Halloween, Vampires, and Dracula

It’s nearly Halloween again, when witches, vampires, ghosts and the undead walk the earth for their one night of the year. Let’s hope that one of the most famous characters, Dracula, is not out this weekend…

But who was Dracula, and how did he get to be so famous?

Well, Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler, is one of history’s most murderous figures — and the inspiration for Count Dracula.

He was a Romanian Prince, famous for his barbarity and ruthlessness.

His most favourite method of murder was impalement, during which victims were lowered on to sharpened stakes that went in through the anus and out again in the armpit area, suffering an agonising death as their weight pulled them down. Ugh – not the ideal way to spend your final hours!

So how did this crazy killer start his life and end up as such a vicious impaler?

Vlad was born in Sighisoara in late 1431. His father, also Vlad, was military governor of Transylvania and belonged to the Order of the Dragon, a band of knights whose duties included crusading against Turks. This is a bit like modern Saturday nights in some towns; a few beers followed by a kebab and off for a ’Crusade’ (although the targets of these rampages appear to be mostly random nowadays).

Vlad senior was awarded the surname Dracul because it means Devil in Romanian. Dracula is a short form, nickname, what a nickname that turned out to be!!

At the tender age of 11 the young Vlad was seized by Turks as a hostage and spent six years in captivity in Turkey, during which time he grew into a monster without compassion as well as learning how to impale people. While he was away in captivity his father was overthrown and murdered, along with his older brother. At 25, Vlad killed his father’s murderer Vladislav II and seized power. Thus began a reign of terror.

Vlad took revenge on those who helped topple his father by impaling the older ones and forcing the younger ones to march 50 miles to another town. Once there they were made to build him a fortress — and many died in the process (a method used again by Ceaucescu as many people died building his grandiose projects including the Transfagarsan Pass). Vlad was now a law and order fanatic, like the modern day Gadaffi, favourite method again, impaling, petty criminals were impaled, merchants who flouted trade laws, were impaled, impaling was a popular sport as we can see!!

One can imagine at times it was like a Monty Python sketch with lots of different people being dragged in front of the Right Honorable Judge ‘Vlad the Impaler’ for the justice of the day.

“Crime?”

“Stealing an apple, your honour.”

“Impale him, next.”

“This one is behind with his taxes.”

“Impale the wretch. What’s the next one done?”

“Next one, erm, not sure your honour, we found him hanging around outside.”

“Impale, next”

Pretty much anybody Vlad disliked was impaled. He considered all poor people to be thieves and scroungers so much so that he once invited a crowd of them to a feast at his court in Tirgoviste. When they had finished he had the hall locked and burned to the ground with them inside, saying they were scroungers.

At one point he is said to have rounded up peasants and driven them off a cliff, beneath which he had placed row upon row of sharpened stakes. This was more impaling, a different style of impaling, but impaling none the less.

On another occasion in 1459, two Ottoman ambassadors came to his court. When asked to remove their turbans, they refused on religious grounds so Vlad asked his guards to nail them to their heads. This may not have passed as good diplomacy in those days (or today) but it certainly made a point.

Vlad had a particular dislike for the Germans, one that they shared, and many of his worst atrocities were depicted in German publications printed on the newly invented press. This was effectively behind his route to fame – the fifteenth century version of mass media!!

One illustration shows what was arguably Vlad’s most appalling act of savagery, which came in 1462 as his heavily-outnumbered army fled through Romania from Turkish invaders. Along the way Vlad torched his own villages and poisoned wells so the chasing Turks had nothing to eat or drink. At Tirgoviste, he impaled 20,000 Turkish prisoners and ate as he watched them die, this made the local press…The Turkish soldiers who found the “Forest of the Impaled” were so distraught that they unsurprisingly gave up the chase and went home. Whilst this might have been a bit distasteful to the Germans, the Romanian population in the area was probably a lot more enthusiastic about the retreat of the invading Turks.

Vlad Tepes was assassinated in 1476 — but just over 400 years later his bloodthirsty deeds provided the inspiration for Dracula, a fictional character literally was more bloodthirsty then the original character. Count Dracula first appeared in the 1897 novel Dracula by Irish writer Bram Stoker and caused quite a stir in Victorian society. With the development of cinema, the Dracula legend continued to grow and he has now made more than 160 movie appearances and looks set to continue. Vampire themed movies such as the Twilight series continue to fill the Hollywood coffers and many books are also written around the theme of vampirism (Anne Rice, anyone?).

All joking aside, this man was a horror, and if you ever have the luck to visit the Carpathian mountains in the heart of Transylvania, you can feel that time has not changed too much in parts of these mountain areas, but fortunately, impaling is not in fashion any more (but carry your stake and garlic for vampires should you stumble across any…).