Vlad the Impaler & the Byzantines

Vlad Dracul, also known as Vlad the Impaler

Vlad Dracul, also known as Vlad the Impaler

Most of us have heard of the legend of Vlad Dracul, also known as Vlad the Impaler, and later simply as Dracula. This prince of Wallachia had a reputation for viciously impaling his defeated enemies – a brutal practice during a brutal time. Not being much of a fan of the horror genre, I never cared to learn much more about him.

Recently, however, I came upon a novel by Lucille Turner, The Sultan, the Vampyr and the Soothsayer.  (https://www.amazon.com/Sultan-Vampyr-Soothsayer-Lucille-Turner-ebook/dp/B01LW0QZ1T)Turned out that Sultan Murad II, the father of Mehmet II, held young Vlad and his brother, Radu, as hostages for many years.

The History of Vlad the Impaler’s Family

Vlad’s father owed allegiance to the Byzantine Empire during a time when Turkish power was on the verge of finally conquering the last vestige of the Roman Empire. After Murad captured Vlad, his father and brother, the sultan kept the two boys behind. This ensured their father’s compliance with Turkish demands that the Byzantines receive no support from Wallachia. Vlad and Murad’s son, Mehmet, very close in age, would have spent years in each other’s company. It is likely Vlad knew the rumors of Mehmet’s complicity in his brothers’ deaths.

This work of fiction made me think that perhaps Vlad’s actions were not crazy. Vlad desperately tried to turn back the forces of a violent man bold enough to kill his own brothers when barely in his teens, as rumors said about Mehmet. Perhaps he realized that only actions as bizarre and horrifying as impaling thousands at once would have deterred, at least for a time, such a man.

Fiction or Fable?

Also, some exaggeration could have occurred with the tales of Vlad’s brutality. If there were, it would have served Vlad’s purposes of staving off a Turkish invasion. Mehmet II eventually did invade Wallachia, but his hold over that land was never strong during Vlad’s life. Wallachia later merged with neighboring Moldavia to become Romania, in which Vlad is now celebrated as a national hero.

Other Books with Dracula

A still living (?) Vlad the vampire is an important character in Elizabeth Kostova’s novel, The Historian, part of which takes place in Istanbul. (https://www.amazon.com/Historian-Elizabeth-Kostova-ebook/dp/B000FCK6EI)

Interesting that the genesis of today’s Dracula/vampire horror genre grew out of people and events in the period surrounding the final defeat of the Byzantine Empire in 1453. Another reminder of the many Byzantine threads  found woven into our modern cultural heritage.


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Eileen Stephenson

Eileen Stephenson

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