The things that we commonly associate with to the term Dracula are blood-thirsty vampires, fangs, werewolves, black capes and the lack of sunlight. Definitely not Twilight. However, all these attributes were fictitious adaptations from a ruthless ruler named Vlad III Dracula.
Vlad III Dracula, also known as Vlad the Impaler (Lallanilla, 2014, para. 2), ruled Wallachia (currently modern Romania) for 3
periods in history: 1448, 1456 to 1562 and 1476. Throughout recorded history, Vlad the Impaler was regarded as one of the most cruel rulers in Europe. Additionally, Vlad was also widely known for being associated with negative traits such as sadistic, vile, and even psychopathic. The question lies in how true and valid these descriptions are. What if he was misrepresented? Let us shed some light on this dark, aloof person, and investigate the extent of his evilness.
As a child, Vlad the Impaler was taken hostage (Wilde, 2015, para. 3) by the Ottomans to ensure his father’s loyalty to the Ottoman empire. As his father, Vlad II, did not keep to his word, the young Vlad was tortured before eventually being released. It is hypothesized that due to his experiences as a child, Vlad III grew up to have ill feelings (Klein, 2014, para. 2) towards Ottoman empire. These feelings were the root of his gruesome reign as he tortured and killed many of his opponents. His infamous nickname, Vlad the Impaler, came from the very unique yet repugnant way of executing his enemies－ by impaling them.
On one occasion, Vlad invited the boyars, who were responsible for causing grievous harm to his elder brother, to an Easter feast (Snell, 2014, para. 10). Prior to the feast, Vlad coerced his guests to march 50 miles to his new fortress, in which survivors were then set to fulfill the arduous task of building his new castle. Finally ending his slow and excruciating methods of revenge with the use of impalement. This is achieved through the use of a spike inserted through the victim's’ anus and straight out of the victim’s mouth.
To maximise the level of pain the victim felt, Vlad ensure that the ends of the spikes were rounded and oiled to reduce the chances of injuring the internal organs (2014, para. 2 of What is impaling?). This would further prolong the execution process, for his victims will be hoisted upright for days to await their death.
In another very brutal account of his merciless reign, Vlad displayed the impaled corpses of 20,000 Turkish soldiers outside the city of Targoviste (Carpenter, 2014, para. 1 of Tens of thousands killed). The gruesome sight scared and caused enemy troops to retreat. Apart from that, other cold blooded forms of attack that Vlad uses include boiling his victims as well as burying them alive (2014, para. 9) among others. There are many stories of Vlad impaling and torturing his prisoners and the estimated number of people who have fallen victim to his inhumane rule range from 30,000 to over 100,000.
Given these gruesome facts about Vlad III, one might assume that he is downright evil, cruel and sadistic. No doubt whatever he has done cannot be atoned for, however, what if all these characteristics were misrepresented?
Let us look back at the facts. We have learnt that Vlad III was held captive by the Ottomans for a considerable amount of time during his youth, a consequent of how his father used him as a token of loyalty and trust to the Ottomans. This form of psychological abuse by his father and later by the Ottomans may have left scars in his life, altering his life course, leading him to behave in a deviant manner, such as impaling people. According to Sampson and Laub, the Life Course theory (1992) states that deviant behaviour in an adult could be a manifestation of his childhood experience, shaping the life course he takes.
Additionally, this concept can also be complemented with psychological findings of how nurture or environmental influences impact the development of a person. Sameroff (1975) asserted that behaviors are developed over time, brick by brick, layer by layer; building up on each other to create a continuum to determine an individual’s self identity (p. 1). After Vlad III was released, this ordeal probably had a detrimental impact on his psyche. Given the tension between both countries, the heightened hatred he harboured towards the Ottomans aggravated his pre-existing prejudice against them, thus justifying his behavior as a form of defence.
Apart from being held against his own will, he came to learn that his father and his eldest brother were betrayed and murdered by the boyars. This possibly fueled his already heightened hatred towards the Ottomans and could have drove him to commit such atrocious deeds.
As Vlad III resolved to seek vengeance for the death of his family, he carried out the gruesome murder of the boyars and their families as mentioned earlier .
The question lies in whether Vlad the Impaler was a victim of bad propaganda? Could his 'evil deeds' have been over emphasised in historical records without noting the reasons behind his hateful acts of murder? Historical studies have, in fact, indicated that eastern Europe was portrayed as a primitive land and also a source of evil.
Given the facts and evidence that have been presented above, together with the various psychological and sociological evidences, perhaps we could conclude that while what he did was unpardonable, he was not entirely to blame. Additionally, if he was truly evil would he not have directed his hatred to everyone else and not just his enemies? Vlad the Impaler might have very well been misrepresented as a heartless and sadistic perpetuator, when in fact, he was just a victim of physical and psychological torture.