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Count Dracula: myth, fiction and historical reality

Updated on April 11, 2011

Where did Bram Stoker get the inspiration for his 1897 novel Dracula? The answer is a blend of myth, fiction and historical reality....

Vampire Myths

The earliest recorded stories of blood-sucking demons have come to us from Egypt and Ancient Greece. Hectate, was a Greek goddess associated with dark magic and witchcraft, and also - for some reason - crossroads. Hecate was also believed to consume human blood.

An Irish legend which may have inspired early vampire writers in Ireland (Sheridan Le Fanu and Bram Stoker himself) was that of Abhartach. The story dates from early Christian times and relates how a local chief engaged in magic to return from the grave until he was run through with a wooded sword and buried upside down beside a thorn tree. He also demanded a human blood sacrifice from his subjects. More on that legend here.

However, the vampire myths which seem to have most influenced Bram Stoker are those of Eastern Europe where there was something of a vampire 'craze' in the 1600s. Stoker is known to have spent some years researching European vampire myths before he sat down to write his masterpiece 'Dracula'.

From the 16th to the 18th centuries, belief in vampires seems to have been especially prevalent in areas of Eastern Europe such as Serbia, Russia and Romania - home to Transylvania which Stoker immortalized as 'vampire country'. The word 'vampyr' seems to have arrived in the English language from Serbian via German, and is similar to the Serbo-Croat word for witch.

Folklore in the region said that vampires were corpses who rose from the dead and terrorized their living neighbors. It was eastern European folklore that gave us the idea that garlic is a protection against vampires (Stoker used this idea in Dracula), and the traditions of how to kill a vampire such as beheading and nailing a wooden stake through the heart.

Belief in vampires was so fervent at this time that corpses were sometimes ordered to be dug up so that they could have a stake put through their heart and / or their head cut off. Garlic was often shoved up the nose of a corpse before burial to prevent them returning as a vampire. When the corpses were dug up it was noted that some had rosy cheeks and blood red lips - this may have given rise to the belief that these 'undead' were drinking the blood of the living.


Translyvania, Romania:

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Illustration from the first publication of Carmilla.
Illustration from the first publication of Carmilla.

First Vampires in Gothic fiction

While vampire myths had existed for some considerable time, the first vampire stories were only written and published in the 19th century as part of the growing popularity of Gothic horror fiction.

While there had been vampires alluded to in 18th century poetry, it Dr. John Polidori who created the first literary vampire - Lord Ruthven who starred in his story Vampyre first published in 1817. Polidori was part of a group of English literary friends, including Lord Byron and Mary Shelley This group was very influenced by a collection of dark ghost stories called Fantasmagoriana which in turn was inspired by German gothic stories. Mary Shelley went on to write Frankenstein, Polidori wrote a short story called Vampyre .

Vampyre in turn inspired a play called 'Le Vampire' which had enormous success across Europe, sparking something of a 'vampire craze' - not unlike the impact of Twilight and True Blood today!

It is highly likely that Stoker had read Polidoris story, not least because Stoker's portrayal of Dracula as a charming aristocrat has such close parallels with Polidori's Lord Ruthven.

Meanwhile, an Irish writer went on to write the second Vampire novel in English; Sheridan Le Fanu wrote a story about a female lesbain vampire called Carmilla . Le Fanu was one of the premier ghost story writers of the Victorian age and did much to shape the genre of gothic fiction. He had a significant influence on other writers, not least his fellow Irishman Bram Stoker. In fact Stoker came to work for Le Fanu when he was appointed theatre critic for the Dublin Evening Mail.

Carmilla did much to link the idea of vampires with boundary-crossing sexuality in the popular mind. The rise of gothic fiction at the time suggests the need for a psychological outlet for their darker side among otherwise straight-laced Victorians.

Vlad Tepes (the Impaler) gave his nickname to Stoker's vampire: Dracula.
Vlad Tepes (the Impaler) gave his nickname to Stoker's vampire: Dracula.
The Historian
The Historian
This novel is based on an historical search for the medieval Dracula, meanwhile a dark figure who is shadowing the narrator with terrifying consequences.

Was Dracula a real person?

Actually, yes he was! But there is no record that he was a vampire. It is known that Bram Stoker made notes from a book called An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia: with various Political Observations Relating to Them . This book included the story of Vlad the Impaler of Romania.

It was likely Stoker was inspired to name his vampire when he discovered during his research that there was once a Romanian prince who was surnamed ' Dracula'. This name may have passed to Vlad the Impaler from his father Vlad Dracul who was a member of the Order of the Dragon (Societas Draconistrarum in Latin). Or it may have accrued from the Romanian meaning of 'Dracula' meaning 'son of the devil'.

Vlad the Impaler (son of Vlad Dracul) was a real historical figure famed for his cruelty - his practice of impaling his enemies on wooden stakes to die a slow death - and also his military prowess with which he defeated the Ottoman Turks. Vlad the Impaler ruled his subjects with an iron fist and is remembered as both a fearful overlord and a national hero who defended against Turkish invasion.

The idea of the historical Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Tepes in Romanian) as a real vampire is expertly explored in the novel ' The Historian' by Elizabeth Kostova. However, the real history books have no record as Vlad the Impaler as a vampire - the association is entirely down to Bram Stoker choosing the name 'Dracula' for his vampiric villan.

You can read more about the real Dracula, including the real Dracula's castle in the title of this article: Vlad Dracula - the real Dracula

Possible influences on the creation of Count Dracula

Characteristic of Count Dracula
Similar to .....
Debonair Aristocrat
Lord Ruthven in Potori's story Vampyre
Greek goddess Hecate, Abhartach Irish legend, East European mythI
Undead - extremely hard to kill
Abhartach Irish legend, East European myth
Sexually alluring, breaks boundaries
Carmilla the lesbian vampire portrayed by Sheridan Le Fanu
Landowner in Transylvania
Vlad Tepes (the Impaler)
Fear of Garlic, holy symbols
East European myth
Blood-red lips
East European myth
Vlad Tepes, Abhartach, East European myth
Name of Dracula
Vlad Tepes

More info on the real Dracula


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    • Vlad Real History profile image

      Aurel Dan 

      6 years ago from Bucharest, Romania

      In the spite of the he was the subject for many writers, film directors, journalists, etc, there are rarely thorough references to Vlad Dracula's real life as it really happened! Worse, they are often distorted! For this reason, many people in the world have limited or wrong information about the real Vlad Dracula Impaler.

    • profile image

      Night Killer 

      8 years ago

      I agreed with all of you..good job I like your hubs and I am proud that my country is known by other people because of this story

      anyone who have questions about Romania add

    • svoter profile image


      9 years ago from Worcester, MA

      Very well written and researched hub. What is interesting is how the vampire has evolved from the metaphor for evil to the current fashion of the vampire as the misunderstood Other. Not sure if i agree with this transformation, a vampire is a vampire no matter what the vampire appears to be, and that ability to adapt makes the vampire intriguing yet still dangerous

    • Marie McKeown profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie McKeown 

      9 years ago from Ireland

      Thanks Luis - glad you have enjoyed my Dracula hubs! I think it pays in the long run to do a bit of research and include lots of details in a hub. Even if it takes twice as long to write, hopefully it will get more traffic in future.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile image

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      9 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Again a very informative hub, it seems that you pay close attention when researching your work.

      Thanks for sharing.

    • Marie McKeown profile imageAUTHOR

      Marie McKeown 

      9 years ago from Ireland

      Lady Tenaz, it was very interest what you are saying about Vlad Tepes - I came across the different views about him during my research. Apart from Stoker stealing his name for a vampire, it seems that leaders in western Europe painted a very black picture of him because they felt guilty for not helping him battle against the Turks. In eastern Europe as you say, he is more seen as a hero. Unfortunately now he will mostly be remembered as a vampire which isn't even true! That's the power of a story ...

    • yankeeintexas profile image


      9 years ago from Lubbock, Texas

      I have never really enjoyed vampire books, and movies. But, I do enjoy learning about vampire folklore, and legends. I found your hub very interesting!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Very nice! In Romania the term vampire is strigoi and means more than just blood sucker, they are actually shapeshifters too. I think that it is sad that Vlad Tepes got such a bad rap because of Bram Stoker's book using his name as a means to base the character around. Vlad Tepes had to do what he had to do to enforce order in that time period which was certainly the "dark ages". It was said that he kept order in his land and there was no stealing, adultery or any other illegal acts done. Even the gold cup that sat in the town square was left untouched for the people to drink freely out of the town well. No one ever dared to steal the gold cup. Why? Because they feared him. Yes, it sounds awful but there in Romania and Transylvania he is known as a martyr and not a bad person.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      9 years ago from San Francisco

      Wow, I've learned so much from this Hub! Very cool! Love the table, video, and images too- everything comes together very nicely. Hehee, ah vampires. Gotta love 'em.

    • vissitor profile image


      9 years ago from Sonoma Valley, California

      Wonderfully informative piece. Thank you.


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