Vlad III of Wallachia is perhaps better known as Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler, and the historical model for Bram Stoker's Count Dracula. Born in 1431, Vlad would go on to rule Wallachia (now a province of Romania) three distinct times over the course of his life.

Vlad's longest and most brutal reign was his second. After assassinating Prince Vladislav II of Wallachia (assassination was a common and accepted way of gaining the crown) in 1456, Vlad ascended to the throne. Famous even in his time for his inhuman cruelty, Vlad was known for torturing and killing his enemies using a variety of means. Punishments such as dismemberment, blinding, strangulation, burning, cutting off of noses and ears, mutilation of sexual organs, scalping, skinning, exposure to the elements, feeding to wild animals, and boiling alive were quite common during his reign.

Vlad's favorite means of execution, however, was impalement, a particularily horrible way to die. First, a horse was tied to each of the victim's legs. The instrument of death was a sharpened stake. Special care was taken so that the stake would not be too sharp; otherwise, the victim would die too quickly. The stake was then inserted into the body through the buttocks and forced through the body until it emerged from the mouth. However, it was not uncommon for the stake to instead be inserted into the victim's vagina, chest, or abdomen. On ocassion, Vlad asked for peculiarities such as upside down impalement or infants impaled through their mother's chests. Victims sometimes lived hours or days in agony on the stake. Their corpses were usually left there for months.

Vlad took impalement to an art form. Thousands were impaled at a time, creating forests of dead and dying people on stakes. Sometimes they were arranged in geometric patterns. The height of the stake indicated the rank of the victim.

He maintained his rule (as well as a very low crime rate) by liberal application of impalement. His victims consisted of just about any criminal, foreigners, merchants, political enemies, the very poor, the very rich - just about anyone attempting to undermine the power of the prince or posing a threat to his reign. Many noblemen and merchants were enslaved and worked until they died from exhaustion. Many others were just impaled on the spot.

It is difficult to discern truth from legend when it comes to Vlad III. Surprisingly, however, his most famous act of cruelty is also the one for which there is the most historical evidence. Mohammed II, a Turkish sultan, invaded Wallachia in 1461, but turned back after reaching Vlad's capital of Tirgoviste. Why? The Turkish army had encountered twenty thousand of Vlad's own people, impaled in a forest of stakes outside the capital city.

Oddly enough, Vlad was seen as a staunch defender of Christianity. Not only was he able to repel Islamic armies, he also strictly enforced the law in Wallachia, especially concerning chastity and theft. One unfaithful wife had her breasts cut off and was then skinned and impaled. While she was dying her skin was on a table right next to the stake.

Vlad's reign of terror came to an end in 1462. Although cruel, he was seen as a hero for defending Wallachia so well against foreigners. He was assassinated in 1476 after regaining his crown for a short period of time.

Here are a few legends about Vlad III that are considered to be based in truth. Although it's impossible to know just exactly what is true and what isn't, these stories all are backed up by at least some historical evidence.

The Golden Cup

Vlad was so confident in his crime deterrence that he placed a golden cup in the central square of Tirgoviste. He informed his people that anyone could drink from the cup, but anyone who stole it would be punished appropriately. The solid gold cup was never stolen.

The Merchant

Because of the extremely low crime rate in Tirgoviste, a merchant left a cart full of ducats unguarded in a street overnight. In the morning, he found that 160 ducats were missing. Shocked, he informed the prince of the theft. Vlad informed his people that if the thief was not found, the city would be destroyed. Then, during the next night, Vlad told his underlings to take 161 ducats from the Wallachian treasury and put them in the merchant's cart. The next day, the merchant returned to Vlad and told him that the money had been returned plus one ducat. The prince then stated that the "thief" had already been caught and impaled, and that if the merchant had not mentioned the extra ducat, the same fate would have befallen him.

The Foreign Ambassadors

Vlad was infuriated by a group of foreign ambassadors who refused to remove their hats in his presence. For their lack of respect, Vlad had their hats nailed to their heads.

The Nobleman with the Keen Sense of Smell

Vlad impaled about thirty thousand merchants and noblemen on St. Bartholomew's Day, 1459. He then set up a table out among the forest of corpses for a feast. He invited Wallachia's boyars to the feast. As you might imagine, the smell of the blood and entrails of 30,000 dying corpses isn't exactly conducive to the appetite, and one of the boyars was visibly offended by the smell. So Vlad impaled him higher than any of the others so that he would no longer be bothered by the smell.

The Burning of the Sick and Poor

The prince loved his people to be hard-working and prosperous, and the large number of poor peasants in his territory bothered him greatly. He issued an invitation to all the poor and sick of Wallachia to join in a feast in Tirgoviste so that no one in his land would go hungry. The peasants came to the feast in droves and were fed a hearty meal. They were feasting and drinking late into the night when Vlad himself made an appearance. He asked them something to the effect of "Do you never want to be hungry again? Do you want to be without cares, lacking nothing in this world?" When they answered excitedly in the affirmative, Vlad boarded up the hall and burnt it down, killing all inside. Vlad's explanation? He did it so that "no one will be poor in my realm."

Fun guy, eh?

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