What teenage girl in the early 2000s didn’t wish Edward Cullen would fly into her room at night and turn her into an ageless, flawless vampire as portrayed by Stephanie Meyer? I know I did. For decades, vampires have been an object of lust; the sheer idea of a mysterious figure of the night sweeping in, biting, and sucking on a young woman’s neck is what sexual fantasies are made of. While the modern-day vampire is portrayed in this sexual manner, the first infamous vampire, Dracula, was quite the opposite.
For those who may already be scratching your head and thinking that Dracula was a character Bram Stoker made up in the 1800s, you may be surprised to learn that Dracula was a real person. To learn more about the origins of Dracula, and therefore vampires, a time travel to the mid-1400s in Romania—more specifically Transylvania—is needed. Thankfully, that’s exactly what we’ll be doing in this three-part study of vampires from historical character to pop culture phenomenon.
Vlad III: An Origin Story
Vlad III had grown up in a time of war between the Ottoman Empire and the Turks. At eleven years old, Vlad III and his younger brother, Radu, were captured and held as prisoners under Sultan Murad II. More specifically, they were held as hostages to force their father, Vlad II, who was the current voivode (prince) of Wallachia to behave himself during the ongoing war.
While Vlad III and Radu were tutored and treated with respect during their four-years of captivity, their father was not treated with the same respect. In 1447, Vlad II and his eldest son Mircea were overthrown by boyars (local noblemen), eventually were tortured and killed in the swamps behind their home. Upon this news reaching the two remaining sons and their captors, Vlad II and Radu were released. Determined to regain his family’s rightful place as leader of Wallachia, Vlad III led his first campaign to overthrow Vladislav II, the current leader.
It’s said that his first attempt was successful, but was deposed only two months later. Defeated and frustrated with the Ottoman Empire he aligned himself with, Vlad III switched sides and sought the support of King Ladislaus V of Hungry for his next campaign. This switch proved to be a success as, in 1456, he regained his position as voivode of Wallachia. It was during his second reign that Vlad III took on the new name of Vlad Dracula in honor of his late father.
The Birth of Dracula
Before his death, Vlad II was inducted into the Order of the Dragan, a group of selected members who worked to defend Christianity. Upon his initiation into the order, Vlad II changed his name to Vlad Dracul, translating to Vlad Dragon. Paying homage to his fallen father, Vlad III took the name Vlad Dracula, meaning Vlad “Son of Dragon.”
It was during his second reign as voivode of Wallachia that is likely his most infamous. Needing to assert his dominance over his people, since it’s believed that some preferred the leadership of Vladislav II over Vlad II. To do so, it’s said that Vlad Dracula invited those who opposed him to join in a banquet. During this banquet, the guests were stabbed and impaled on wooden stakes, hence the start of the nickname Vlad the Impaler.
Impaling is a deliberate, excruciating death—possibly one of the worst ways to die. It consists of placing a body on an oiled stake and leaving them there. As time passes, the weight of the body would force it to travel downward on the stake, forcing its way up the body, typically starting at the rectum.
After his victims were impaled, the bodies would be on display for all the world to see. It’s said that Vlad would then dine among these impaled bodies and would even drink their blood. While Stoker’s portrayal of Dracula consisted of sucking the blood from his victims, Vlad chose a different approach. He would collect the blood that was oozing down the impaling stake, dip a slice of bread into the collected blood, and suck it dry.
While there is no documented proof, it’s believed that Vlad Dracula killed thousands of people throughout his six-year reign. In all, the estimated number of fatalities is in the 80,000 range, 20,000 of which are believed to have been victims of impaling.
Dracula’s Downfall & Demise
Vlad spent the next 13 years once again in the captivity of the Ottoman Empire, however, he did return to the throne once more in 1475 after his younger brother Radu died. His third reign was far less notable than his second as he was killed in battle just one year later.
When in 1931 the supposed final resting place for Vlad Dracula was excavated, only the bones of an ox and some artifacts were found. While some believe this monastery in which he was buried is not the final resting place of Wallachia’s calloused ruler, some Romanians believe that something more supernatural, something eviler happened to Vlad’s body. They believe that Dracula was destined to be a strigoi. Strigoi, as Romanian folklore has it, are troubled spirits who have come back to life.
While Strigoi can take the shape of whatever they want, it’s said that the most common form they take is that of werewolves, followed by humans or vampires. Due to Vlad Dracula’s tortured life, many believe that his only destiny was to become a strigoi.
Ruthless Leader to Vegetarian Sex Object
So, now that you know the origin story of Dracula, how exactly did we get from the ruthless torture of Vlad Dracula—a real-life nightmare—to a figure of glittering, vegetarian beauty? You’ll just have to read part two to learn more!