Vlad The Impaler: Loved to Impale Captured Soldiers – a Lot

Vlad the Impaler or Vlad Tepes was one of the greatest and more interesting figures from history. Vlad III was likely born in Sighisoara, Transylvania in 1431. He was the second son of the ruler of Wallachia Vlad II or Vlad Dracul – the name given to his father when he became a member of the Order of the Dragon, a Christian military order. Wallachia was in a prominent position at that time as it separated the Ottoman Empire from Hungary and the rest of the Christian Kingdoms.

Vlad II supported the Ottoman Empire but in 1442 after a “diplomatic meeting” with Sultan Murad III, he and two of his sons, Vlad III and Radu, were taken as hostage. Vlad II was released, but his sons were held as a guarantee that he would continue to support the Turkish cause. Vlad III and Radu were treated well and tutored in the ways of the nobles. Vlad II and another son were not so lucky. As a consequence of an old feud about who should rule Wallachia, he was killed, and his son was buried alive after being tortured and blinded.

In 1448, Vlad III was released and returned to Wallachia to reclaim his rightful seat. He succeeded, but his success did not last long. He escaped to Moldavia, returning in 1456 with Hungarian military support, having abandoned the Ottoman cause. This time he got to govern.

Vlad the Impaler and the Turkish Envoys; Painting by Theodor Aman

He was an excellent military leader and was often victorious in battle against Ottoman incursions and internal riots. In February 1462, he attacked Ottoman territory, massacring tens of thousands of Turks and Bulgarians. He was celebrated by a lot of people, including Pope Pius II, who held him in high regard. Although he was a good leader and is remembered to this day (mainly in Romania), he gained his reputation through a lot of blood-shedding. It is also how he acquired his name.

To bring internal peace to Wallachia, he invited all the warlords to a banquet, after which he had them stabbed and impaled. It is important to emphasize that the people who were impaled suffered – a lot. It could take days for them to die, especially if rounded poles were used instead of sharp ones to prevent internal damage!

Another well-told story about Vlad III was when he refused to pay the customary tribute to Turkish diplomatic envoys who had arrived to collect it. When they would not take off their turbans before him as a mark of respect, Vlad had them nailed to the diplomats’ heads!

One of his most renown victories was the Night Attack. The Sultan Mehmed II attacked Wallachia in 1462, but Vlad III attacked the Turkish camp and attempted to kill the Sultan. He failed, but he won the battle. When Mehmed then marched to Targoviste, the capital of Wallachia, he found 20,000 impaled Turks and retreated.

Vlad the Impaler;
Vlad the Impaler;

All in all, it is believed that he had more than 80,000 people impaled, but by doing so, he gained order and stability in his kingdom and held the Turks in line while he ruled. Vlad’s reputation for cruelty inspired the name of the vampire Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula.

In late 1462 he went to Transylvania to seek assistance from the King of Hungary but instead Vlad was imprisoned. He was not released until 1475 and, with Hungarian and Moldavian troops regained his seat in 1476. He was killed shortly after in an ambush while marching to battle. Some say he was beheaded and that his head was taken to Mehemed and displayed on the city gates. Most likely he was buried by monks in a monastery named Comana – founded by Vlad the Impaler.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE