History of Dracula, and the connection between him and Transylvania

Although Vlad Dracula was one of the most famous rulers of Wallachia, many of the inhabitants of the villages surrounding his medieval castles feared he is actually a terrifying, blood-sucking creature. This fear lived on throughout the ages and managed to place him in the minds of many generations as a highly controversial character called Count Dracula.

But why the name of Dracula?

And why was Transylvania chosen as the land of these mysterious and terrifying creatures called vampires?

At that time, Romania was a country not known to many foreigners, mostly rural, with a strong belief in creatures of the night. A country that still preserved alive the memory of one of its most feared leaders, Vlad the Impaler. The name of Dracula has its origin in his father’s name, Vlad Dracul, also known as Vlad the Dragon, a name he received after becoming a member of the Order of the Dragon. Dracula is the Slavonic genitive form of the word Dracul (Dragon), and it means Son of the Dragon. In modern Romania, drac means “devil”, and this contributed to Vlad III’s infamous reputation.

Throughout his life, Vlad the Impaler was one of the fiercest enemies of the Ottoman Empire, and stories of his cruelty rapidly spread throughout Europe. Pope Pius II included several stories about Vlad III in his Commentaries, and others wrote poems and told tales of how cruel he was. In Romanian history, he is known as Vlad Țepeș, and he is called “the Impaler” because his favorite method of execution was impalement.

history of dracula vlad tepes
Portrait of Vlad the Impaler

The most famous act of Vlad the Impaler is one he performed during the Ottoman Invasion of Wallachia in 1462. Mehmed II raised an army of more than 150,000 people, which is said to be second in size only to the one that occupied Constantinople in 1453. The Ottoman army landed in Brăila, which was at the time the only Wallachian port on the Danube, and started marching towards Vlad’s castle. That is when Vlad Dracula adopted the scorched earth policy and started retreating towards Târgoviște, scorching the lands and poisoning the wells they left behind.

On the night of June 16th, Vlad Țepeș broke into the Ottoman camp and tried capturing or assassinating the sultan, in order to cause chaos and panic among the Ottoman army. However, his attack failed, because they confused the tents and assassinated two viziers instead. When Mehmed entered Târgoviște in June, the town they found was deserted, but instead, they found a forest of twenty thousand men, women, and children, all impaled, with their bodies decaying, and birds nesting in their entrails. After seeing this, Sultan Mehmed II was amazed and decided that he can not deprive of his country the man who had done such an act.

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The night attack at Târgoviște. Painting by Theodor Aman.

All these stories made Vlad one of the best-known Romanian medieval rulers, but when Bram Stoker’s Dracula was published, a connection was made for the first time between Vlad Dracula and vampirism. Thus, the famous Count who Bram Stoker initially named Count Vampyr came into existence under the name of Dracula. But contrary to popular belief, Bram Stoker had little knowledge of Vlad Țepeș, and he mentioned that his Dracula was of Székely origin and that he got his inspiration from the destructive campaigns of Attila the Hun.

As for the inspiration for Dracula’s Castle, things are not that certain. Many believe that the medieval Bran Castle played an important role, while others argue that it was actually Poenari Castle who inspired Bram Stoker. But the truth is, most people agree that the main source of inspiration for Dracula’s Castle was the New Slains Castle in Scotland. Despite this, Bran Castle was widely marketed as being the real Dracula Castle, and thus Transylvania became the home of the vampires that we all love (or fear) today.

And while vampires may not be real, one thing is for sure. Stoker’s Dracula became one of the most representative images of the rich and authentic Romanian folklore, a true ambassador of all the Carpathian vampires, a Romanian vampire with Irish roots.

 

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