Dracula v. the Ottoman Empire: Geography's Role (Part II)

In Part I, we introduced the importance of Wallachia and Transylvania, as well as the bitter connections between the Ottomans and Dracula (Vlad III).  Today, we sink our teeth into Dracula's name and his use of terrain to win battles and spread terror.

Vlad III (Tepes) (Dracula)

Dracula's father, Vlad II, was awarded membership into the prestigious Order of the Dragon.  Sponsored by the Holy Roman Empire, the dragon was symbolic of Saint George's legendary victory over a dragon.The purpose of the Order was to defend Christian Europe from the advances of the Ottoman Empire.  In his language, Vlad II became Vlad Dracul (Vlad the Dragon).  His namesake son, Vlad III, became Vlad Dracula (Son of the Dragon). 

High Stakes
Soon after claiming the throne, Dracula took the opportunity to live up to his name.  Vlad III executed the nobles responsible for murdering his father and older brother.  To strike terror, he ordered their bodies impaled by large poles that were then displayed on the town's outskirts.  And while Dracula imployed other tortuous forms of death (poisoning, beheading, boiling people alive, skinning them, and disemboweling) it was impaling that earned him his most famous nickname: Vlad Tepes (Vlad the Impaler).

Nail on the Head
After securing the throne, Vlad's attention turned to the Ottoman Empire.  In 1459, just six years after the Fall of Constantinople, the Ottoman Empire was knocking on the door to Wallachia's vast resources and vital trade routes.  That year Vlad hosted Ottoman envoys and instead of placating, he nailed their head coverings to their skulls after they refused to take them off.  

The River's Edge
In 1462, in the town of Oblucitza (modern-Isaccea) where the Danube River empties into the Black Sea, Vlad killed over 23,000 Turks.  Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II launched a punitive attack against Vlad Tepes, but Dracula used the terrain to his advantage.  Utilizing forests and swamps to launch guerrilla attacks, Vlad fought back a military three times larger than his own.  By the time Mehmet II caught up to the initial battlefield, he could only gaze in horror at the sight of 20,000 impaled soldiers.  Woods from the same forest Dracula had hidden in were used to impale the Ottoman forces.  At least a few were likely still (barely) alive and legend holds that crows were picking at the remains of the dead.

Beheading the Impaler
Dracula could not outlast the much-larger Ottoman military forever.  He was eventually forced to retreat towards Hungary, but Hungary also wanted control of his territory.  Captured and imprisoned for a short time, Vlad III reclaimed his throne in 1475, only to be defeated and beheaded a year later by Ottoman forces.  Legend holds that his head was sent to Mehmet II to be displayed in Constantinople.

The Ottoman Empire, for a few centuries, gained tremendous influence over Wallachia and the surrounding areas*, but because of the region's resources, many empires attempted control.  (Modern-Romania only freed itself from Soviet rule in 1989.)  Whether it was Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, Soviet Russia, the Hapsburg Empire, etc., countless soldiers shed blood to control Wallachia.  The blood spilled by Dracula's orders is just one part of a region's hauntingly violent past.

Thanks for reading.

*In fact, one of the great motivators for Europe's Age of Exploration was to circumvent all of the Ottoman-controlled trade routes. 

Geography is connected to everything; violence included.  The creation of Austria's flag is no exception.

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