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Vampires, Dracula, Vlad and the Myth

Vlad Tepes

Vlad the III’s reputation comes from his moniker, “the impaler”, which to most people leaves notions of barbarism and cruelty at the hands of despotic ruler. Vlad’s reputation was untarnished by the Romanians themselves, who saw him as a liberator who stood up for all Romanian people and defended them fiercely, hence the use of impaling spike for those who posed a threat to all citizens of Romanian peasant folk north and south of the Danube.

However Vlad the IIIs reputation is based on what might be considered the world’s first press spin story.


An example of a Medieval printing press

Vlad ruled from 1456 to 1462. The printing press was invented by Johannes Gutenberg in Germany just 6 years earlier, and exploded in popularity. German stories of Vlad the Impaler circulated first in manuscript form in the late 15th century and the first manuscript was probably written in 1462 before Vlad’s arrest. The text was later printed in Germany and had a major impact on the general public, becoming a best-seller of its time with numerous later editions adding to and altering the original text. These were entertainment in a society where the printing press was new.


Woodcut from the title page of a 1499 pamphlet published by Markus Ayrer in Nuremberg. It depicts Vlad III “the Impaler” (identified as Dracole wyade = Draculea voivode) dining among the impaled corpses of his victims.

Just like today’s tabloid journalism with pictures of violence on their cover pages, Germany published a gory woodcut in 1499 of Dracule – Vlad the III. We’ll get to the name Dracul later.
Sensationalism of his activities ensured his infamy in a time of uncensored press. There was no doubt as to his cruelty on some reliable accounts, but barbaric actions were commonplace by all royal factions in the 15th century. Vlad the III was a target by the Holy Roman Empire who felt threatened by the independent Eastern Kingdoms  and principalities.

1491 – Vlad III. of Wallachia. Known as Vlad Tepes – The Impaler or Dracula was already infamous

So Vlad the III became the poster boy for what was all evil in Eastern Europe. The myths of violence and gore were carried down through the centuries until an Irishman named Bram Stoker  who had never visited Romania wrote an fictional story of a blood drinking undead figure from Romania named Dracula in 1897.

The name originated from Vlad’s father, known under the nickname Dracul, had traveled to Nuremberg where he had been vested into the Order of the Dragon. Dracula actually means “Son of Dracul”.


Antoine Augustin Calmet (1672-1757), published a book in 1746 entitled “Dissertations sur les apparitions, des anges, des dans et des esprits, et sur les revenants et vampires de Hongrie, de Bohème, de Moravie et de Silésie”. Calmet’s book became a best-seller.

Vampires originate in folklore widely reported from Eastern Europe in the late 17th and 18th centuries. During the 18th century, there was a frenzy of vampire sightings in Eastern Europe, with frequent stakings and grave diggings to identify and kill the potential revenants; even government officials engaged in the hunting and staking of vampires.

The controversy only ceased when Empress Maria Theresa of Austria sent her personal physician to investigate the claims of vampiric entities. He concluded that vampires did not exist and the Empress passed laws prohibiting the opening of graves and desecration of bodies, sounding the end of the vampire epidemics. Despite this condemnation, the vampire lived on in artistic works and in local superstition.

The vampire of modern fiction was born in 1819 with the publication of The Vampyre by John Polidori, and the story was highly successful.

Bram Stoker never visited Eastern Europe, and inspired himself from “Transylvanian Superstitions” written by Emily Gerard in 1885.

Stoker’s inspiration for Dracula’s castle in Bran was incorrect as well. Stoker took his illustrative references from Bran castle but in fact, the castle he was geographically describing an area where no castle exists near the former border with Moldavia.

But the story’s commercial success became a legend, which is still rehashed today in a variety of movies and TV show, helping perpetuate the idea that if an idea is talked about long enough, people will believe that vampires exist.

So due to the myths success, facts were blurred, creating a mystique for the lands of Transylvania. As they say in Liberty Valance, “When the Legend Becomes Fact, Print the Legend”