In 1897, the Irishman Bram Stoker publishes in London Dracula, the work that will go down in the history of literature and that will forge the legend of the famous vampire. The story, obviously, is fictional, but its inspiration has troubled researchers for decades. Was there a character so infamous and sadistic that could be compared to a vampire? We can never know for sure, but there are indications that Stoker chose the current Romanian national hero.
More than four centuries before he was born in Sighişoara, Wallachia, Vlad Tepes, son of Vlad II Dracul. His father’s nickname refers to the Order of the Dragon, of which he was a member. Eventually his son would be nicknamed as Draculea, son of the dragon or demon, whence the “Dracula” of Stoker could have come. His biography is exciting, his parallels to the obvious vampire count.
Wallachia, border of Europe
Wallachia is a Balkan region that occupies the center of present-day Romania. In the fifteenth century it was part of a set of disputed territories between the Holy Roman Empire and the Ottoman Empire. For practical purposes it was a frontier of Christian Europe against Islam.
The intrigues and betrayals of the court were a constant in the life of Vlad, as well as alliances or clashes with the Ottoman neighbor. In his childhood he was handed over as a hostage to the Turkish court, a time when he would know the torture that characterized his government, the impalement.
The truth is that access to the throne of the principality inherited from his father was not easy. Despite Turkish support, his opponents expelled him from his teaching in the same year.
In a complicated balance of powers, it would recover the throne in 1453, five years after its expulsion, to return to lose it in 1461 and to recover it fleetingly ten years later. In that time he lived captivity at the hands of his enemies, the changing support of Moldova, Hungary and Turkey and even a change of religion for political interests.
The cruelty of Dracula
But if for something Vlad Tepes was known in his time, it was because of the punishment he applied most frequently, so much so that he would give him his nickname, Vlad the Impaler. The frequency with which he practiced this torment was such that it is estimated that, in a territory of half a million people, he even impaled eighty thousand, including the captured Turks. This undoubtedly contributed to his fame, even punishing entire peoples for an unsolved crime.
They collect the chronicles of the moment that a Sultán that was preparing to attack Wallachia, retired when seeing the wood of stakes, not arranged to face the devil himself. It was not his only deed, in the campaigns of 1461 he burned crops and poisoned many wells to defeat his Turkish rivals. After impaling many of his prisoners, he decided to send two sacks of noses and ears to the King of Hungary.
The tragic end of his wife, who committed suicide during a Turkish attack or the humiliating death of Dracula at the hands of a traitor, must have fueled Bram Stoker’s imagination. Few historical figures have such a convoluted history or proved to be so ruthless to maintain power.
Vlad, the vampire
Many researchers agree that Stoker was not the first to equate Dracula with a vampire. These creatures are common in the Slavic and Balkan tradition. They represent the quintessence of cruelty, and like their pseudonym, they relate to dragons or demons.
The lack of his grave contributed to the myth. Although he was supposedly buried in Snagov, the truth is that his body was never found. Maybe the Irish author expressed some oral tradition.
“Hated and feared. I’m dead for the whole world. Listen to me. I am the monster that living men would kill. I am Dracula.”
-Dracula, Bram Stoker-
The teaching of Dracula
As good literature does, this novel has the ability to make us reflect on reality from fiction. The description of the character and its historical counterpart fits perfectly with that of a psychopath.
Moral interpretations of the past may be useless, but Dracula’s account does not cease to be, fundamentally, a biography of human cruelty. Even from the most bitter episodes in history we can obtain fascinating teachings.