The Legend and History of Count Dracula
The region of Transylvania is an unnervingly-fitting home for the semi-fictional character of Dracula. Dense wooden forest and isolated mountain roads are a chillingly-appropriate setting for the vampire protagonist, but where did the idea come from? Like most great writers, imagination played a big role in the creation of Bram Stoker’s most notable and infamous character. However, to the surprise of many, there was a real person behind the myth. In this article, we look to separate the myth from the man, to truly understand the legend behind the world’s favourite vampire, Count Dracula.
As we’ve addressed in a previous article, Romanian mythology and folklore is rife with tales of good and evil, giants, wizards and all manner of beings which are described in the many varied stories told across the country. Irish writer Bram Stoker, who in 1897 published his best known work, found these stories and immersed himself in what he described as ‘a whirlpool for the imagination’. Having never even visited the site that he describes in his book Dracula, Stoker has bought fame and tourism opportunities to the people of Sighisoara.
The Real Count Dracula
The small town of Sighisoara, with cobbled streets and brightly coloured houses, has very little historical significance other than being the birthplace for Vlad the Impaler. Vlad was, in fact, the inspiration behind Stoker’s anti-hero. Despite this, Vlad is hailed as a hero in Romania, with his name deriving from the myth that he impaled 30,000 enemy Turks in the 1450s.
With the birth name Vlad Tepes, he spent the majority of his adult life in Wallachia, a historical southerly region of Romania, with his time there being broken up by various spells of imprisonment. His father was named Vlad Dracul, a military governor of Transylvania that had become a member of the Order of the Dragon a year before his son’s birth. The inspiration for the name of Dracula is born out of the Latin word for Dragon (Draco) and the translation for Dracula is the son of Dracul. Additionally, the uniform worn by a member of the Order of the Dragon is a black cloak worn over red, providing ample inspiration for Stoker’s fictional character Dracula. As a side note, it is worth highlighting the fact that the Romanian word for devil is “drac”. This was used as a cynical joke by the population to change the name of the Wallachian Royal Family from “Dragulesti” (meaning the dear ones) to “Draculesti” (meaning the devil ones).
A conveniently-timed release of the book coincided with a genuine epidemic of ‘vampirism’ hitting the European continent. Initially starting in the east in the 17th century and continuing into the 18th with a huge rise in reported cases. Then, word got out to Western countries such as France, Italy, Spain, Germany and England, with travellers who were returning from the east telling stories of the undead, fuelling the appetite for vampire-based fiction. At that point in history, with such limited means of travel, readers were certain that the story was based on real facts that had perhaps been exaggerated for readers’ enjoyment.
Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler, got his name from his controversial method of impaling people who committed crimes under his reign. Having seized the throne of Wallachia in 1456, there are many accounts of cruelties committed which gave birth to a divided opinion on him. Choosing to impale criminals and enemies and raising them up in the town square, Vlad’s method was the punishment of choice for anyone caught lying, stealing or committing more serious offences, such as murder. So confident in these brutal methods, Vlad placed a golden cup in the square of Targoviste with the belief that his punishments would deter thieves from stealing the treasure. Travellers were allowed to drink from the cup but it had to always be left on the square. Under his reign, crime and corruption rates plummeted, businesses could thrive and honesty prevailed. That said, many written materials that relate to his time at the throne were propaganda leaflets that had been distributed by the Germans with the use of their new printing press invention.
The prime link between Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler) and Bram Stoker’s fictitious Count Dracula is in Stoker’s literary work. Because of his controversial methods and reputation as a whole, there are various different stories and illustrations of Vlad that have been produced by both allies and enemies who have tried to blacken his reputation.
The history behind Dracula and the region of Transylvania as a whole is intriguing and mysterious, which can only truly be understood with a trip to the place where it all began. If you’re interested in Transylvania, Dracula’s Castle or the country of Romania, we’d suggest checking out our Romania experience holidays!