Vlad III, also called Vlad the Impaler, was a prince of Wallachia, infamous for his brutality in battle and the gruesome punishments he inflicted on his enemies.
In 1897, writer Bram Stoker published the novel Dracula, the classic story of a vampire named Count Dracula who feeds on human blood, hunting his victims and killing them in the dead of night.
The Count Dracula in the book, was Stokers own creation, but many believe the bloodthirsty villain was partly inspired by Vlad the Impaler.
Vlad III earned his fearsome nickname for impaling more than 20,000 people and killing as many as 60,000 others during his reign.
He was even said to dine among his impaled enemies and dip his bread in their blood.
But while the stories of the real Dracula have surely been embellished over the years, the history of Vlad Tepes is far scarier than anything Bram Stoker could have dreamed up.
Vlad was the second legitimate son of Vlad II Dracul, who was himself an illegitimate son of Mircea I of Wallachia.
Vlad II had won the name "Dracul" for his membership in the Order of the Dragon, a militant fraternity founded by Sigismund of Luxemburg, King of Hungary.
The Order of the Dragon was dedicated to halting the Ottoman advance into Europe.
Modern historians identify Vlad Tepes mother either as a daughter or kinswoman of Alexander I of Moldavia, or from his father's unknown first wife.
Young Vlad had two brothers, Mircea and Radu.
The exact date of Vlad Tepes birth is somewhat sketchy.
Since Vlad was old enough to be a candidate for the throne of Wallachia in 1448, Vlad's time of birth would have been between 1428 and 1431.
Vlad was most probably born after his father settled in Transylvania in 1429, with the most likely date for his birth being the 8th November.
Historian Radu Florescu writes that Vlad was born in the Transylvanian Saxon town of Sighisoara, which was then in the Kingdom of Hungary, where his father lived in a three-story stone house.
Due to Wallachias proximity to the warring factions of Christian-ruled Europe and the Muslim-ruled Ottoman Empire, Draculs territory was the site of constant turmoil.
In 1442, the Ottomans called for a diplomatic meeting and invited Vlad Dracul.
He saw an opportunity to educate his younger sons in the art of diplomacy so he brought Vlad III and Radu with him.
But Dracul and his two sons were captured and held hostage by the Ottoman diplomats instead.
The captors told him that he would be released, but he had to leave his sons.
Dracul, believing it was the safest option for his family, agreed.
Fortunately for Vlad III and his brother, during their time as hostages, the two princes received lessons in science, philosophy, and the art of war.
However, things were far worse back home.
A coup orchestrated by local warlords, known as the boyars, overthrew Dracul.
In 1447, he was killed in the swamps behind his home, while his oldest son was tortured, blinded, and buried alive.
Vlad III was freed soon after his familys death, and at this time he began to use the name Vlad Dracula, meaning son of the dragon.
When he returned to Wallachia, he transformed into a violent ruler, soon earning his moniker Vlad the Impaler in disturbing fashion.
In 1448, Vlad returned to Wallachia to take back the throne from Vladislav II, the man who had taken his fathers place.
Although Vlad succeeded, after just a few months, the deposed Vladislav returned and took back the throne.
In 1456, Vlad returned with an army and support from Hungary, and was able to take the throne from Vladislav for a second time.
Legend has it that Vlad personally b-headed his rival Vladislav on the battlefield.
And once he was back on his fathers throne again, his reign of terror truly began....
Some historians believe his familys horrific deaths were what turned Vlad III into Vlad Tepes, the original Romanian for Vlad the Impaler.
Some accounts state Vlad was subjected to beatings and torture during his imprisonment under the Ottomans, which may also be where he learned the tradition of impaling enemies.
Soon after he took the throne back, Vlad had enemies of his own to deal with.
Some in Wallachia considered Vladislav II a better leader, which caused uprisings in villages across the region.
The returning monarch knew he had to assert his dominance over the people.
So, he decided to host a banquet and invite his opposition...
It didnt take long before the festivities turned bloody. Vlads dissenting guests were stabbed to death, and their still-twitching bodies were impaled on spikes.
From there, Vlads violent reputation only continued to grow as he defended his throne and devastated his enemies time and again, via the grisliest methods imaginable.
Vlad was an undeniably brutal ruler.
Nevertheless, much of Christian Europe supported his strong, if macabre, defense of Wallachia from various incursions from Muslim Ottoman forces.
Even Pope Pius II expressed admiration for the notoriously violent rulers military feats.
A threat to Europe was deemed a threat to Christendom and, therefore, the Pope.
Vlad brought some stability and protection to a vulnerable region, but still seemed to relish his own brutality.
During one of his successful campaigns against the Ottoman Turks in 1462, Vlad wrote the following to one of his allies:
"I have killed peasants, men and women, old and young, who lived at Oblucitza and Novoselo, where the Danube flows into the sea We killed 23,884 Turks, without counting those whom we burned in homes or the Turks whose heads were cut by our soldiers
Thus, your highness, you must know that I have broken the peace.
The Turks gave him the nickname 'kaziklu bey,' meaning 'impaling prince.'
Impalement was no doubt Vlad's murder method of choice.
During impalement, a wooden or metal pole would be jabbed through the body starting either in the rectum or vagina, and would then slowly pierce through the body until it came out the victims mouth, shoulders, or neck.
Sometimes the pole was rounded so that it would go through the body without puncturing any internal organs, prolonging the victims torture.
In these particularly gruesome cases, it could take hours or even days for the victim to finally die, often on public display for everyone to watch.
In one case, he impaled the Saxon merchants in Kronstadt who were once allied with the boyars, his familys killers.
Vlad used this torturous method to punish and kill anyone who displeased or threatened him, or his country.
It wasnt the only way he dispensed his cruelty.
At one point, he had the turbans of Ottoman diplomats nailed onto their skulls after they declined to remove them for religious reasons.
Vlads appetite for violence often surpassed the bloodlust of his enemies.
Sultan Mehmed II, notorious for his own atrocities, was aghast after seeing the decaying corpses of about 23,000 of his own men lined up on stakes for 60 miles around the capital of Targoviste, when he invaded Wallachia in 1462.
Stories like this abound and, in total, contempory accounts claimed that Vlad killed 80,000 people during his reign.
Impaling more than 23,000 of them, but its difficult to know for sure how many people he truly slaughtered.
His bloody reign ended in 1462, when Hungarian forces took him prisoner.
The Ottomans had launched a campaign to replace Vlad with his brother Radu.
In turn, Vlad went to the Hungarians, thinking that theyd help solidify his hold on the throne.
Not wanting to risk war with the Ottomans, the Hungarians had Vlad imprisoned instead.
Almost nothing is known about Vlads imprisonment, but in 1476, he was released and married Jusztina Szilagy.
Jusztina was a relative of the Hungarian King Matthias Corvinus, who made an arrangement with Vlad to restore him to his throne after Radu had been removed.
However, Vlad died in battle alongside the Hungarians, who were now at war with the Ottomans, later that same year.
According to legend, he suffered the same fate as his old rival Vladislav II.
s the story goes, Vlad the Impaler was b-headed in battle and his head was paraded back to Constantinople and placed in the hands of his enemy, Sultan Mehmed II.
Vlad's body has never been found....
Its suggested that Vlad died near Lake Snagov
And his remains were interred in Snagov Monastery.
They buried his body deep beneath the church floor.
Above his tomb they created a false grave and filled it with animal bones.
When researchers dug under the church in 1933 and only found animal bones, the reaction by academics was -
This cant be the right grave.
Reaction by the superstitious was,
The vampire has flown away.
The reaction from loyalists was,
He is still safe down there.
Vlad's tomb is marked by a stone slab, on the church floor.