When the Muslims Defeated Dracula

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

This is the story of two brothers who could not be more different.  One was given the moniker, ‘the Fair’ and the other became known as Dracula.  Both of them were princes of Wallachia, which is part of modern Romania but then, it was the Kingdom of Hungary.  There was a time, when much of what is modern Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Belarus, the Balkans, the Crimea and almost all of southern Russia was Muslim.  This was the Muslim heartland.  And they produced many great leaders, scholars and saints.  This was the world of the Qadiriyyah and the Naqshbandiyyah and the Khalwatiyyah.  And all that is dust.  These Muslims did not convert out of Islam.  Millions and millions of them were killed or driven off until only vestiges of their civilisation remains.  The only Muslim communities to be found in mainland Europe in large numbers are in Bosnia-Herzegovina and al-Baniya, or Albania.

Vlad III Dracul was a member of the House of Draculesti, a branch of the House of Basarab.  He was also known by his patronymic name, Dracula.  He was posthumously dubbed Vlad the Impaler, Vlad Tepes.  He was a three-time Prince of Wallachia, ruling mainly from 1456 to 1462, the period of the incipient Ottoman conquest of the Balkans.  Vlad Tepes was born in Sighisoara, Transylvania, in the winter of 1431 to Vlad II Dracul, future Prince of Wallachia.  He had two older half-brothers, Mircea II and Vlad Calugarul, in addition to his younger brother, Radu III the Fair.  Radu was also known by his Turkish name, Radu Bey.  He was born in 1435.

In the year of his birth, Vlad Tepes’ father, traveled to Nuremberg where he had been vested into the Order of the Dragon.  At the age of five, young Vlad Tepes was also initiated into the Order.  The Order of the Dragon was a monarchical chivalric order for selected nobility, founded in 1408 by Sigismund, King of Hungary and later, Holy Roman Emperor.  It was fashioned after the military orders of the Crusades, requiring its initiates to defend the Cross and fight the enemies of Christianity, in particular the Ottoman Turks.  It is from this order that Vlad II and later his son, Vlad Tepes got the nickname, ‘Dracul,’ which means ‘of the Dragon.’

Vlad Tepes and Radu spent their early formative years in Sighisoara under the care and tutelage of their mother and the wives of other exiled boyars.  During the first reign of their father, Vlad II Dracul, the Prince brought his young sons to Targoviste, the capital of Wallachia at that time.  At Targoviste, the sons of boyars and ruling princes were well-educated by Romanian or Greek scholars commissioned from Constantinople.  Vlad Tepes is believed to have learned combat skills, geography, mathematics, science, languages such as Old Church Slavonic, German and Latin, and the classical arts and philosophy.

In 1436, Vlad II Dracul ascended the throne of Wallachia.  But he was ousted in 1442 by rival factions in league with the King of Hungary.  He secured Ottoman support for his return by agreeing to pay jizyah, the tribute that non-Muslims pay a Muslim ruler, to the Sultan and to send his two legitimate sons, Vlad III and Radu, to the Ottoman court, to serve as hostages of his loyalty.  The boys’ father, Vlad Dracul, was awarded the support of the Ottomans and returned to Wallachia and took back his throne from Basarab II and some unfaithful boyars.

The boys were taken to the various garrisons at Edirne, then the capital of the Ottoman Empire.  Edirne is an ancient city, once called Adrianople, amongst many names.  Vlad Tepes was a young man of strong will and arrogance.  He suffered much at the hands of the Ottomans and was locked up in an underground prison.  Radu, on the other hand, caught the eye of the Sultan’s son, Mehmet II.  Radu, at the age of 22, became a leading figure at the Ottoman court.  Radu converted to Islam, entered the service of Sultan Murad II’s son, Mehmet II.  He was allowed into the Topkapi Palace.  Radu was also honoured by the title ‘Bey’ and was given command of the Janissary contingents and became a successful Janissary commander in the Ottoman Empire.  He was sent by Mehmet to suppress rebellion and subdue Anatolia and the border with Persia.  He also served during the Battle of Otlukbeli against Uzun Hasan.  Radu later participated alongside the now Sultan Mehmet II in the Ottoman siege which eventually led to the Fall of Constantinople in 1453.

The Ottoman special forces held a higher status both militarily as well as socially than the rank and file, and were known as the Janissaries and the Sipahis.  The Sipahis were the elite cavalry who surrounded the Sultan in battle and would be sent to deal with the most stubborn of adversaries.  They were the commandos.  The Sipahis were almost exclusively Turkic in origin as demanded by Sultan Mehmet II himself in his treatise of law entitled Kanun Nameh-e-Sipahi, “Law Book of the Sipahis.”  The Janissaries were converts to Islam.  The Janissaries, from Turkish meaning, “new soldier,” were infantry units that formed the Ottoman Sultan’s household troops and bodyguards.  The force was originally created by Sultan Murad I from Christian boys levied from conquered territories in the 14th Century.

Radu remained faithful to Islam and the Sultan and spent his entire life in battle on the frontiers of the Ottoman Empire.  He was a great commander even amongst the Janissaries and Sipahis of the Ottoman military, and he would be called upon frequently to deal with major threats.  It is reported that he turned the course of Near Eastern history when he stopped the Ak Koyunlu from overrunning the Ottomans and defeated the remnants in Asia Minor.  For this very reason, he was called upon to face the threat from his homeland of Wallachia that neither the elite Janissaries nor the Sipahis could - his brother, Vlad III Dracul.

These years had a great influence on Vlad Tepes.  The young Vlad Tepes continually abused and rebelled against his hosts, earning himself imprisonment and castigation.  Due to the heavy handedness of the Turks in response to his insolence, he developed a compounded and complex series of grudges.  He was often whipped and beaten by the Turks.  He developed a well-known hatred for Radu for converting to Islam and for Mehmet II.  He hated the Janissary corps, the Ottoman Turks and Muslims in general.  He was envious of his father’s preference for his elder brother, Mircea II and half brother, Vlad Calugarul.  He also distrusted the Hungarians and his own father for trading him to the Turks and betraying the Order of the Dragon’s oath to fight the Ottoman Empire.  His sentiments for Mircea however, would teeter between jealousy and awe. It is from him that the young Vlad Tepes learned the terror tactic of impaling thousands to create forests of the dead.  Vlad Tepes was later released in 1448, corrected and taken to be educated in logic, the Qur’an and the Turkish and Persian languages and literature.  He would speak this language fluently in his later years.  He and his brother were also trained in warfare and riding horses.

In November, 1447, John Hunyadi, Regent of Hungary launched an attack against Wallachia due to its being allied with the Ottomans by the treaties signed by Vlad II Dracul.  Vlad’s and Radu's father fled, but Mircea II, their elder brother was captured by the boyars from Targoviste and was blinded with a red hot poker before being buried alive.  It was a cruel end to a cruel man.

A short time after, their father was captured and killed by the forces of John Hunyadi.  Vlad III was now the Ottoman Turks’ candidate for the throne of Wallachia, the first of a succession of times he would hold the throne, this first time for only a matter of months.  To prevent Wallachia from falling into the Hungarian fold, the Ottomans invaded Wallachia and put young Vlad Tepes on the throne.  Vlad Tepes took the throne from Vladislav II in 1456 and began his reign of terror for which he would become best known following this period.  Like his older brother Mircea II, Vlad Tepes was an able military commander.  However, this rule was short-lived as Hunyadi himself now invaded Wallachia and restored his ally Vladislav II, of the Danesti clan, to the throne.

Vlad Tepes fled to Moldavia, where he lived under the protection of his uncle, Bogdan II.  In October 1451, Bogdan was assassinated and Vlad Tepes fled to Hungary.  Impressed by Vlad Tepes’ vast knowledge of the mindset and inner workings of the Ottoman Empire as well as his hatred of the new sultan, Mehmet II, Hunyadi reconciled with his former rival and made him his advisor.  He now served the man whose forces had killed his father and elder brother.

After the Fall of Constantinople to Mehmet II in 1453, Ottoman influence began to spread from this base through the Carpathians, threatening mainland Europe, and by 1481 conquering the entire Balkans peninsula.  Vlad Tepes’ period of rule thus falls entirely within the three decades of the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans.

In 1456, three years after the Ottomans had conquered Constantinople, they threatened Hungary by besieging Belgrade.  Hunyadi began a concerted counter-attack in Serbia: while he himself moved into Serbia and relieved the siege before dying of the plague.  Vlad Tepes led his own contingent into Wallachia, reconquered his native land and killed Vladislav II in hand-to-hand combat.  Vlad Tepes spent much of his rule campaigning against the Ottoman Empire and its expansion.  His practice of impaling his enemies became central to his reputation.  During his lifetime, his reputation for excessive cruelty spread abroad, to Germany and elsewhere in Europe.  The total number of his victims is estimated in the tens of thousands.

Vlad Tepes found Wallachia in a wretched state.  Regarding a stable economy essential to resisting external enemies, he used severe methods to restore order and prosperity.  Vlad Tepes considered the boyars the chief cause of the constant strife as well as of the death of his father and brother.  To secure his rule, he had many leading nobles killed and gave positions in his council, traditionally belonging to the greatest boyars, to persons of obscure origins, who would be loyal to him alone, and to foreigners.  For lower offices, Vlad Tepes preferred knights and free peasants to boyars.  The army was strengthened.  He had a small personal guard, mostly made of mercenaries, who were rewarded with loot and promotions.  He also established a militia or ‘lesser army’ made up of peasants called to fight whenever war came.  Since the Wallachian nobility was linked to the Transylvanian Saxons, Vlad Tepes also acted against them by eliminating their trade privileges and raiding their cities.  In 1459, he had several Saxon settlers of Brasov, modern Kronstadt, impaled.

In 1459, Pope Pius II called for a new crusade against the Ottomans, at the Congress of Mantua.  In this crusade, the main role was to be played by Matthias Corvinus, son of John Hunyadi, the King of Hungary.  To this effect, Matthias Corvinus received from the Pope 40,000 golden coins, an amount that was thought to be enough to gather an army of 12,000 men and purchase 10 Danube warships.  In this context, Vlad Tepes allied himself with Matthias Corvinus, with the hope of keeping the Ottomans out of the country.

Later that year, in 1459, Sultan Mehmet II sent envoys to Vlad Tepes to urge him to pay a delayed jizyah of 10,000 ducats and 500 recruits into the Ottoman forces.  Vlad Tepes refused, because if he had paid the ‘tribute’, as the tax was called at the time, it would have meant a public acceptance of Wallachia as part of the Ottoman Empire.  Vlad Tepes, just like most of his predecessors and successors, had as a primary goal to keep Wallachia as independent as possible.  Vlad Tepes had the Turkish envoys killed on the pretext that they had refused to raise their hats to him, by nailing their turbans to their heads.

Meanwhile, the Sultan received intelligence reports that revealed Vlad Tepes's domination of the Danube.  He sent the Bey of Nicopolis, Hamza Pasha, to make peace and, if necessary, eliminate Vlad Tepes.  Vlad Tepes planned an ambush.  Hamza Pasha, the Bey of Nicopolis, brought with him 10,000 cavalry and when passing through a narrow pass north of Giurgiu, Vlad Tepes launched a surprise attack.  The Wallachians had the Turks surrounded and defeated.  The Turks' plans were thwarted and almost all of them caught and impaled, with Hamza Pasha’s head impaled on the highest stake to show his rank.

In the winter of 1462, Vlad Tepes crossed the Danube and devastated the entire Bulgarian land in the area between Serbia and the Black Sea.  Disguising himself as a Turkish Sipahi, he infiltrated and destroyed Ottoman camps.  In a letter to Corvinus dated 2nd February, he boasted, “I have killed peasant men and women, old and young, who lived at Oblucitza and Novoselo, where the Danube flows into the sea, up to Rahova, which is located near Chilia, from the lower Danube up to such places as Samovit and Ghighen.  We killed 23,884 Turks without counting those whom we burned in homes or the Turks whose heads were cut by our soldiers.”   He ended this long letter with, “Thus, your highness, you must know that I have broken the peace with him,” referring to Sultan Mehmet II.

In response to this, Sultan Mehmet II raised an army of around 60,000 troops and 30,000 irregulars, and in spring of 1462 headed towards Wallachia.  His brother, Radu was at the head of the Janissary.  Commanding at best only 30,000 to 40,000 men, Vlad Tepes was unable to stop the Ottomans from crossing the Danube at June 4th, 1462 and entering Wallachia.  Vlad Tepes retreated to Transylvania.  During his departure, he practiced a scorched earth policy, leaving nothing to be used by the pursuing Ottoman army.  When the Ottoman forces approached Targoviste, they encountered over 20,000 Muslims; men, women and children, impaled by the forces of Vlad Tepes, creating a ‘forest’ of dead or dying bodies on stakes.  This atrocity was too much even for them to bear and frightened them into retreating.  The legend of Dracula had begun.  It is interesting to note that the word ‘Drac’ in Romanian does not mean ‘dragon’ anymore.  It is now associated with ‘devil.’  Their modern word for dragon is ‘Balaur.’

Even during his lifetime, Vlad Tepes became famous as a tyrant taking sadistic pleasure in torturing and killing.  Estimates of the number of his victims range from 40,000 to 100,000, comparable to the cumulative number of executions over four centuries of European witch hunts.  According to the German stories the number of victims he had killed was at least 80,000.  In addition to the 80,000 victims mentioned he also had whole villages and fortresses destroyed and burned to the ground.  Impalement was Vlad Tepes’ preferred method of torture and execution.  But he was a man of variety and victims were sawn, boiled, dismembered and burned alive.

Vlad waged a guerrilla campaign against the larger Ottoman forces, then commanded by the Grand Vizier, Mahmed Pasha.  He constantly organised small attacks and ambushes on the Turks, such as “The Night Attack” when 15,000 Turks were killed.  This infuriated Mehmet II, who then crossed the Danube. With the exception of some Turkish references, all the other chronicles at the time that mention the 1462 campaign state that the Sultan was defeated.

Vlad Tepes’ attack was celebrated by the Saxon cities of Transylvania, the Italian states and the Pope.  A Venetian envoy, upon hearing about the news at the court of Corvinus on 4th March, expressed great joy and said that the whole of Christianity should celebrate Vlad Tepes’ successful campaign.  The Genoese from Caffa also thanked Vlad Tepes, for his campaign had saved them from an attack of some 300 ships that the Sultan planned to send against them.

Radu and his Janissary battalion were given the responsibility of repelling his brother’s deadly raids after the Sipahis failed to subdue Vlad Tepes.  Radu was now given the task of leading the Ottoman Empire to victory.  He was positioned north of the Danube, after most of the demoralised Ottoman Turks withdrew.  There the brothers, known in Turkish as the Blood Brothers, fought lingering battles.  Radu and his Janissary blended into the hinterlands well supplied with gunpowder and a continuous flow of dananir.  Radu had soon gained control of much of the country side.

By 8th September, Vlad Tepes had won another three victories, but continuous war had left him without any money and he could no longer pay his mercenaries.  Vlad Tepes traveled to Hungary to ask for help from his former ally, Matthias Corvinus.  Instead of receiving help, he found himself arrested and thrown into the dungeon for high treason.  Corvinus, not planning to get involved in a war after having spent the Papal money meant for it on personal expenses, forged a letter from Vlad Tepes to the Ottomans where he supposedly proposed a peace with them, to give an explanation for the Pope and a reason to abandon the war and return to his capital.  Vlad Tepes was imprisoned at Oratia, a fortress located at Podu Dambovitei Bridge.  A period of imprisonment in Visegrad, near Buda followed, where the Wallachian prince was held for 10 years.  Then he was imprisoned in Buda.

Radu and his well-equipped forces finally besieged Poenari Castle, the famed lair of Vlad Tepes.  After his difficult victory, Radu was given the title Bey of Wallachia by Sultan Mehmet II.  Radu was then 26 years of age.  During his brief reign, order was restored in Romania and Ottoman Sipahi’s gained a strong foothold in the south of the country.  Radu ruled from 1462 until 1473, soon after the Janissary under his command began attacks and raids on Vlad Tepes's mountain stronghold on the Arges River, Poenari.  Vlad Tepes’ defeat at Poenari was due in part to the fact that the boyars, who had been alienated by Vlad Tepes’ policy of undermining their authority, had joined Radu under the assurance that they would regain their privileges.  They believed that Ottoman protection was better than Hungarian.  It was said as well that Radu, through his spies or traitors, found the place where some boyars' families were hidden during the war and blackmailed them to his side.

In 1473, according to a treaty with the Ottomans, Basarab Laiota the Old took over the throne.  Radu’s sudden death at the age of 40 in the year 1475 caused the return of his brother Vlad III Dracul.  After Radu’s death, Vlad Tepes was released from prison.  Vlad Tepes declared his third reign in 26th November 1476.  Vlad Tepes began preparations for the reconquest of Wallachia in 1476 with Hungarian support.  He immediately assembled an army and invaded Bosnia, slaughtering its Muslim population and impaling 8,000 on stakes in a forest of human bodies.  Dracula had arisen from the darkness with the objective of eliminating Islam from the Balkans.  He had finally secured the throne of Wallachia for the third time, this time, after his departed brother, but only for a month.  Sultan Mehmet II, al-Fatih, the Conqueror of Constantinople, invaded Wallachia.  In 1476 the forces of Sultan Mehmet II faced the forces of Vlad Tepes in Bucharest, Romania.  Vlad Tepes’ army was overrun in a blitz and all were killed, including Dracula himself.  But he did not at the battle itself.

Vlad Tepes’ third reign had lasted little more than two months when he was assassinated.  The exact date of his death is unknown, presumably the end of December 1476, but it is known that he was dead by 10th January 1477.  The exact location of his death is also unknown, but it would have been somewhere along the road between Bucharest and Giurgiu.  Vlad Tepes’ head was taken to Constantinople, now Istanbul, as a trophy, and his body was buried unceremoniously by his rival, Basarab Laiota.  Vlad the Impaler had been slain.  News of this did not suffice.  His head was cut off and preserved in a jar of honey and sent to Istanbul.  There, in a fitting end, Dracula’s head was impaled upon a stake in the center of Istanbul for all to see.  The Muslims had finally defeated Dracula.


  1. thanks for sharing the unknown side of this story!


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