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The real Vlad Dracula, ‘the Impaler’, before Bram Stoker turned him into a vampire | Culture

by News Room
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With unexpected and bloody combats against one of the most powerful armies in the world at the time, Vlad Țepeș, known as the Impaler or Dracula, forged Game of Thrones its dark popularity almost six centuries ago. Even today his fame continues in the Romanian imagination. However, the second season of the Turkish series The great Ottoman empire has reopened in Romania the debate on the true image of the bloodthirsty warrior who inspired Bram Stoker in his novel to galvanize the legend of Count Dracula, the most famous vampire of all time. The docudrama, directed by director Emre Sahin and written by screenwriter Kelly McPherson, recounts the fratricidal battle that Sultan Mehmed II begins after consolidating his rule after conquering Constantinople against a supposedly inferior rival and that, instead, takes him to the maximum unimaginable desperation. The series begins with a dream about Vlad Dracula in which both fight with swords as a harbinger of what the enmity will bring, which will grow as events occur.

In the six episodes of the series – which premiered a little over a year ago on Netflix – the prince of Wallachia challenges the hegemony of the Turkish emperor, despite the fact that the two adversaries became friends in childhood. In the midst of bloody fights, numerous political intrigues and conspiracies, as in the work of George RR Martin, the story takes place with a lot of action and a fast pace, as well as very close to the reality of its time. “The best film about Romanian medieval history must have been made by the Turks,” says Sorin Ionita, an expert on Balkan nationalisms. “Although it idealizes some historical moments, as a way of attracting the viewer to the platform of streamingthere is no trace of anachronistic propaganda as was often the case in Romanian feature films of the last century,” Ionita continues.

For Vasile Lupașc, author of several books about the historical figure, this is the first time that a production presents him as an exemplary combatant: “The season Mehmed against Vlad is a first step in the international rehabilitation of the image of Vlad Dracula as a character. real and not fantasy. The series should not be seen as an objective presentation of historical facts, but as a docudrama that pays tribute to both the triumphalist history of the Ottoman Empire and the myths that made Vlad an extremely fearsome character.

A portrait of Vlad Dracula, supposedly painted in the second half of the 17th century.
Fine Art Images (Heritage Images/Getty Images)

To get as close as possible to the real Vlad Dracula, the producers relied on several Romanian historians; among them, Mihai-Florin Hasan. “This is a character from his time, at the beginning of the Renaissance, who knows and understands great politics very well and who emphasized the clash between civilizations,” explains the specialist in medieval history. “He was considered a champion of Christianity in the fight against Islam,” notes Hasan, who completed a doctorate on the medieval judicial system of Transylvania.

The almost half century that the historical figure lived was fragmented and turbulent. He was born in 1431 in Sighișoara, southern Transylvania, where he grew up until he was six years old, while his father, Vlad Dracul, was busy guarding the border of the kingdom of Hungary. Then, he moved to Târgoviște, capital of Wallachia, after his mother took the throne of that principality, which was under Magyar rule. However, Vlad Dracul was forced to submit in 1942 to Sultan Murad II, father of Mehmed II. After being called to Adrianople, current Edirne, he took the oath of vassalage before the Turkish emperor and, as a guarantee, he had to leave his two sons, Vlad and Radu (the youngest) as hostages, a common method at the time. . At that moment, Vlad Dracula begins his Ottoman stage, where he knows the inside of the court well and is raised more as if he were a prince. During the six years there he learns to speak Turkish like an Anatolian peasant and Arabic, as well as studying Hebrew and Greek. But he also learns the ins and outs of the palace, which will help him understand diplomatic relations.

At the age of 17 he enjoyed his father’s throne for a month, but an internal rivalry took it away from him, so he fled to the region of Moldova, where he was also forced to leave shortly after. Until 1456 it is barely known where he wandered, although historians believe that he moved around the Balkans. But precisely that year he began his reign in Wallachia, which lasted six years, until the nobles loyal to Vlad Dracula knelt before his brother Radu, who had remained at the court of Mehmed II. “At the head of the Principality he managed to boost the economy, eliminate political adversaries, especially nobles, and cleanse the territory of spies,” details Hasan. This is where stories emerge about Dracula that he was a bloodthirsty tyrant and that he impaled those who tried to destabilize his reign. “Vlad Dracula stood out for removing elements that he thought could sabotage the development effort of his territory,” adds the professor. Furthermore, the Saxons of Transylvania – ethnic Germans who settled in the region in the 12th century – were interested in showing him as insane and sadistic in their stories that spread throughout Europe. Instead, Hasan emphasizes that he “was a very pragmatic character who used all his political and military skills to bring the State into conformity with his political vision.”

Vlad Dracula triggers the conflict with Mehmed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, after arresting Turkish emissaries, but above all for massacring the Ottoman populations and garrisons between the settlements of Vidin (Bulgaria) and Isaccea (border between Romania and Ukraine). In a letter to Matthias of Corvino, king of Hungary, he claimed to have beheaded some 28,000 Turks. “He used the methods of the time to frighten the Turks, psychological and guerrilla techniques; He eliminated the advanced Ottoman detachments, the spies and those who studied the terrain, cut off their heads and sent them to the sultan; and attacked at night to surprise them in areas of leafy forests, which ended the patience of Mehmed II,” Hasan details.

An image of 'The Great Ottoman Empire" the Netflix.
An image from ‘The Great Ottoman Empire’ on Netflix.

In the series, which features Turkish and Romanian actors, the famous attack is recounted on the night of June 16 to 17, 1462. With a detachment of some 16,000 soldiers dressed in the clothes of Turkish soldiers, Vlad Dracula manages to unsettle his rivals. and tries to kill the Turkish emperor. The offensive generated such panic in the Ottoman camp that they did not stop killing each other until dawn. Contemplating the result of the massacre, the sultan decides to execute the almost one thousand Vlachs who had been captured previously. The confrontation lasts until the Turkish army arrives in the heart of Wallachia. “When he saw the beech forest, Mehmed II would have knelt before the martyrs of Islam and would have said that he could not take the country of a person with barely any resources to exploit, so he left without wanting to dominate that territory,” says Hasan. Vlad Dracula’s death in 1476 is not really known. Some stories relate that one of his people killed him when he was mistaken for a Turk because he had gone to inspect the Ottoman camp. The truth is that his head was cut off, sent to Constantinople and displayed in a procession through the Galata neighborhood.

“Their brutality can only be explained by how cruel the Turks were also; Vlad Dracula had to be even more so to scare them,” says Hasan. Given the proximity of a series of elections looming this year, the far-right Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR), which entered Parliament in 2020 and whose weight is increasing in the polls, has returned to the historic character to capture voters. “Political parties often confiscate the story of Vlad Dracula because Romanians conceive him as a vigilante hero, a messiah or a providential savior in the most difficult times,” says Hasan. But, “what makes him a hero is the fact that a small state like Wallachia faces a giant like the Ottoman Empire at that time,” adds the historian.

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