Whether you’re a fan of horror movies, spooky stories, or just Castlevania video games, Count Dracula is a seminal figure in the common monster lexicon. Though a pointy-toothed, bloodthirsty sharp dresser with the ability to turn to a cloud of mist is a bit of legend, there is a commonly-agreed upon inspiration for Bram Stoker’s creation: a man named Vlad the Impaler. In the Castlevania anime, they even go as far as to explicitly combine the two, giving Dracula the real name Vlad Tepes, and placing him in the Impaler’s kingdom of Wallachia.

Most people on any street corner can tell you the general details of Dracula: turns into a bat, despises garlic and sunlight, and so on and so on. But fewer might be able to tell you specific details of his supposed inspiration, despite him having quite a few terrifying tales of his own. Let’s take a deeper look into some of the things the famous Impaler was known for, including, yes, the impaling thing.

The Impalements Were Worse Than You Thought

Public Domain

“There's the problem.”

Without any research, you might think that the nickname “The Impaler” might be a bit of flowery language to describe a powerful warrior. Perhaps Vlad was famous for his skill with a polearm, fearsomely stabbing through his enemies with a spear on the battlefield. Well, I’m here to tell you that the nickname is incredibly, horrifically literal. Though some tales of Vlad’s actions in war might be understandably exaggerated, he absolutely did impale his enemies on pikes.

Not only that, whatever orientation of impalement you might be mentally picturing right now, the reality is probably worse. First of all, the impalees were usually alive. Then, a pike was inserted into whatever hole their gender presented on their bottom end, which would eventually pierce through their body and come out of their mouth or elsewhere up top. There’s even tales of him using pikes with rounded ends so that no internal organs would be punctured, so the victim would stay alive longer. Some people he impaled would live for days on the spikes.

The Impalements Were Effective

Public Domain

Mehmed II, a man who decided not to mess with the guy putting people on sticks.

Now, impaling people from rectum to mouth is a gruesome business. Certainly not the way I’d like to earn a living. But in Vlad’s war-torn times, it did serve its purpose, beyond simple castle decoration. The impalements were also meant as a deterrent to those that might be looking to take the throne from the Impaler, by displaying in plain terms the uncomfortable seat they might be taking instead.

Unsurprisingly, it was very effective. The morale of marching soldiers takes a pretty massive hit when they come upon a screaming human forest. There’s even a story of Sultan Mehmed II, not a particularly merciful man in his own right, basically seeing Vlad’s handiwork and going “OK, holy s**t dude, you can keep your castle.” The recorded quote is “How can we despoil of his estates a man who is not afraid to defend it by such means as these?” His troops retreated the next day. Though the word “retreat” here might be a little too organized sounding, as I would think this was a true “they got the f**k out of there” situation.

He Was Held Hostage As A Child

Public Domain

If only therapy had been invented in the 1400s.

You’re not going to believe this, but the guy famous for shoving poles clear through living people may have not had a stellar childhood. When he was young, Vlad and his brother Radu would go with his father on a diplomacy mission to meet with the Ottomans. The Ottomans would immediately take Vlad and his brother hostage and send their father back to Wallachia, which does not seem especially diplomatic.

Though there are records of the Ottomans using this time to educate Radu and Vlad in various kingly disciplines of tactics and philosophy, there are also suspicions that they were occasionally tortured. A bit of the good, a bit of the very bad. When the two were finally released, they returned to Wallachia, where it turned out that one of the worst things that can happen to your dad had transpired: he had been overthrown and murdered by a group of boyars, basically high-ranking aristocrats. Not exactly white picket fences.

He Had A Real-Life Red Wedding

Public Domain

“How's the soup?”

Now that Vlad was back in town, with a newly dead father, he obviously had a bit of an axe to grind, and not much time to grind it. So he set up a social event that would warm Walder Frey’s cold wet heart. If you’re not familiar with Game of Thrones, the Red Wedding (spoilers!) isn’t named that for the flavor of Jello they served, but because basically everybody there ended up with all their blood on the outside before dessert.

Centuries before George R. R. Martin would be (not) writing books, Vlad the Impaler had a terrible, no good, very bad 0/10 dinner party of his own. He invited all the boyars, the men who had just murdered his father, to a big old banquet. You’d think that might raise a few eyebrows, but whether from hubris or stupidity, nobody rain checked on dinner with the ruler they’d orphaned. At dinner the women and elderly were stabbed and impaled, which seems a bit redundant, and the men were forced into slave labor and made to build castles for Vlad himself. Not a super fun night overall.

He Was A Hometown Hero

Public Domain

“Look, he's not impaling ME.”

Vlad the Impaler was inarguably a brutal ruler, but the view on him from inside his territories wasn’t one of fear. Well, maybe a TINGE of fear. Regardless, the Wallachians saw Vlad as a powerful ruler that protected them and their Christian ways well against the Ottoman Empire. Sure, a couple people were on pikes here and there, but he defended his kingdom well, and you’d much rather see enemies displayed than do the displaying. If he was alive today he’d be headed to the Hague post-haste, but for the 1400s, they were still figuring out some of the rules on torture. He even got props from Pope Pius II for his military feats and defending the Christian way. Weird! Christianity is such a peaceful religion!

Have you or anyone you know been impaled on a rounded stick as to not puncture your internal organs? You might be entitled to compensation. Let us know in the comments.

Top Image: Public Domain/Public Domain

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