March 9, 2021

Vlad Tepes, the historical drácula


"He was not particularly tall, but he was strong and vigorous, and he offered an air of ferocity and cruelty; his nose was large and aquiline, his nostrils wide and his complexion thin and slightly red; his long lashes wrapped wide green eyes, I would say threatening, under black eyebrows very populated. Shaved face and chin, except for the mustache. The prominent temples made his head bulky. A bull neck joined the cervix with broad shoulders on which curly black hair fell ».

Thus described the Greek bishop and chronicler, Nicholas of Modrusa, the voivode or prince of Wallachia, Vlad III, also known as Tepes ("the Impaler") -for the brutal method of execution he applied to his enemies- or Dracula ("the little dragon »), in allusion to his father Vlad II Dracul (« the Dragon »).

The proverb reads that reality surpasses fiction, and between the two dimensions the figure of Vlad is riding, whose memory is today closely linked to the fantastic character of Bram Stoker's novel, but the strength of this myth has relegated it to a second flat the life of the historical character in which it is inspired, more sinister and amazing than that of its own legend. The real Dracula was born in 1431 in Transylvania (then part of the kingdom of Hungary), legitimate son of the aforementioned Vlad Dracul, who exercised the government (voivodato) of the small principality of Wallachia for two periods. To ensure peace with his southern Danube neighbors, the Ottoman Turks, Dracul sent two of his sons (including Vlad, aged 13) as hostages to Constantinople, to live in the Sultan's court. In this way, he ensured his father's loyalty. The latter was dethroned and executed by a usurper supported by the kingdom of Hungary. Thanks to Ottoman support, Dracula was briefly enthroned as a Wallachian voivode, but it lasted only one month. Vlad and his family were forced to flee, first to the Ottoman court, then Moldavian and Hungarian. Thanks to the alliance with these last ones, in 1456 Vlad invaded Valaquia and managed to become again with the throne, inaugurating its second period of government, that was, judging by the sources, of an extreme rigor.

Night attack on horseback

On the other hand, its current alliance with Hungary supposed enmity with the Ottoman Empire. In one of his numerous military campaigns, Vlad took the bold decision to raze the Ottoman cities of the Danube, causing countless killings in its path. The Sultan's response was immediate and in June 1462 Mehmed II himself came in person at the head of a powerful army to punish Vlad. But, surprisingly, he found enormous resistance: Vlad applied a tactical guerrilla war, which almost came close to beating the Ottomans. On one occasion, even, he had the audacity to launch a night attack, on horseback, over the Ottoman camp, with the aim of finding the Sultan's pavilion and killing him, though without success. Finally, the numbers were imposed, and the sultan could dethrone Vlad and replace him with another person who was most affected: Radu the Beautiful who, by the way, was no other than Vlad's carnal brother. He had to flee again and take refuge in Hungary. But the then king of this country, Matthias Corvinus, kept Vlad in captivity until 1475. A year later, Vlad invaded Wallachia with Hungarian and Moldovan support and managed to take the throne for the third time. It would not be for long, because in January 1477 the Ottomans sent an expedition to dethrone him during which Vlad was killed.

The news of all these events fed in the West the formation of a myth with an iconographic repertoire of great power of suggestion at present. But we can assure that such fascination has its roots in the very reality of one of the most spectacular biographies of the Middle Ages, stitched together by the surprising swings of the character's fortune in a historical context of instability, conflict, violence and border mentality.

The unstable policy of Wallachia

The true Dracula ruled the small principality of Wallachia in the mid-fifteenth century. At that time Valaquia occupied the first line of fire between the Ottoman Empire and Christianity and, consequently, fought for its survival in a scenario of constant war and rampant violence. All the regional powers sought to dominate this small principality of the frontier: the Hungarians and Ottomans, but also, to a lesser extent, the Moldavians and Poles. Added to this was the fact that in neighboring Transylvania, a minority of Saxon (Germans) inhabitants who lived thanks to regional trade and enjoyed enormous commercial privileges had long been established. The maintenance of these privileges, to the detriment of those of the Vlaque traders, was also one of the causes of the regional tension and, in fact, the Transylvanians took an unusual role in the Vlachian policy of the period, offering or withdrawing their support to the candidates for the throne in Wallachia, at their convenience. As a result, the voivodes were subject to terrible pressures from outside, having to calculate their allies and enemies to stay in government. In addition, the internal situation of the principality was not solid either: the local aristocracy, the boyardos, ambitioned to extend its power to the detriment of the prince. The sum of these factors made the Vlachian policy subject to constant instability, and the Vlachian princes succeeded one another in brief reigns of authority discussed and, therefore, necessarily bloody.

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