In this modern day, everyone is familiar with Bram Stoker’s tales and the numerous movies and books of the fictional vampire, Dracula. Bram Stoker was part inspired after reading about the Romanian fifteenth century three times ruler of Walachia, Vlad III Tepes, who inherited the nickname Dracula (which he himself used) from his father. Dracul means dragon and refers to his father’s membership of the Order of the Dragon. Dracula means Son of the Dragon. There are so many accounts about Vlad’s behaviour towards enemies and traitors, but what is the truth about the real Dracula? Was he a hero or tyrant?
Vlad was the second son of Vlad Dracul, who became the ruler of Walachia in 1436. As a young boy, in 1442, Vlad and his younger brother, Radu, were held as hostages by the Ottoman Empire and used to control their father’s loyalty. Vlad’s father and eldest brother were both murdered after a Hungarian invasion lead by John Hunyadi in 1447. Hunyadi replaced Vlad’s father with his second cousin, Vladislav II. Vladislav went to wage war with the Hunyadi against the Ottomans. Meanwhile, Vlad returned to Walachia to claim his rulership in 1448, with assistance from the Ottomans. His reign was short lived, however, and when Vladislav returned, Vlad sought refuge with the Ottomans.
Vlad later travelled to Moldavia and then to Hungary. When relationships between Vladislav and Hungary broke down, Vlad invaded Walachia with Hungarian support and killed Vladislav, who he considered a traitor to Walachia. He then began a purge of Walachia’s nobility, taking bloody vengeance on those who had betrayed his father’s legacy and Vlad’s removal as ruler. These included the Transylvanian Saxons, who supported Vladislav. Vlad attacked and plundered the Saxon villages, taking them to Walachia, where he had them publicly impaled as a message to his enemies. Peace was restored to Walachia in 1460 and many saw Vlad as a national hero.
When the Ottoman Sultan sent envoys demanding tribute, Vlad did not forget the way he was held hostage as a child and used as leverage against his father. He had them impaled and in February 1462, Vlad attacked Ottoman territory, massacring tens of thousands of Turks and Bulgarians. Sultan Mehmed II campaigned to replace Vlad with his younger brother, Radu. As more and more Walachians deserted Vlad to support his brother, Vlad sought assistance from Hungary, but was imprisoned from 1463 to 1475. He was eventually released at the request of Stephen III of Moldavia, he again fought against the Ottomans, reclaiming his rulership in December 1476, but lost his life in battle just one month later, in January 1477.
Although Saxons probably exaggerated accounts about Vlad III Tepes, Slavic accounts show that his cruelty was necessary to strengthen the central government in Walachia. For instance, no one dared to steal a golden cup at a fountain because Vlad violently hated stealing, so anybody who caused any evil or robbery did not live long. This promoted public order and the Slavic accounts also emphasize Vlad’s skills as a diplomat. So, was Vlad a hero or a tyrant? In many ways he was both.