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 was known 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. Turned out that young Vlad and his brother, Radu, were held as hostages for many years by the Sultan Murad II, father of Mehmet II.
Vlad’s father had been an ally of the Byzantine Empire during a time when Turkish power was on the verge of finally conquering it. After Vlad, his father and brother were captured by Murad, the two boys were left behind to ensure their father’s compliance with any Turkish demands that no support be given to the Byzantines. Vlad and Mehmet, very close in age, would have spent years in each other’s company. It is likely Vlad would have heard the rumors of Mehmet’s complicity in his brothers’ deaths.
This work of fiction made me think that perhaps Vlad’s actions may have been those of a man desperate to turn back the forces of someone he knew to be violent enough to kill his own brothers when barely in his teens, as Mehmet was rumored to have done. He may have realized that only actions as bizarre and horrifying as impaling thousands at once would have deterred, at least for a time, such a man.
Also, there may have been some exaggeration going on with the tales of Vlad’s brutality. If there were, it would only have served Vlad’s purposes of preventing a Turkish invasion. Wallachia later merged with neighboring Moldavia to become Romania, in which Vlad is now celebrated as a national hero.
A still living (?) Vlad the vampire is an important character in Elizabeth Kostova’s novel, The Historian, part of which takes place in Istanbul.
It is interesting to note 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. A reminder that Byzantine threads can still be found woven into our modern cultural heritage.