Vlad the Impaler, the medieval Romanian prince who inspired the character of Count Dracula, was not a blood-thirsty tyrant, he was simply a misunderstood victim of bad Western European propaganda, a new exhibition has claimed.
The show, which has just opened in Bucharest, attempts to rehabilitate Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad Dracula or Vlad the Impaler, who ruled Wallachia in the 15th century.
“Vlad Dracula was doubtlessly cruel, but not more so than other princes of his time,” said Margot Rauch, the Austrian curator of the exhibition, entitled “Dracula – Voivode and Vampire”.
Vlad was born in the town of Sighisoara, in Transylvania, in 1431. He ruled over Wallachia, now a region of Romania, between 1456 and 1462 and was reputed to have killed thousands of political opponents, common criminals and captured Turkish soldiers by having them impaled on sharp wooden stakes. It is estimated he had 50,000 people put to death.
He is also said to have committed other atrocities, including torturing, roasting, dismembering and drowning his enemies.
But despite the historical evidence, according to Ms Rauch, “In fact he was a victim of bad propaganda”.
She said historical studies presented in the exhibition show legends related to Vlad Dracula were “aimed at presenting eastern Europe as a primitive land and a source of evil”.
The exhibition includes portraits of Vlad from the Kunsthistoriches Museum in Vienna and the Schloss Ambras museum in Innsbruck, as well as manuscripts which depicted him as a blood-thirsty maniac.
One of the engravings, dating back to 1500, shows him having a meal under the eyes of a dozen impaled men, while others have their limbs lopped off and their heads boiled in cauldrons.
Many Romanians regard Vlad as a hero because he fought the invading Ottoman Turks.
The legends about his rule inspired Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula”, published in 1897, and later formed the basis of countless books, films and television dramas.
The famous image of Dracula, with his deathly pale skin, dark cape and blood-stained fangs, came largely from seven Dracula films made by Universal Studios between 1930 and 1960.
“It’s time to see Vlad Dracula in another light than that given by Hollywood,” said Ms Rauch.