Page name: vlad tepes vs dracula, the truth about a myth [Logged in view] [RSS]
2008-09-10 15:16:18
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Vlad III Tepes

The Truth About a Myth

<Rimg:stuff/chrysvladgerman.jpg>    My first memories of Vlad Tepes date from my early childhood, when my mother and my grandmother fed my imagination with stories and legends about the loved and respected voivode of Wallachia. They told me about his bravery and patriotism, about his fights against the Ottoman Empire, about Him, Vlad, the fighter for justice and freedom, turning him into one of my heroes, along with Stephan the Great, voivode of Moldavia.
    Later, when I learnt to read, I searched myself books about the great king. I spent countless days reading avidly about his adventures, holding my breath when he was fighting against the Turks, yelling of joy when he won, crying at his death, each time described differently, always painful to me. I even persuaded my friends to quit playing “Winnetou and the cowboys” or other games about our heroes in the favour of those about Vlad.
    Years passed away, I grew up, and my interests and occupations changed, but the kings heroes of my childhood remained dear. Then I heard about Dracula and the rumor that he’d be my beloved Tepes, and I was revolted. How could Vlad be a blood thirsted tyrant, a beast? I knew about the famous punishment of impaling, and I also knew that in those times one couldn’t possible have changed things with velvet gloves, I actually appreciated him for having had the courage to be tough, with the risk of being hated, but getting to say that Vlad used to drink blood and eat human flesh was a long way.

The Origins of the Name Dracula

<Limg:stuff/chrysorderdragon.jpg.gif>    The historians that study Vlad Tepes have two theories about the etymology of the name “Draculea” that Vlad used on several official papers, a name that nowadays turned into “Dracula”. The first one speaks about the Order of the Dragon, the other one, preferred by most of the philologists, states that “Draculea” has been derived from the royal family name “Dragulesti” or “Dragulii”.

    The Order of the Dragon has been created in 1408 by Sigismund of Luxemburg, king of Hungary, who later had become the head of the Holy German Empire, as military and religious organization, his objectives being protecting the interests of the Christian Church and stopping the Ottoman Empire expansion towards the centre of the Europe, action known as “the Late Crusade”. The order’s symbol was a dragon and a red cross (see image). The king Vlad II joined the Order in 1431, after a ceremony held at Nürnberg, as a sign of loyalty towards Sigismund, with whose help Vlad had got on the throne of Wallachia. This is why – the historians say – he got the name Dracul (in Latin, dragon translates as “draco” – the Latin name of the Order being Societas Draconistarum). As a consequence, his son, Vlad III Tepes has been named Draculea, meaning “the son of Dracul”.
    The other theory is based on trustful sources that state that the two factions of the Basarab royal family existing in the 15th centuries were the Danesti, descendants of Dan I, brother of Mircea the Elder, and the Dragulesti, or Dragulii, descendants of Mircea, the family of Vlad. The name of the latter would be a derivate from the adjective “drag” (dear), which turned into “drac” (devil) later, due to the German merchants from the south of Transylvania. The reasons can be phonetic, philological and historical. On one side, Germans pronounced the sound “g” as “c”, which transformed “Dragul” into “Dracul”. But as they knew the meaning of the new word in Romanian, and being enemies of Vlad because of the laws he imposed, they pretended that Romanians themselves had called their king “the Devil”. But it is less probable that the people had given such a name to the voivode they loved. For us, Vlad Tepes is model, a national hero, fighter for the Christians and defender of his country.

Early life and first reign

    Vlad III Tepes was born in 1430 or 1431, at Sighisoara, in Transylvania, his parents being Vlad II Dracul and Lady Chiajna. He had three brothers: Mircea, from a previous marriage of his father, Vlad (half-brother, later known as Vlad IV the Monk) and Radu, the youngest one, later known as Radu the Handsome.
    When Vlad II came back in Wallachia, the sultan Murad II threatened him with invasion so he would become the Turks’ vassal. Vlad had to accept and sent his two younger sons to Istanbul in 1442 as a token of his loyalty. Radu quickly accepted the Turks habits and became a favourite of the soon to be sultan Mehmed II, while Vlad developed a deep hatred against the two of them. Legends say that he pretended to want to enroll the Ottoman army, so that he can find out everything about its organization, tactics and other inside things that would later help him win over the Turks.
    At the death of Vlad II and his son Mircea in 1447, the young Vlad Tepes has been set free and informed about the situation in Wallachia. The actual king was Vladislav II, guilty of the two murders. Willing to revenge, full of hatred and pain, Vlad tries to become king and kill Vladislav, with the help of the sultan, who gave him a small Ottoman army so he can become the puppet voivode of Wallachia, at the orders of Murad. Unfortunately, Vlad is chased from the throne two months later by Vladislav. Until 1456, he lives at the court of Iancu de Hunedoara, also known as Ioan Huniade or John Hunyadi, where he meets and becomes friend of Stephan, future king of Moldavia under the name of Stephan the Great.

The only existing representation of Vlad II

Main Reign

    In 1456, Vlad finally becomes king of Wallachia. His first actions are meant to ensure his power in the country. After killing Vladislav II, Tepes decides to punish the aristocrats (more known as boyars) from the capital Targoviste, that had betrayed and murdered his father and his brother. During the Easter meal, Vlad arrested all the boyars, condemned the oldest to impaling and forced all the others to make all the way to Poenari, at 100 km away, and build a fortress. The ones that died there have been replaced, and this way Vlad created a new aristocracy and a fortress for the future emergencies.
    A legend says that Vlad has called to him all the boyars and asked every one of them how many kings of Wallachia they had seen until then. But apparently none of them had met less than seven. Vlad has got angry, saying that their complots were the cause of the weakness of Wallachia – and ordered the impalement for all the boyars. 
    Another legend, Slavonic this time, speaks about Vlad’s disapproval of beggars, stating that the king was considering them as thieves that brought no good to the country. Vlad had once called all the beggars, the poor ones, the vagabonds, all those that did not belong to a community, to a royal meal. After generously feeding them, he would have closed the doors and set them all on fire. But Vlad applied the same treatment to all those he found guilty: boyars, traitors, thieves, liars, criminals and everyone that broke the laws, without exceptions, so that the executions become examples for the people. His measures were tough indeed, but they were only adapted at the circumstances, and they brought the order in the country. They weren’t dictated by cruelty, but by justice, but the will to make things better in a country he had found in ruins, haunted by bands of thieves, shred by endless feudal wars, ripped off by the Turk mercenaries always looking for plunder. Let's try to imagine how the country should have looked like: peasants not able to have a house because of the soldiers always burning it down, not having food because the Turks and the aristocracy took almost everything, often tortured, killed or taken in slavery by the Turks, with their daughters and wifes raped and taken to become slaves in the harems. It was the anarchy. Those that got on the throne sucked off everything they could, for their fortune and for the heavy taxes for the Empire, the boyars did the same so they can be rich and pay at the same time the taxes towards the king and the turks, and so on, a vicious circle that the country could not break without tough measures.
Engraving representing the boyars building the Poenari fortress

    The historian and writer Dimitrie Bolintineanu commented: “he (Vlad) did not know to corrupt. He rejected corruption: his tyranny was honest. (...) He was too proud to corrupt people. (...) He didn’t accept lies. Denunciations, intrigues, defamations were punished with death. If one of his counsellors had made a mistake, he would have been impaled. Vlad Tepes was ferocious, but he had the ferocity of the lion. The ferocity of the lion is more dignified than the kindness of the crocodile. The crocodile is a coward.”
    Vlad had understood that a country is powerful if the commerce is flourishing. He tried to protect the Wallachia commerce against the monopole of the Transylvanian merchants, often German. His protectionist measures, together with extremely harsh actions, helped the commerce flourish, but also attracted the hatred of the above merchants.
    In the first years of his reign, Vlad knew he and his country were too weak to oppose to the Ottoman Empire. The chronics say he had paid the tribute of 10,000 gold for three years. The year 1459 represents the date when Tepes refused to pay it anymore and declared himself ready to face the sultan’s rage.
    At the beginning of 1462, Vlad lanced a campain against Turks along the Danube, obtaining several victories. In a letter to the Hungarian king, dated 11 february 1462, he announced he had burnt down a Turk territory, from Oblucita to Novo-Selo, and underlined the number of the victims: 23.883, “excepting those that burnt inside the houses”.  Mad of rage, Mehmed II decided to invade Wallachia and turn it once for all into an Ottoman territory.
Vlad's Forest - German engraving
    Having no allies and an army three times lesser than the sultan’s, Vlad had to retreat to Targoviste, burning down the fields and poisoning the fountains to cut off the Turks’ resources. and lead a guerilla war. When finally Mehmed arrived in front of the capital, he was confronted to a horrifying view: the impaled heads of 20.000 Turks looking at him with their dead eyes, a scene that remained in history under the name of “Tepes’ Forest”. Tired, hungry and with their nerves tensed to the limit, the sultan and the majority of his officers decided to retreat. Such a surprising event, that even Victor Hugo mentioned it in his “Legends of the Centuries” (“Légendes des Siècles”). On his way home, Mehmed II left Vlad’s younger brother, his favourite Radu, on the throne in Bucharest, along with some of the army, so he can continue the campaign. Radu followed Vlad during his retreat for the fortress of Poenari; fortunately, Vlad managed to escape through a secret tunnel through the mountains, then, with the help of some peasants, he reached the Arefu village, and from there he left for the Bran castle in Transylvania, seeking for help from the king of Hungary, Matei (Mathias) Corvin, successor of John Hunyadi (which, you might recall, had offered Vlad shelter and help years before).But, surprisingly, the king ordered the arresting and imprisonment of Vlad at Visegrad, not far from Pesta. The reason? Fake letters brought to the king by the boyars that disapproved Vlad’s political decisions, saying that the voivode would have made a deal with the sultan, promising help for conquering Hungary in change for the throne of Wallachia.

Back to Wallachia – the Third Reign

    Vlad has been set free from his prison around 1475. With help from Stephen the Great, king of Moldavia and from Stephan Bàthory, voivode of Transylvania, Vlad invaded Wallachia, at that time ruled by Basarab the Elder (Radu had died some years ago), another voivode placed by the Ottomans, who fled to the shelter of the Turks. After putting Vlad back on the throne, Bàthory returned to Transylvania, leaving the first without military help against the Ottomans, which soon entered Wallachia to support Basarab. The boyars were already against Vlad, and the peasants didn’t believe in him anymore either, as Vlad hadn’t helped them much during his reign, given the constant fights he leaded against everyone representing a danger for the country. This is why Vlad had to confront the Turks with an army of around 1,000 men.

Death and Tomb

    There are several theories about Vlad’s death and tomb, and historians do not have a common opinion on the subject. The majority of the proofs speak of a battle against the Ottomans, sometime between the end of 1476 and the beginning of 1477, that Tepes would have won, but he would have been betrayed by the boyars and killed. Others say that he escaped and hid in Moldavia, trying to find a new army; others, that he dies in the battle. Some of the Romanian chronicles place this last battle somewhere close to Bucharest, around Snagov; in about the same area had died Vlad’s father, decapitated, and Vlad’s brother, buried alive. The legends say that the monks from the Snagov monastery would have come on the battlefield and taken the Vlad’s decapitated body, and buried it; but there are no archaeological proofs to confirm this. Others speak about another monastery, Comana – which does not exist anymore (or at least not the church contemporary with Tepes). But some historians say that the church of Comana was too poor to be chosen for a voivode’s tomb.

Legends About Vlad – the Three Sources

    The German Stories
    The oldest manuscript of the storied written in German is now kept in the monastery of Saint Gall, in Switzerland, and it dates from the 17th century, but earlier editions of it have been written and read during Vlad’s life. The stories are very subjective, because the Germans, especially merchants, from Transylvania hated Vlad – remember the measures he took against them in order to improve Wallachia’s commerce. Copies of the said manuscript also contained engravings representing Tepes’ cruelty, exaggerating his bad sides. They pretend that once Vlad attacked the town of Brasov, and after having burnt their fields, he ordered the burning of the town’s suburbs. The next day, in the morning, he would have ordered the impaling of all men, women and youth, and he would have taken his breakfast under their bodies.
    The Slavonic Stories
     The Slavonic version appears as an answer to the rumours spread in the Western Europe about the Wallach voivode. "Skazaie o Drakule voevod", meaning “Tale about the voivode Dracula”, presents Vlad as a defender of the justice, honor, honesty, bravery, and who demands the same qualities from his people.
    Romanian Legends
    Categorically, all the Romanian tales are benevolent towards Tepes. One of them says that a Florentin merchant has been impressed by the Romanians’ honesty. When he arrived in Wallachia, he went to Vlad to ask for protection against possible thieves, which made Tepes very angry. “Thieves? In my country?!” he yelled, and ordered the merchant to leave all his goods in the center of the town, with no guards, for one night. Knowing Vlad’s fame, the trader did as ordered. The next day, he came back and told Vlad that there wasn’t anything missing, and the voivode explained him why in Wallachia no one dares stealing anymore. Another legend says Tepes had put a golden cup on the border of a fountain so everyone can drink with it, and it didn’t disappear until he lost the throne.

Vlad in Chronicles and Literature

    Born in 1423, Laonic Chalcocondil is one of the most respected historians who wrote about Mehmed II and his expedition against Wallachia in 1462, based on oral-transmitted facts. The Byzantine Ducas, contemporary with Tepes, wrote about the Wallach voivode in his “Ottoman-Byzantine History”, using both informations from the Turk officials and folklore. Critobul from Imbros mentions Vlad’s biography in his work “The Reign of Mahomed II (1451-1467)”. The majority of the Byzantine chronicles express their admiration towards the voivode’s actions, a sign that he was appreciated by the people of Balkans. The Serbian chronicles describe Vlad as a brave Christian fighter against the Ottoman expansion. Between 1498 and 1514, at Venice, it is published an edition of Marc Antonius Cocius’ universal history, that places Vlad between the greatest personality of the history. Another book based on the historical reality is “A chronicle of Romanians and other people”, by Gheorghe Sincai.
    A synthesis of the stories spread by the Germans from Transylvania is Michael Beheim’s poem “About a Tyrant Named Dracula from Wallachia” (1462). Inspired by the same stories, Fischaret mentions Vlad as a bloodthirsty beast in his “Flohhatz". Victor Hugo, inspired by Dimitrie Cantemir’s “History of the Ottoman Empire”, mentions Vlad in his “Soultan Mourad” (1743) as a Wallach boyar that refused to pay the tribute. Of course, Bram Stoker and his novel “Dracula” is the writer that has become the most famous after exploiting the character Dracula. But Stoker inspired from the German stories, which (if you remember their hatred towards Vlad) describe the voivode as a cruel tyrant. He has never been either to Transylvania, nor to Wallachia, hence he could not know anything about the real Vlad. Moreover, the one who reads carefully the novel will see that Dracula says about himself being related to Vlad Tepes, and not Vlad (approximate quote: “Who was, if not one my family, the voivode that crossed the Danube and beaten the Turks on their own territory?”). Quod erat demonstrandum.

What about Bran? Or How to Fool Naive Tourists and Get Their Money

<Limg:>    Due to Stoker, Romania is now invaded by thousands of tourists coming, ironically, for something that didn’t exist and isn’t Romanian. For us, the Bran Castle was the residence of Queen Maria. Tell this, as a guide, to a foreign tourist, and explain him the real history of Bran. The said tourist will listen for a minute, then yawn, look at his clock, yawn again, then ask “Okay, how about Dracula?”. He had heard about the bloody vampire, and he wants to see the bloody vampire! A moment where I, if I was guide, would slap him with a Dracula made in China toy until some of his brain starts working.
    On the other side, the merchants around the castle are delighted. Their little shops are full of all kind of stuff with the unlucky Vlad’s face on it. They know that once you put this face on a product, be it a t-shirt, a mug or whatnot, the tourists will buy it. The most famous vampire of the world sells everything.
    At Sighisoara, the house where Vlad was born contains now a restaurant, a couple of bars and some rooms for tourists. The people working at “Devil’s House” have learnt to sell a myth. Wearing medieval costumes, they are ready to talk about everything the visitor wants. “When tourists come and they want to see vampires, we show them vampires. We keep the costumes in our bags”, laughs the restaurant’s owner. The “mythical” creatures show up as soon as the lights go down. “Americans are the most naive”, the owner adds. “They hardly get out of the plane and they ask about Dracula. They are frightened, they look in all directions, waiting to be attacked. In the evening we turn off the lights, put on the fangs, turn on the smoke machines and whatever scares them”, he mocks. Afraid of the evil creatures, the naive tourists buy everything the merchant says it can protect them...

Hero and Tyrant, Truth and Myth

    Vlad Tepes is one of our heroes, and for good reasons. He appeared in a moment when the country needed a saviour, he raised it from the mud, he gave it justice and freedom, he made his people proud in front of his neighbours, may they be friends or foes, in only a few years. During his short reigns, he did more than others did in a lifetime and he became a significant figure in the history. The ones that suffered from his harshness invented rumours that covered his name in filth. Nowadays, Vlad Tepes is possibly better known for what he wasn’t than for what he was. But for us, Romanians, he will always remain a model and a hero. Vlad Tepes will live as long as his people.

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2007-12-23 [Merlin Mab]: Applause..and agreement

2007-12-26 [Skydancer]: This is a really excellent wiki, my admiration for your work and your detailed presentation.

2008-02-27 [Chrysilla]: Thank you :)

2008-02-28 [Hedda]: I added a link to here from Vampire.

2008-02-28 [Chrysilla]: Aww that is really a great honour! *bows ceremoniously to the Mayor*

2008-09-10 [Linn Scarlett]: This is a beautiful wiki indeed, and with so much information *hugs it* I love it! I have a question though (albeit not related to Vlad at all) how did you inline the images in the text?

2008-09-10 [Chrysilla]: I used the table tags and created columns. It seems this can be done easier by adding "r" or "l" in the img tag, like this: < limg: url > :)

2008-09-10 [Linn Scarlett]: Ah I knew there was a trick like that, I just didn't know where to put the obvious input of an L or R :3 Thanks! Compliments to the site, once more, it's really good :) It brings to mind how we have a national hero here (netherlands) who is actually a much hated rival if you look to france, spain and italy :3 as he plotted against them for our countries independance way back in the 15th ^_^

2008-09-10 [Linn Scarlett]: Hm, I'd give a lot to hunt after the historical Vlad's burial place with some of my friends (who are also archaeologists). It intrigues me that you just 'lose' someones body somehow, even though he's very important and aparently much loved. *ponders*

2008-09-11 [Chrysilla]: Well, at the time of his death, his followers were pursuited by Vlad's ennemies, so I guess the situation was difficult enough admit that they might have buried the body somewhere "for the moment", then got killed before telling someone else where it was. But you'd be welcome if you want to look for it :D

2008-09-11 [Linn Scarlett]: Don't act surprised when I might actually do so in the future XD

2008-09-11 [Linn Scarlett]: Also, I'd like to meet the historians that came with the "the church is too poor" motivation. Because that's just the biggest bollocks I've heard in a while :3

2008-09-11 [Chrysilla]: it's not *the* Church, but just the church of Cumana, because there are still little parishes or monasteries that are poor. Anyway, back in the times Tepes died, there weren' many rich monasteries, with the Turks plundering them regularly...

2008-09-11 [Linn Scarlett]: That's not what I meant. I meant to say that using the reason "he was buried there and there because it's likely/logical" is a crooked way of reasoning as you put your own perspective on earlier periods in which it might have been entirely different and 'unlikely' to you. I can see the sense of having yourself buried in a non discript church, no one will think of looking for you there (unless they are as cunning as you :p)

2008-09-18 [Linn Scarlett]: Oh which reminded me, that I wanted to make a note about the name origins. I presume you are aware that the name Dragulesti/Draculesti is infact named áfter Vlad II 'Dracul' for the near feud that existed between the Dracul and Dan (Dragulesti/Dracunest and Danesti/Denesti)desendants of the family? Seeing as Mircea the Elder was Vlad II's father. And Vlad II (along with his ligitimate and illigitimate brothers Radu II with Alexander I)had quite some trouble fighting over their sire's throne with their cousin Dan which is historically refered to as the Draculesti-Danesti feud from which the names stem.

2008-09-27 [Chrysilla]: Yes, I indeed knew that, and thanks for adding this extra info for the other readers :)

2008-10-04 [Linn Scarlett]: *bows* I fear I am in a hook here, working on an article and getting to deep into all of this (its already influencing my art... :O) I even took the trouble of looking up a copy of the excavation reports from the digging at the beginning of the previous century >.>'

2008-10-04 [Chrysilla]: For some reason I feel flattered :) Good luck with all the work :)

2008-10-05 [Linn Scarlett]: In the course of research for this article about Vlad I've noticed to my chagrin that most people -even various of my professors- don't even know there is a historical person called thus and that its not just a figment of Stoker's imagination. *nod* so I fear I am questing against ignorance now >.>'

2008-10-05 [Chrysilla]: If you need a hand, I'll gladly help. I had a problem with someone here on ET who claimed to have done serious research on him, but her article was full of errors; so we argued because she kept saying I was wrong and I had no right to say her work wasn't good. This is how this wiki was created. *sigh*

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