Vlad the Impaler

The Origins of Dracula and Influence on Modern Day Vampires in Pop Culture

There are vampires in books, shows, and movies. They became a very popular genre in culture recently but they date back to the 1897. This is because that was when Bram Stoker wrote the novel “Dracula”. It was a story like no other. Since then there have been more novels, like “Twilight” or “The Vampire Diaries”. There is a little truth behind the story of vampires, at least in the beginning. The character of Dracula was based on the Romanian ruler, Vlad Tepes.

Self portrait of Vlad the Impaler form 1450
Credit: nbcnews

The Making of Dracula

In 1431 Vald III was born to the ruler of Wallachia, which is just south of Transylvania. They were granted the surname “Dracul” which translates to dragon. Which can be seen why Dracula was given its name.  The reason for this name was in induction into the Order of the Dragon.

Order of the Dragon

The order of the dragon acted as chivalric orders like other for the time. The need for chivalric orders was after the Holy Wars. At first they were to protect the faith, but when the Order of the Dragon was formed this had lost its meaning. King Sigismund of Luxembourg (Hungary) was the one who founded this group. At first the Dragon acted as protection, until it did not.

By the time Vlad II became a part of the Order of the Dragon, its purpose became to take down the Ottoman Empire. The reason for Vlad’s induction appears to be the location of Wallachia. Battles frequented the grounds of Wallachia. It came to be a smart move to have Wallachia a part of the Order of the Dragon to ensure the downfall of the Ottoman Empire.

Experiencing Violence

Vlad III and his brother spent many years help captive to the Ottomans after a trap against their father. The condition of Vlad II release, was to leave his two sons behind in Turkey. While under captivity Vlad learned the ways of the warriors and how to be a skilled horseman. On top of that they also learned science, philosophy and the arts. This contributes to the violence he witnessed at a young age. In 1447, Vlad II and his oldest son Mircea were dead at the hands of warlords. Only then was Vlad free from the Ottomans and his reign began not too long after.

Giving the Dracula name its Meaning

Draculas Castle where Vlad resided during his reign

Following his release from Turkey, Vlad needed to fight his way into his fathers seat. History has shown that he won this battle. Once he was in the position of power that was when he started working towards him infamous name. In 1448 a year after the murder of his eldest brother and father was when he took the throne.

The sad thing about him taking the throne was, it only lasted for a short while. I say this because who wants to be a king who rules for only a short time? His reign lasted at first, for two months and two months only. Following those two months he found himself exiled. It was not until eight years later did he find himself back on the throne. This was when he started to become the infamous “Vlad the Impaler”.

A Vampires Reign

Eight years after being exiled, Vlad used that time to plot how he would find his way back to the throne. Once he was back on the throne, where he stayed for the next six years, the blood began to spill. Since being back on the throne, Vlad wanted to make sure he that he would be staying there. To ensure this Vlad made all the people who were a threat to his power. He targeted nobles and anyone with the power to remove him. Not only did he use force, but also he reduced the economic role of the nobles.

Vlad Eating dinner among the Impaled
Credit: Vamped
Artist: Ambrosius Huber of Nuremberg

Due to his time held captive of the Ottomans, it is evident that this fueled Vlad’s anger against them for later in life. He was witness to the fighting on the Ottomans side growing up, and this led to his hatred which was shown during the battles he faced under his reign.

Violent Tactics

Vlad was a very violent person. In combat this is where it was evident. During his reign there were many battles that he found himself a part of. He got creative with the way he would take enemies out. But in honor of his name it is safe to assume his favorite method of killing his enemies was by impaling them.

Impaling was one of the many ways he would attack his enemies. He had also taken part in decapitation, disembowelment and even skinning people alive. Overall the violence became the depiction of him throughout history, in art as included, and even through legends.

On the other hand how many people he had actually killed is unknown. I’ve found many articles stating numbers as high as 100,000 and as low as 20,000. So while it is evidently a lot, there has been some exaggerating. It is believed that this is was due to the stories from Germany.

Germany setting the ground for the Dracula

There are many stories in which the violence conducted by Vlad which the Germans wrote. There have been stories passed down orally through Romanian history. Some of which line up and that helps with their validity. In other aspects, like how many people fell to his hand. Germany and Wallachia were at war with each other during this time. So it made sense the production of these stories were an over exaggeration of the violent acts Vlad had committed.

Prince Dracula

A title page cover of "Prince Dracula".
Credit: ancient origins

In 1488, the short story “Prince Dracula“, printed in Nuremberg there is depictions of what Vlad had done to the people he faced. It is a very short story that I have linked, but the translation does not censor any of the brutal details. There are towns that he had burned. The story gets into specifics, that there were 400 young boys that Vlad Dracula had killed.

Men, women, children and elders all fell victim to Prince Dracula. As the story progresses it gets more and more gruesome and shocking. This could very easily just be a story, but history has shown that Vlad was not a person to mess with. It was made to seem that anyone that challenged the prince faced impalement. Throughout the novel the number climb and climb over small things.

In this German literature it appears that the prince had a thirst for blood. Figuratively speaking of course. In my research I have not found any written documents stating he had drank blood. But in this story is does appear he cooked children and fed them to their mothers.

Vampires and Vlad

It is very hard to ignore the parallels between the depiction of a vampire and the story of Vlad Tepes. If one was to read the short story of “Prince Dracula”, it borderlines a scary story. It appeared to the writer that Vlad had a insatiable crave to harm others and spill an excessive amount of blood. Whether or not it was hundreds of people at a time as seen in the story, or less there was undoubtedly blood shed.

This thirst for blood, is similar to the thirst shown in modern times for vampires, could be the inspiration behind the character of Dracula. Though there are differences between Vlad and Vampires today. The coincidences are unavoidable and easily noticed.  Without having read Dracula, who is the count?

Vampires through time

Count Dracula

It wasn’t until 1897 “Dracula” was published and would become the first and most famous vampire for the time. Now maybe Damon Salvatore, for all the ones who watched “The Vampire Diaries” which I’ll talk more about in a bit. Bram Stoker is the author of the novel and sets it to take place in none other than Transylvania. Which is where Vlad Tepes resided. Not only that but the rough translation of “Dracul” is the word, devil. Which Dracula is a devilish character. In he novel, the Count has a thirst for blood which can be uncontrollable. Similar to Tepes’s violent tendencies in war.

Photo of Bram Stoker Author of Dracula
Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Bram Stoker

There was much research that went into making the novel. Stoker put a lot of thought and spent a lot of time adding specific details into the novel. In Stoker’s eyes the work he created was anything but fiction. He viewed “Dracula” as a warning of the evil in the world. Which there was.

There was multiple evidences of evil within the world. In 1888, Jack the Ripper was a serial killer terrorizing London with brutal crimes. The time span from 1888 to about 1891. Though this is just suspected considering no one was every charged with the murders and the case remains open to this day. Due to the uncertainty of the time with the ripper, this caused many edits to the original “Dracula” manuscript. To limit the amount of panic the original story would have given the public, the first 100 or so pages did not make publication. But these pieces are buried around and some were found.

First Dracula Movie

Nosferatu: The First Dracula adaptation
Credit: Flickr

In 1931 held the first on screen Dracula, which held the same title as the book. Though in 1922 the first vampire movie came out. Titled “Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror”, the first movie to ever show Stoker’s vision. The story remained an adaptation where names and slight details changed of the story.

There was still an thirst for blood unmatched, similar to Vlad’s but the appearance of Vampires has changed greatly since then. Vampires then had very pale complexion, fangs that stood out overall vampires appeared to stick out. And while in the movies people were fearful of the creatures, it was a secret. Even though it was very obvious that Dracula and Nosferatu were not human. There is also the idea of the sunlight. In the original sunlight only weakened or got rid of the powers vampires possess. In some recreations or new stories of Vampires this is not the case. 

Twilight and The Vampire Diaries books/movies

To jump ahead a century or two it is time to look at vampires as teenagers and young adults see them today. There was period of time where werewolves and vampires were popular in books and movies. They still are popular today but there was a time when “Twilight”, “The Vampire Diaries” and other books were bring made on the screen.

Edward Cullen in the movie "Twilight"

Many changes were made from when the original Dracula

Damon Salvatore from The Vampire Diaries
Credit: Quora

came out and even the myth of vampires is different. “Twilight” also became a scapegoat in other works to make fun of their description of the transformation process. In “Twilight” vampires glow in the sun, and everyone has their own special power. “The Vampire Diaries” make fun of the glowing skin, since being caught in the sun burns them to death. This shows the different adaptations and evolvement of “vampires”.

During this surge of popularity among the supernatural genre, the appearance of vampires also shifted greatly from “Nosferatu”. Between 2006-2008 people were either team Edward or Jacob (I was team Edward). As you can see, Edward has pale complexion, but is attractive. Damon Salvatore is also an attractive vampire. Today this is normal. Vampire characters are alluring and sexy, this creates popularity among viewers to get people to watch or read the story.

The difference in turning humans into vampires

In “Dracula” the process of turning was simple. By a bite from a Dracula it appears they could become a vampire. Stoker does not go into much detail of the transformation process. “Twilight” seems to have a similar process to “Dracula”. When Bella is pregnant with Edwards child, the child ends up injuring Bella and she needs to give birth quickly. This brings her to the verge of death in which Edward bites her in multiple places to ensure she gets injected with the Vampire Venom. Her transformation takes three days until she is officially a newborn vampire.

“The Vampire Diaries” has the most complex process when it comes to transforming. First is that a vampires blood can heal any injury. So a person who has vampire blood in their system, needs to die. That is the first step. Once they have died, they are officially transitioning, but what is different here is that they have a choice in the matter. The person has 24 hours where they need  to consume human blood to become a vampire or they will die.

Evolution of Dracula

Prior to this I had no idea that Dracula was based on a ruler in Transylvania or how much vampirism has evolved through time. The blood thirst experienced by Vlad the Impaler is connected to the uncontrollable blood thirst found in “Dracula”. Bram Stoker created a novel which became the foundation of a supernatural being. While “Dracula” was the first of it’s novel, it certainly won’t be the last, but now I’m feel the need to go read it.

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