In December 1476, two monks from the monastery of Snagov, about forty kilometers north of Bucharest, stumbled upon a bloody, mangled, headless corpse. Recognizing the clothing, the monks secretly interred the body in the monastery’s crypt. The head, meanwhile, made its way to Constantinople where it was put on display. The body belonged to the newly returned prince, Vlad, who was at the time known by the moniker, ?epe?—the Impaler, but history knows him by a different name—Dracula.
The name Dracula, meaning “Son of the Dragon,” conjures tales of the supernatural in the mysterious and exotic land of Transylvania. In Bram Stoker’s famous work, Dracula, the title character appears as a mysterious Transylvanian aristocrat harboring a dark secret: he was in fact a centuries-old vampire seeking to bring terror to the world. When we picture this Dracula, we see him through the actors who portrayed him on television and film, and as the countless children and adults who dress up in costumes on Halloween. But Count Dracula was based on a historic figure—a 15th century Romanian who waged a ruthless war against the ever-expanding Ottoman Turks, led by Sultan Mehmed II, known to history as Mehmed the Conqueror. Prince Vlad III of Wallachia was a Machiavellian ruler who used any means necessary to maintain his throne and destroy his enemies.
He impaled dissident boyars (nobles) and made almost every crime punishable by death, but he also encouraged economic growth in Wallachia, centralized power, and resisted the Turks when other Christian kingdoms were fighting amongst themselves. Dracula became a legend in his own time, one who toed the line between heroic patriot and bloodthirsty tyrant.
This episode was written by Michael Gabbe-Gross
Michael received his Masters Degree in History from the California State University, Sacramento. His thesis project analyzed the Phoenix Program, a CIA counterinsurgency operation during the Vietnam War.