The Real Life Dracula Was an Evil, Mass Killer and Central Planner
By Peter C. Earle
Another Halloween is upon us, bringing its late autumnal burst of costumes, candy, and merriment. Ghosts, witches, mummies, zombies, Frankenstein's monster, film and television characters, and others will make appearances, as will the quintessential Halloween figure: Dracula.
Most people are familiar with Count Dracula's first literary appearance in Bram Stoker's 1897 Gothic horror novel Dracula. And many are also aware that the undead villain was loosely based on a real historical figure, Vlad Tepes III — "Vlad the Impaler" (sometimes "Vlad Dracula") — who ruled mid-15th century Wallachia, a region of modern day Romania.
Incredibly, though, there is a real but lesser-known horror story behind Dracula — a story of the long-term effects of inflationary policies and a consequent campaign of economic nationalism, rather than of a mythic, powerful undead creature: interventionism pursued terrifyingly, diligently, to its logical ends.
The Real Dracula
In 1431, Vlad Tepes III, the man who would become the inspiration for Count Dracula, was born in Transylvania. With his father, Vlad II, on the Wallachian throne, early in life he and his brother were sent to the Ottoman court of Mehmet the Conqueror to act as living guarantors of their father's fidelity ("loyalty hostages"). While his brother, Radu, flourished, Vlad III was insolent and regularly experienced beatings and imprisonment.
Typical for that time, a host of intrigues swirled about the court of Vlad II, compounded by Wallachia's critical location as a buffer kingdom between the Ottoman and Holy Roman Empires; changes in leadership could bring about changes in policy, swiftly impacting trade and fortunes. In December of 1447, Vlad II was murdered during a coup. The Ottomans responded swiftly, appointing young Vlad III to his father's former throne. A Hungarian force in turn responded, driving Vlad to flee to Moldavia where he undertook diplomatic duties alongside his uncle.
In 1453, Constantinople fell, and Ottoman forces surged through the Balkans. When the Hungarian occupiers left Wallachia to support their allies and help staunch the flow of invaders, Vlad III, now 23, leapt into action, organizing and leading a successful invasion of his native land.
On retaking the throne, Vlad was stunned to find Wallachia in a state of utter social and economic decay. Where once a brisk trade in "salt, cattle … honey, wine … wax" and many other goods had prospered, the economy was now utterly destroyed.
In fact, throughout the century prior to Vlad III's return, the Wallachian economy had been systematically destroyed by liberal use of a well-known policy strategy: currency manipulation. Previous rulers of Wallachia had repeatedly implemented monetary "reform,"
each [of which] led to the introduction of a more debased … lighter weight type of ducat … [in order to] increase of the amount of the coinage needed by … expanding political payments.
The previous Wallachian leaders' motives were timeworn as well: "Wallachia was confronted, almost permanently, with excessive military expenses … as well as an active international policy."
Thus, there were "serious threats … [to] the monetary stability in Wallachia during the entire 14th–15th century."
Consistent expansion of the money supply had created insecurity within the realm, and Vlad immediately took action to create security, making his ruling objectives clear:
My sacred mission is to bring order.… There must be security for all in my land.… When a prince is powerful at home, he will be able to do as he wills. If I am feared by the right people, [we] will be strong.
Over the next six years, he implemented policies according to three rough tenets: class warfare/redistribution, protectionism, and welfare statism. Accounts of Vlad III's murderous efforts in these pursuits rival, in their sanguineous ingenuity, the most nightmarish accounts of both La Terreur of revolutionary France and the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. In Roumania Past and Present, historian James Samuelson notes, regarding the legends surrounding Vlad Tepes III, "if one-tenth of what has been related to him [is] true … [he is] one of the most atrocious and cruel tyrants who ever disgraced even those dark ages."