Sunday, July 01, 2007

Dracula: The Truth Untold

Many years ago, when I learned that Dracula is a true living historical personality besides being a horror novel character, I thought that it was a kind of proof to show that vampires really exist. Though the vampire count Dracula character whom we owe to Bram Stoker’s imagination and the Wallachian prince Dracula are far out. Contrary to expectations, the prince who was named as “Kazikli Voyvoda” (Vlad the Impaler) by Turks was not a vampire.
Also there are two Draculas, as father and son, in history. The first of these was Vlad II Dracul, the son of Mircea cel Batran who lived in 1395 up to 1447 in Transylvania. Vlad II Dracul, lived as an ordered prince to protect the trade roads between Transylvania and Wallachia against Ottomans bound to Roman Catholic Church. The name of Dracula, which means “the son of dragon” was taken as being a member the “Order of the Dragon” which was formed by Hungarian King Sigismund in 1408. Dracula, was also used as a word meaning “devil” in the daily tongue of Wallachian peasants. Hungarian King Vladislaus who broke the peace treaty with the Ottomans in 1944, decided to drive the Turks out of Europe with an army under the command of his general John Hunyadi. Vlad II first refused to involve the crusade in the name of the kingdom but later on he was convinced by Pope to send his elder son Mircea II to the war. Then Vlad II had 3 sons, Mircea II, Vlad III and Radu who was converted to Islam. However the crusade army fell into debacle in Varna. Vlad II Dracul and his son Mircea II (who is said to have been buried alive) were known to be assasinated with the order of Hunyadi. After the death of his father and his elder brother, Vlad III accessed the throne and decided to fight against Ottoman Empire, putting an end to the dispute between him and Hunyadi.

The “son” Dracula Vlad Tepeş whom Bram Stoker was inspired, lived among 1431 and 1476.
Vlad III was born as the son of Vlad II and a Moldovian princess. Besides, he was known to have two wives and three sons. Dracula came to the fore with the exceedingly cruel punishments that he executed during his reign. Maybe the most important reason for Bram Stoker to choose Dracula as the character of his novel was this. Vlad III became one of the important leaders who blocked Ottomans expand throughout Europe by defending Wallachia. The infamous feature of his character that was killing the opposers by impaling them, had been the reason of Turks giving him such a name. Vlad III, never trusted his father who refused fighting against Turks and his brother Radu who was converted to Islam. Dracula who won the trust of Hunyadi, struggled against his most hated enemy Sultan Mehmet II, the Ottoman Emperor. But it didnt take too long for Ottomans to enter Transylvania. Vlad who was imprisoned by Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus among 1462 and 1474, accessed to throne once again after the death of his brother Radu. Though, he couldnt sit on his throne for a long time. He was said to have been killed after the Ottomans entered Wallachia in 1476. Dracula, lived in Targovişte and Bucharest during his reign. Dracula ordered the famous Poienari Castle and the monastery near Lake Snagov where he was said to have been buried (though his grave is still missing), which can be visited still today. Poienari Castle is also famous with the tragic incident that his first wife flung herself into the River Argeş flowing down below, after reading a deceitful message that was shot with an arrow to the castle. The other name of the river is known as “Raul Doamnei” (Lady’s River). There are lots of rumors on Dracula’s death. Among all these rumors, it’s told that he was killed in a war against Ottomans near Bucharest or he was assasinated by the Wallachian boyars. According to another story, Vlad was beheaded and his head was sent to İstanbul preserved in honey and displayed publicly with the order of the Sultan.

Vlad Tepeş is remembered as a famous public hero with his honesty and sharp act of justice in
Romanian culture. On the other hand, it’s told that he had been an advocate of extreme violence and cruelty as a ruler. It’s known that in his era there was no sign of thievery among the public who was overfrightened of his punishments. While the German historical records implicate that he was a sadistic monster, Russian historical records depicts him as a cruel but a just prince. Maybe he was considered as a fair man just because he executed the punishments without any discrimination between the adult or the infant, the noble or the peasant. It’s told that he nailed the hats of the Florentine and Ottoman ambassadors to their heads just because they didnt remove them in his presence. The campaigns held to seize the land of Vlad caused the lives of 40.000 Ottoman soldiers. Besides his being obsessive about the chastity of women is among many other stories to be told. Vlad’s favorite torturing method of having the victim impaled with an oily stake, which was attributed to him among so many other methods maybe because of it’s being a long and painful one. After suffering for a few days, the dead bodies of the victims were left to rot on their stakes. There is also a woodcut picture showing Vlad feasting infront of the corpses of a mass impale. It also went down to the history that once Vlad had 30.000 merchants and officials who acted against his authority impaled at a single time in Braşov.

An ancient belief in evil spirits returning from death called “strigoi” or “moroi” in Romanian culture is the basis of the vampire belief. Inspite of the resemblance to the vampire count told in Bram Stoker’s 1897 dated story, Vlad III is not known as a vampire in Romania though otherwise is expected. It’s doubted that Bram Stoker’s Hungarian friend professor Arminius Vambery had told him about this character before. On the other hand, among the Hungarian tales there is a story that Vlad had been buried alive after captivation, his body dissapeared from it’s grave when reopened and several years later there had been some mysterious murders took place in his old castle. It’s been claimed that the novel “Dracula” had been inspired much from the legends surrounding Elizabeth Bathory who liked having bath in the blood of young maidens. Maybe the reason why Bram Stoker settled his famous count in the northern Transylvania instead of Wallachia where Vlad III actually lived, was that the region still had the density of superstition and preserved it’s medieval structure at the times the novel was written.