“Though many Westerners are baffled that a man whose political and military career was as steeped in blood as was that of Vlad Dracula. The fact remains that for many Romanians he is an icon of heroism…It is this duality that is part of his appeal.”
Elizabeth Miller, Journal of the Dark magazine
Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula is perhaps one of the most well-known references to Romanian culture. The eponymous character, Count Dracula is said to be based on Vlad the Impaler (or Vlad III) the 15th century Romanian General in Transylvania. Vlad the Impaler fought for Romania north and south of the Danube. Wallachia, the province he governed (Vlad was also known as the Prince of Wallachia), was located on the Danube River Plain, dividing the Ottoman Empire and Romania. The Danube was often therefore the location of numerous battles.
Vlad III was a member of the secretive and fraternal knighthood, House of Drăculești. His father, Vlad II Dracul was a member of the Order of the Dragon which was founded to protect Christianity from the Ottoman Turk invasion in Eastern Europe. Dracul meant “Dragon”, and Dracula meant “Son of the Dragon” and was thus the name adapted to the horror novel.
His rule saw the Ottoman’s conquest of the Balkans. As a result, his nickname as “the Impaler” was a name given to him by Turks and Christians alike due to his bloody and cruel murders where he impaled his enemies in both battle and outside. He was said not to show any kindness or trust to anyone and killed thousands he deemed a ‘traitor’ by impaling them on a forest of spikes around his castle. His reason? To defend Romania and the Roman Catholic Church, as well as sending a warning to all those who threatened to doubt him. Whilst not a vampire as such, the Christian crusader is an important part of European history for his role in driving the Muslim Ottoman Turks out of Translyvania. Stoker could have in fact used irony in associating a religious crusader with a Gothic horror figure.
Whilst the exact link between Vlad III and the fictional Dracula cannot be proven, Stoker apparently replaced the original name for the novel’s villain, Count Wampyr, with Dracula after reading about Romanian history. Stoker never actually visited Romania, doing all his research on his nosferatu (“undead vampire”) at the London Library. Vlad the Impaler’s outrageous displays of cruelty shook the Western World, even in defending it against the Muslim Empire.
Nevertheless, despite his atrocities and vicious punishments, many Romanians consider Vlad the Impaler a folk hero. He heroically died in warfare and even fought his brother who reportedly betrayed him – he is seen as a martyr and as a result has several statues scattered around Romania. His legacy has been diffused thanks to the iconic Gothic novel which continues to spread the mythical horror tale beyond the Romanian border.