Vlad the Impaler
Author Bram Stoker, while in the throes of outlining what would become his famous horror story about an insidious Transylvanian count, planned to call his villain (and the novel) Wampyr. It doesn't take too long to figure out that wampyr is a Balkanesque word for vampire. But, as mentioned earlier in this report, Stoker stumbled onto the legends of Prince Dracula, and a name that has been unspoken in most parts of the world for centuries was resurrected to human consciousness - in a landmark way.
If anything about the true-life Dracula stirred Stoker's blood, and chilled it at the same time, it was no doubt the stories he read of the man's cruelty toward his fellow Romamians. Even if the Gothic writer had not been searching for a particular prototype, how could he resist fashioning his nosferatu after he whom history books called the Impaler? Stoker couldn't use a lightweight to serve as his model of evil, and Dracula, in no way a lightweight, must have stretched Stoker's already illimitable senses.
He changed the name of his character and his novel to...Dracula.
Prince Dracula's "reign of terror," as even contemporary texts called it, lasted from 1456 to 1462. No one was safe from the voivode's deadly decrees. By today's standards, he would be called a mass murderer. Most of his killings were politically targeted -- against domestic and foreign enemies - but sometimes he killed merely because he was bored. He hanged his victims, stretched them on the rack, burned them at the stake, boiled them alive, but mostly impaled them.
Estimated numbers of victims vary between 30,000 and more than 100,000. These figures are largely based on translations of Romanian, Hungarian, German and Russian manuscripts written within a century after Dracula's death. Records from his native Romania, which has tended to overlook his atrocities and uplift his military victories, give the lowest figures. Because Dracula hated the Saxon-German entrepreneurs whom he considered interlopers in his country's business affairs, and therefore provided fresh meat for the impaling stick, German sums are the highest.
The total of 100,000 is probably the most accurate, however. The majority of transcripts agree that at one sitting Dracula was capable of impaling an entire village or eradicating an entire brigade of Turkish Muslims.
Impalement wasn't a Dracula creation; if you remember, he learned about it while a boy in Adrianople. The French employed it before the guillotine. Spaniards and Hungarians used it. But, according to Ray Porter's account, "The Historical Dracula," impalement became an art form in Dracula's hands. "Dracula usually had a horse attached to each of the victim's legs and a sharpened stake was gradually forced into the body," he explains. "The end of the stake was usually oiled and care was taken that the stake was not too sharp; else the victim might die too rapidly from shock."
Studying the chronology of Dracula's crimes makes it easy to understand why his reign, though horrific, managed to go unchallenged by his own people or by other governments for six long years. For one thing, because he slew so many Turks in recognized time of conflict he was able to sustain the crusader image; foreign dignitaries who heard of the vast impaling applauded him for saving Romania. The domestics, who knew better, who knew that they too were objects of his mania, remained silent by intimidation.
Following are a few examples, anecdote-style, of Dracula's barbarism:
St. Bartholomew's Day
During an outdoor festival of St. Bartholomew at Sibiu, Dracula had 20,000 citizens arrested and spiked in one afternoon. Claiming that they were either treacherous bourgeoisie, or supporters of that element, he had them - men, women and infants - impaled on the outskirts of a neighboring forest. As was his custom, he had his servants draw up a solitary dining table of fine food and wine so that he might enjoy his lunch by watching the tortures at close range. He occasionally had a servant dip his bread in the blood of the dying souls so that he could savor the taste of life. (Is it a wonder that Stoker was inspired?)
It was at this function that he espied one of his knights holding his nose at the repugnant smell of death permeating the air. When he asked the soldier if he was making fun of the situation, the fellow stammered, "No, my lord, my stomach churns, but -" and he quickly added, "I am not of the stout heart that my prince be."
"But, why would I want in my service a man who cannot look at death without regurgitating? Death is a soldier's livelihood!" And with that, he called to his bodyguards to impale the feeble fellow. "Let him join these others, but because he had been loyal until today, hoist him higher than the rest that he does not have to smell his company!"
A Night With The Paupers
A perfect example of the dichotomy that was Dracula is woven into an old Nuremburg legend. It tells us of his sympathy for the downtrodden of his land - the poor, the invalid, the cripple, the infirm. But, this "sympathy" extended to a morbid result. One evening, he invited hundreds of paupers to his dining hall at his castle, treating them to something they had not had in years: a filling meal. After the desserts were served, Dracula and his staff slowly meandered out, leaving only the ragged guests alone in the hall of stone. This is when Dracula's skilled archers shot arrows of fire through the hall's tall windows from outside, igniting the treated tapestries, curtains, carpets and dinner linens into a blaze that erupted into an inferno. While the peasants banged helplessly against the bolted doors for egress, Dracula in a room beyond replied, "The poor unloved creatures, it is best that they leave this world now, on a full stomach."
Is Honesty the Best Policy?
In an episode that reminds us of Pilate's utterance, "What is truth?" as he simultaneously ordered the crucifixion of Christ, Dracula asked two visiting monks what they thought of his hard discipline - then killed the one who answered honestly.
After leading them through the rows and rows of recently impaled citizens one morning, he demanded that, as holy men, they appraise his bloody justice. One monk, no doubt in fear, answered, "You are the prince of all Wallachia! Who am I to question your decisions?" The other, unable to control his feelings, blurted condemnation: "What have these unfortunates done to deserve such fate? There is no excuse for mortal man playing God!" One can guess what friar went home alive that morning.
Another report of Draculean justice, with a different twist, is the story of the traveling merchant whose moneybox had been broken into while passing through Tirgoviste. Dracula heard of the man's loss and summoned him to his palace. "My city is the most crime-free of any in Europe, and incidences such as the robbery on your wagon are not tolerated," said Dracula. "The perpetrator will be apprehended."
As proof of the capital city's forthrightness, its prince ordered the merchant to leave his cart outside his hotel that night, exposed and unlocked. "No more florins will be missing," he promised. "In fact, when you awake in the morning, the stolen money will have been restored to your trove."
As promised, when the journeyer checked into his chest at sunrise, all the florins were replaced. In fact, there was one coin extra. Rushing to the court, the jubilant fellow expressed his thanks to Dracula: "Not only was my account replenished," he rejoiced, "but your guards added an extra florin, which I now return to you."
Dracula smiled, told the man to keep the florin, and added, "You are an upright being. Had you not confessed to the surplus, you would now be joining the thief whose body dangles on a spike in my patio."
As a sidenote, Dracula was not incorrect in assuming that his capital, Tirgoviste, really was an honest city. His reign of terror had so frightened miscreants that it was virtually the safest metropolis on the continent. A website called Castle of Spirits explains, "(Dracula) was so confident that no thief would dare challenge him (that) he placed a golden cup on display in the central square...The cup was never stolen and remained where it was, untouched, throughout (his) reign."
The "Lazy" Wife
Dracula viewed women as, in a word, inferiors. They brought pleasure in the bedroom and they were good for the menial work in life that men shouldn't handle.
Once, when traveling with his entourage through the countryside, Dracula spotted a planter wearing a caftan (apron) shorter than the traditional one worn during harvest. When he asked why his garment seemed incomplete, the man told the prince that his wife couldn't finish making it as she was of ailing health and was forced from her spinning wheel to her bed.
"Excuses!" Dracula barked. "We shall have no sloven women in my kingdom; her duty to you comes before her health!" Despite the husband's protestations, Dracula's men pulled the wife from her sickbed and impaled her outside her cottage. Then, riding to a neighboring farm, Dracula selected a comely, unwed girl whom he ordered to marry the sudden widower. "You are hale and young and are capable of making this poor farmer happy," he expressed. "You will marry this very afternoon, and I will check back in a month to see that your husband is properly clothed and fed."
Whether he returned as promised is not known. But, chances are the new wife proved to be the model of domesticity.
Never Lie to Dracula
Among the brood of Dracula's mistresses there was fervent hope that he would eventually choose one of them as his princess. They competitively fawned over him. One zealous young damsel, finding no other course to nab her prince, told him that she was pregnant.
The voivode, whose complex psychoses cannot be fully explained, went into a dither, fretting that his reputation would be ruined among the devout of his kingdom if he sired an illegitimate child! He called for wedding plans to be effected immediately. In this instance, the woman seems to have known Dracula better than he knew himself. Not.
While the banns were being prepared, the would- be groom called for his lady to be examined by the royal physicians. When they announced to him that she was without child, he flew to her in a rage. She admitted her lie, but told him it was the only way she knew how to win him. "I love you and I want to conceive on our wedding night to give you a splendid child. Forgive me!" she pleaded.
His answer to her: "A man who lies is one thing, but a woman who deceives is a devil. Well, you shall not use your wiles to trap another man!"
While guards held her down, Dracula stripped her naked. With a dirk, he slashed her body open in a T-shaped formation, from her vagina to her chest and across her breasts. All this while she was conscious. He then commanded that her ravaged form be exhibited for all to see "the evil that a woman can wrought".
One Russian narrative that has survived through time talks about Dracula's view of womanhood in general. They were meant to be without sin, but once they sinned, deserved no dignity.
"If any wife had an affair outside of marriage, Dracula had her sexual organs cut out," the account reads. "She was then skinned alive and exposed in a public square, her skin hanging separately from a pole...The same punishment was applied to maidens who did not keep their virginity, and also to unchaste widows."
Stories like these are but a handful passed down from Dracula's time. Eventually he was to overexert his influence, especially since he began to practice his horrors across the Wallachian border in Transylvania. His justification for this imposition was that he needed to discourage his political rivals there who, he claimed, were planning his demise.
The worst Transylvanian atrocity was his taking of the city of Brasov in the Carpathian Mountains. He torched the city and rounded up its inhabitants on the crest of Timpa Hill. Those who weren't impaled, he had them chopped up like hides of beef before him, limb at a time. While the city burned below, and as the agonies of Hades were played out before him, he ate an extravagant dinner, fit for a prince.
Legend claims that in the background, far off, the wolves bayed at the moon. It was their symphony of terror that they could not help feeling this night. It was in the air.
"The children of the night," Count Dracula called them in the novel. "Oh, what music they make!"
Was he reminiscing?