Vlad Dracula

Vlad Dracula – now popularly known as Vlad Tepes – Vlad The Impaler – was an inspiration for Bram Stoker’s undead Transylvanian. His real history, thanks to films and the enduring popularity of Stoker’s vampire novel, is becoming more and more well known. Indeed, he has recently become an icon of horror himself – of monstrous, political terror. Tainted with a strain of the supernatural thrown in as added and unnecessary baggage. But to the people of Romania, he is an epic hero - albeit a somewhat spoiled one.

Vlad was born in the town of Schassburg in the Wallachia district of Romania in or about the year 1430. A dark, towering figure among his own people, he was merciless to both friend and foe alike. Like his father Vlad II, Tepes (which means "the impaler") was styled the Prince of Wallachia. When he was approximately 13 years old he and his brother were given by his father in hostage to the Turks in order to cement an alliance that would keep Vlad II on the throne of Wallachia - in defiance of one of the local power brokers of the day, the Hungarian warlord, Janos Hunyadi. Vlad’s long imprisonment taught him not only the language and culture of his future foe – but his merciless way of battle, and a uniquely cruel view of human life. His own brother Radu, was thought to have been sexually assaulted by the Sultan during their captivity.

The very notion of using brutality and terror as viable political and strategic weapons grew in him during these long years. Though this was hardly unique in history – or for the region itself. A legacy that exists, sadly, to this very day.

Dracula's father, an ally now of the Turks, was ultimately defeated and killed in battle by Hunyadi in his own quest for power and inborn hatred of the Turk. Indeed, though Dracula was now free of the Sultan, and despised the Hungarian overlord (initially taking up arms against him), he became his "subject" - more interested in solidifying his own position as Prince than in forming a common, political alliance of real lasting value. As long as it suited his own needs, and was one he could manipulate as best he could, then that was what the ever calculating Transylvanian would do.

The borders of Hungary during this time were extremely volatile needless to say, and during his seige of Turk controlled Belgrade, Hunyadi fell victim to disease. Dracula now seized his chance - he quickly turned against, and attacked, Vladislav, Hunyadi's second in command and chosen successor. Dracula's forces defeated his army, and killed the warlord. Dracula was now secure as Prince. He immediately began to play both sides against one another - swearing loyalty to both Turkish Sultan, and Hungarian King. A dangerous game - especially when one's loyalty is only to one's self.

Now, he plotted revenge against the indifferent nobilty. He held a great feast at his fortress, inviting the Boyers who had betrayed (by their inactivity) and brought about the destruction of Vlad's father and brother. In the midst of the celebrations, Vlad's soldiers stormed into the great hall where all were assembled and dragged the stunned nobles to their hideous fate - impalement on huge spikes, prepared well in advance. The power of the boyers was destroyed in one fateful, swift - and abominable act.

Dracula, surrounded by mercenaries and a few of the still living (and quite terrified) Boyers, set out to solidfy his position by first destroying the economic stranglehold of the large number of German immigrant merchants. He killed all who opposed him - stealing their fortunes and burning their villages to the ground. Legal or not - innocent or not, Dracula would have no golden idol worshipped before him in his place.

After a period of time, Dracula felt strong enough to turn his attention to the power of the Sultan - and was determined to rid the foreigner, who his family had long supported, from his kingdom. It was a reckless, arrogant act - and one he would one day regret.

Perhaps recalling his own Turkish imprisonment, Vlad refused to send his countrymen to train and fight as part of the Sultan's army - a condition of a years old treaty. Or perhaps it was the fortune in gold the Turk demanded as tribute - or more properly the extortion of a protection racket weilded on a national level. Turkish envoys were shown no respect - some had their turban nailed to their heads as mindless penalty for refusing by custom to remove them in the precence of Vlad. A ruthless, fearless man indeed - whom no convention could hope to restrain. An image that cut, literally, both ways.

At first, the Romanian prince was quite successful - destroying both Turk and mercenary army thrown against him. Dracula swept down all along the border of his country, fighting a hit and run battle against the overwhelming larger forces arrayed against him.

He often resorted to his old terror tactics - reportedly leaving thousands of Turks impaled as a warning upon blood soaked battlefields. It shocked even the brutal forces of the Sultan - but only solidified their determination to crush the Wallachian warlord.

Finally, his own brother Radu was given a charge by the Sultan to displace his own brother - and he set about the weary land doing just that with the help of the king of Hungary, himself tired of the monstrous Dracula, and hoping for a more complacent prince on the throne of Wallachia.

Though the bloody Vlad fortified himself in a castle in Transylvania, he was soon captured and held prisoner by the Hungarian king for 12 long years. The manipulative king formed an alliance with the prince of Moldavia, and reasoned that Dracula could be a powerful, ruthless friend if put back on the throne of Wallachia. Radu was deposed, but still backed by the Sultan, and warfare continued for some time. Dracula left his usual trademark upon the battlefields of gory ruin. And in no time at all he was again prince.

It was not to last - the tired, bloodied folk of Wallachia wanted no more of Vlad. Some short months after his triumph, the headless body of Dracula was found upon an open field. No one knew who had done the deed - but few mourned his passing. It was said that the severed head of Dracula was presented to the Sultan. Proof positive that their most frightful foe was finally dead.

And now - thanks to Bram Stoker, the bloody Prince, though long dead - lives still. Truly, the undead.