The Real Dracula: Vampires, Vlad III, and Bram Stoker

Vampires are a huge part of the entertainment industry.
Vampires are a huge part of the entertainment industry. | Source

Vampires

Vampires have become a fascinating part of our culture, with the blood-suckers being portrayed in movies, television shows, and books. There are even vampire-hunting societies that still exist around the world. Unlike most monsters, vampires aren’t usually hideous. In fact, they’re often seen as handsome, cultured, and elegant. Some have even been portrayed as being charming. Actually, the most famous vampire of all, Count Dracula, is based on a real person. Prince Vlad lived in Romania and ruled a section of the country known as Wallachia in the 1400s. Wallachia was adjacent to the infamous Transylvania, where Vlad was born. Even though Vlad III was a hero to his countrymen, he was a ruthless leader and a cruel captor who wound up being the source of our famous Dracula. Read on to learn more about the real Dracula and the history of vampires!

Vlad the Impaler

Vlad was born in Transylvania, in 1431, to Vlad II Dracul, who became the leader of Wallachia. “Dracul” signifies that Vlad was a member of the Order of the Dragon. At the time, the Ottomans were trying to take over Wallachia. As a child, Vlad III was sent to live with the Ottoman sultan as sort of a political hostage. Vlad II wanted to prove his allegiance to the Ottomans, so he sent his son as living proof.

Young Vlad was not treated well by the Ottomans, which most likely instilled a bitter hatred in the boy. When he finally returned home, he discovered that his father had been murdered by a group of Wallachian noblemen. He strove to take over the position his father had held, but he had to fight the noblemen and his younger brother, who was being helped by the Ottomans. After many battles, Vlad III was successful.

After Vlad’s death in 1476, he became known as “Vlad Tepes,” meaning “Vlad the Impaler.” He earned the title rightfully. Most of his victims were Ottoman soldiers, although they also included domestic enemies. After a significant battle in 1462, the count had thousands of his victims impaled, hoping the grisly sight would dissuade the Ottoman army from attacking his castle.

The Real Dracula

Impalement Victims

Historical accounts of Vlad’s means of impalement vary somewhat, but several researchers believe that Vlad wanted to inflict as much pain and suffering as possible before his victims found relief in death. The Prince wanted his victims to stay alive, so it’s believed he experimented with different pathways for the stakes to be forced into the bodies. It’s generally believed he used long poles made from pine trees that grew in abundance near his castle. Both ends of the poles would be sharpened, and one end was forced into the ground, and the other end was forced into the victim’s rectum.

If the pole wasn’t pushed through the body in just the right way, death would be quick. If it pierced a major artery, the victim would die from bleeding to death. If the wood damaged a major organ, death would come fairly quickly. If it caused the bowel to rupture, the victim would die from widespread bacterial infection.

If Vlad wanted the pole to exit via the mouth, he had more to contend with. If the pole were too big in diameter, it would cut off breathing, and the victim would quickly suffocate. As you’ll see in the following video, however, if the business end of the wooden spike were narrow enough, it could, indeed, exit the mouth and still allow the hapless victim to breathe, prolonging his agony for hours or even days.

Impalement

Why Did People Believe in Vampires?

The Middle Ages were full of superstitions, folklore, and tales of terror, and belief in vampires and werewolves were rampant. Such beliefs continued for centuries. Ironically, during the Age of Reason, vampire myths were still alive and well, and the entry “vampire” didn’t appear in English dictionaries until 1734. Why did so many believe? For one thing, the average individual was uneducated, and what scientific knowledge existed at the time was beyond their level of reasoning. Peasants, especially, lived in a scary, unsure world, where real dangers could be lurking in every shadow. It was easy to blame mysterious deaths and natural phenomena on evil entities.

Imagine how a typical peasant might react to seeing a disinterred corpse. If buried in a sealed coffin in winter, the body would probably show little decomposition, but it would be pale. Around the mouth might be red, due to purge fluid, but to the ignorant, the fluid could be construed as blood. The fingernails might appear extra long, not because they continued growing after death, but because the skin and tissues around the nails dehydrated and retracted, making the nails look like they continued to grow. The same goes for facial hair and the teeth. It’s pretty easy to understand how a normal corpse might look like a vampire to the uninformed.

The Catholic Church also played a role. In the Middle Ages and beyond, the Church was the most powerful entity in Europe. Not only was it the key to eternal life, it was also the center of learning. The population looked to priests for guidance, help, knowledge, and salvation, and the Church itself supported belief in vampires and other demons.

Another reason for such mass hysteria could very well be the result of ergot poisoning, known as ergotism. Ergot is a fungus that grows on grain, especially on rye. Centuries ago, peasants living in the countryside usually made bread from rye, while wealthier individuals usually made their bread from wheat. Consuming infected grain would cause all sorts of symptoms, including delusions and hallucinations. When numerous individuals from the same village were inflicted with ergotism, it’s easy to see how they might think they saw a vampire or some other strange entity.

Vampires are members of the "undead."
Vampires are members of the "undead." | Source

From Vlad to Dracula

Many people think Bram Stoker’s Dracula was the first written account of vampires, but it wasn’t. There had been countless tales of blood-suckers long before Stoker was born, although most of the monsters weren’t referred to as “vampires.” The term wasn’t widely used until the early 1700s. One of the hotspots for such legends was the area surrounding the Carpathian Mountains, and Stoker became friends with a fellow writer who shared his knowledge of dark folklore from the region with Stoker. That sparked an interest, and Stoker began doing extensive research on vampire tales.

The writer Stoker befriended was Armin Vambery. Born in Hungary, Vambery was an expert in the culture of Transylvania, which he no doubt shared with Stoker. He was also an expert on the Ottoman Empire, with which Vlad III had been at war. It’s fairly easy to understand how Vambery influenced Stoker, and in fact, many literary critics believe Vambery was the inspiration for Abraham van Helsing, the vampire-hunter in Dracula.

At first, Stoker didn’t intend to use the title, Dracula, for his novel. The original name for his vampire count was “Wampyr.” Stoker changed Wampyr to Dracula only after reading a historical account about Moldavia and Wallachia. When he came across the name of Vlad Dracul, he evidently liked the sound of it, and he changed the original title of his book, The Un-Dead, along with the name of the main character, to Dracula.

Stoker was an Irish author who lived during the Victorian era, when there was a huge interest in all things Gothic – a holdover from the Romantic period. Novels and stories that included creepy castles, black magic, and the supernatural were popular with the reading public, and Stoker’s novel, Dracula, soon became popular with Victorian readers, although it didn’t reach its pinnacle until years later. Published in 1897, Dracula is still popular today and has served as the basis for many movies, television shows, plays, and other novels.

Bram Stoker

Vampire History

While it’s true that Stoker used Vlad as one of his major sources for the character of Dracula, the toothy count wasn’t the first historical person associated with vampirism. That title belongs to Petar Blagojevich (sometimes Plagojevich), a peasant who lived in Kisilova, Serbia in the late 1600s and early 1700s.

Blagojevich died in 1725, but numerous villagers claimed to have been visited by him afterwards. He supposedly visited his wife, his son, and some of his former neighbors. Shortly after Blagojevich died, nine people claimed to have been attacked by the “undead” Blagojevich, and they all perished a short time later.

The village was in such terror that the inhabitants demanded the corpse be disinterred. A local official and a priest were present at the event. Everyone present was surprised at the appearance of the corpse, as it seemed to show barely any decomposition. Convinced that Blagojevich was, indeed, one of the “undead,” the body was pierced through the heart with a stake and burned.

Other corpses in Europe suffered the same fate. During the 1700s, the vampire panic reached its height. Otherwise reasonable people hunted down supposed vampires, did things to ward them off, and disinterred numerous dead bodies. The bodies were often fastened to the ground with metal or wooden stakes in order to keep the corpse from rising. In some places, the suspected corpses were beheaded, and in others, the mouth was plugged.

Stoker was an Irish author who lived during the Victorian era, when there was a huge interest in all things Gothic – a holdover from the Romantic period. Novels and stories that included creepy castles, black magic, and the supernatural were popular with the reading public, and Stoker’s novel, Dracula, soon became popular with Victorian readers, although it didn’t reach its pinnacle until years later. Published in 1897, Dracula is still popular today and has served as the basis for many movies, television shows, plays, and other novels.

History of Real Vampires

How to Avoid Vampire Attacks

If you’re worried about being attacked by vampires or even by Dracula himself, take heart. There are several things you can do to keep yourself safe. One is to hang a mirror on the outside of your main entry door. Another is to wear a cross or a rosary. Vampires can’t cross running water, either, and they hate holy water. If you carry a bag of salt around with you and are chased by a vampire, simply spill the salt on the ground. The vampire will be forced to count every granule before continuing his pursuit. And, of course, garlic is a real deterrent to vampires. Furthermore, as everyone knows, vampires must avoid sunlight. Got it? The only sure way to completely avoid vampires is to live on an island, wear a cross or rosary, be armed with plenty of holy water and salt, keep a mirror on your door, and wear a garlic necklace.

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Comments 4 comments

drbj profile image

drbj 16 months ago from south Florida

Your account, Holle, of Vlad Dracula is close to the truth. I know because Dracula himself told me in my interview with him ('Interview with Dracula').

Vlad did mention though that the poles he used for impalement of his enemies were sharp only on the end to be thrust into the ground, and more blunt on the other end to avoid a too- early death of the impalee. Ugh!


mikeydcarroll67 16 months ago

This is a very interesting subject. Many individuals of the current generation romanticize vampires, but in reality, vampires have a very dark history that may not be worth romanticizing.


ladyguitarpicker profile image

ladyguitarpicker 15 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

I found your hub to be interesting about a subject that we all like to keep us fascinated. That is the top cruelty I have ever heard. Wow what a video. Stella

Voted up, and sharing


daydreamer13 profile image

daydreamer13 15 months ago

This is interesting. You put a lot of work into this. Very cool hub!

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