Vlad Țepes or the Demythization of a Myth
The name of Vlad Țepes (Vlad the Impaler) has become in time synonymous to Dracula’s. This superposition has its origins in the onomastic confusion between Vlad Dracul (Vlad the Dragon, lit. Vlad the Demon), his father and the gothic novel Dracula, written by the Irish writer Bram Stoker in 1897, an international best-seller since its appearance.
This name association is stronger than the fact that, while the novel story is set in late 19th-century Transylvania, Vlad Țepeș was a medieval ruler of Wallachia between 1448 and 1476. It adds to it that Vlad the Impaler was a very cruel leader, with hundreds of thousands of victims barbarically executed even by the standards of those violent times, by impaling them, a cruelty associated with vampiric activities.
Vlad’s notoriety as a cruel leader was recorded in the Germanic and Slavic chronicles of his time:
“[Vlad] had a big copper cauldron built and put a lid made of wood with holes in it on top. He put the people in the cauldron and put their heads in the holes and fastened them there; then he filled it with water and set a fire under it and let the people cry their eyes out until they were boiled to death. And then he invented frightening, terrible, unheard of tortures. He ordered that women be impaled together with their suckling babies on the same stake. The babies fought for their lives at their mother's breasts until they died. Then he had the women's breasts cut off and put the babies inside headfirst; thus he had them impaled together.”
“It is extraordinary how, starting from this name alone – Dracula – five centuries later two diametrically opposed myths were born: that of vampirism and that about the ideal prince for the Romanians, Vlad Țepeș”, says historian Lucian Boia.
In a top list compiled by Matthew White, in The Great Big Book of Horrible Things; The Definitive Chronicle of History’s 100 Worst Atrocities (2012), Vlad Țepeș is listed on the 7th place after other tyrants as Hitler, Stalin, Mao Zedong, Leopold II, Idi Amin and Franco. The order is given by the number of their victims.
We have little information regarding his physical appearance. This is how, in a manuscript from 1473, this controversial personality of Romanian history is depicted:
“Not very tall in stature, but very stout and powerful, having a cruel and gruesome look, a large and aquiline nose with swollen nostrils, his face thin and pale with very long eyelashes surrounding green, wide open eyes, with the eyebrows, black and bushy, making them look threatening; his face and chin were shaven, except for the mustache. His swollen temples increased the volume of the head. A bull-like neck connected his tall backhead to large shoulders on which his black, curly hair fell.”