hats permanently nailed to their heads (that's one of the German stories, I believe).

5. We know Vlad liked to impale people, but he was particularly sadistic about it. Not that impaling someone could probably not be sadistic, but you know what I mean. Here's how he did it "“ if you just ate lunch, maybe go ahead and skip to #6. First, the victim would have a horse attached to each of his legs. I suppose for stability, but I'm not totally sure on that one. Wouldn't tying the victim to stakes or something have worked just as well? Anyway, then a seim-sharpened stake would be forced into the body from below "“ usually through the anus, with the desired end effect being the other end of the stake coming through the mouth. The stick couldn't be too sharp, though, because then the victim might die quickly, and what fun would that be for Vlad?

WOODCUT6. Another method was to impale the person through the abdomen or chest and then post them around the city as a warning to others. There is a memoir that exists that documents the "forest of the impaled", where Vlad would line the roads with tons of Turkish soldiers he had impaled. If that didn't intimidate the enemy, I don't know what would.

7. Here's more intimidation: sometimes Vlad would arrange the impaled people in a circle around the city that he was targeting. The taller the spear they were impaled on, the higher-ranking that person was.

8. According to the stories, when Vlad came to power the second time, he invited a lot of the nobles who were responsible for the cruel deaths of his brother and father to a huge, luxurious feast. Once there, he had the older nobles impaled. The younger nobles and their families were forced to march to the ruins of a castle in the mountains and forced them to rebuild it. The stories say the prisoners worked until their tattered clothes fell off, and then were forced to keep working in the nude. Once it was completed, Vlad used the Poenari Castle as one of his fortresses.

9. His first wife supposedly killed herself when that same castle was raided by the Turkish army in 1462. Vlad's own half-brother, Radu the Handsome, led the siege on the castle. When word got back that the Turkish army was getting close, Vlad's wife apparently threw herself out of the tower into the water below, saying that she "would rather have her body rot and be eaten by the fish of the ArgeÅŸ than be led into captivity by the Turks". That body of water, a tributary of the ArgeÅŸ, is called Raul Doamnei "“ the Lady's River (or the Princess's River).

10. It's generally thought that The Impaler finally met his end in a battle against the Ottoman Empire in December, 1476. But other stories abound, including several that have him being felled by his own men. One of the stories also says that when he was killed, the Turks cut his head off, preserved it in honey and had it sent to Istanbul. The sultan proudly displayed his trophy on "“ what else "“ a stake.

October 10, 2008 - 10:29am
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