Vlad Dracula often called Vlad the Impaler, was born into a noble Romanian family in 1431. His father, Vlad II Dracul, was the leader of the region known as Wallachia. After the Wallachian aristocrats deposed his father, Vlad dedicated himself to winning back his father’s seat. He and his father were both members of the Order of the Dragon, a fraternal organization that sought to halt the Ottoman advance through Europe. During his battles with the Wallachians and the Ottomans, Vlad became known for impaling his enemies. He is reported to have left 20,000 impaled men, women and children behind him after retreating from a battle with the Ottomans in 1462, as a deterrent to the pursuing army. Following a dispute with the Saxons over trade agreements, Vlad impaled and burned a group of Saxon merchants and their children. Vlad reportedly impaled entire villages without any apparent provocation, and his cruelty became widely known in Europe at the time.
Vlad died in battle in 1477, and his final resting place is unknown. Vlad’s surname Dracula originally meant “son of the dragon,” his father’s name, Vlad Dracul means Vlad the Dragon, a reference to his membership in the Order of the Dragon. In modern Romanian the word “dracula” means devil. This linguistic coincidence, the mystery of his burial place and his infamous deeds of cruelty have all combined to feed the legends that have grown up around him. Today Dracula is remembered in Romania as a strong leader who helped shape the country for the better, but Slavic stories also remember him as a brutal tyrant. Scholars debate whether Bram Stoker actually used Dracula as a basis for his vampire story, but in the popular imagination, the name of the historical Dracula will always be synonymous with cruelty and a vampire-like lust for killing.