I do not really know why I wanted to write this post except that I saw the movie “Interview with a Vampire” again about two weeks ago on TV. It made me realize that I did not really know why Vlad the Impaler was what he was, what made him act like he did, why he is considered “Dracula” and as such, I decided to run my own little investigation of his life.
Vlad 111 Draculea was born at the end of 1431 in the city of Sighisoara in Transylvannia. His father, also named Vlad was a member of the Order of the Dragon, hence the name Dracula (draco in latin) meaning that Vlad 111 was the son of the dragon or possibly of the devil. Bram Stoker published his book “Dracula” in 1892 and stated that there was a connection between the vampire Count Dracula and the historical character of Vlad the Impaler. This continued the fascination of the world with both. Vlad 11 was the father of Vlad 111 and his mother was probably Princess Cneajna of Moldavia. Unlike most Romanians who were of the Greek Orthodox faith, Vlad 111 was most likely raised as a Roman Catholic. He was the middle child. His half-brother Mircea was born in 1428, and his younger brother Radu in 1435 and one last brother born out of wedlock again who later ruled as Vlad the Monk.
Vlad was born in his father’s house which was a merchant’s house close to the Jeweler’s Tower. From the second story window, you could see the town square in front of the Tower where the excecutions occurred. There is little known about Vlad’s childhood but it is almost certain that his father was absent most of the time in his first years because he had to travel to Nuremberg for his induction in the Order of the Dragon. Also, most likely Vlad had a wet nurse. He was probably surrounded by caretaking servants. All those conditions of life were the norm in his social class at that time. But how does a child form lasting ties with missing parents, servants that come and go and also by witnessing executions at his window, which according to the then local populace, Vlad 111 enjoyed watching. The psychologist Erik Erikson clearly states that during the beginning and during childhood’s emotional development, basic trust or mistrust in others starts to develop. In the case of Vlad 111, that went awry as both his parents were not there. This lack of development of basic trust can bring about the inability to establish emotional ties and trust people you are close to and also a belief that the world is unpredictable and dangerous. But all in all, that was the way of raising children in those days so just this fact is hardly enough to take into account for Vlad’s 111 behavior in later years.
In 1436, Vlad 11 became ruler of Wallachia and the whole family moved to Targoviste. Vlad, along with his half brothers continued to be educated in the customary martial arts, horsemanship, chivalry, court manners, Latin, writing, religion, mathematics and other languages. His older brother, Mircea, was his father’s favorite, while his younger brother, Radu (who later ruled as Radu the handsome) was loved by everybody. Stuck between the two, Vlad 111 had little room to develop and earn his place. He then started to observe everybody and everything around him, became also suspicious, devious and developed a feeling of having been wronged. Nevertheless, he had to hide his rage and find different outlets to let it out. These adaptive strategies only reinforced his initial emotional detachment, his suspicions of others and the world in general.
Meanwhile Vlad 11 played the game between Hungary and the Turkish Empire. In 1437, he pledged allegiance to the Sultan Murad 11 then abrutly changed his allegiance to Hungary without notice. In 1442, Vlad 11, was summoned to visit the Sultan in Gallipolis and travelled there along with Vlad 111 and Radu. All three were arrested and the father was separated from his childen for a year. Vlad 11 had to swear allegiance again to the Sultan and then released and returned to Wallachia. His two sons remained as hostages.
For Vlad 111, this was an act of ultimate betrayal and rejection from his father. For six years he and Radu were held captives but still treated as a noble but also with the impending risk of being executed at any time if his father transgressed in his support of the Sultan. He was surrounded by the court intrigues, furthermore reinforcing a paranoid atmosphere where no one is to be trusted. As such, Vlad 111 must have deepened his paranoid worldview as a suitable adaptation and coping mechanism. Stuck again between Radu and the Sultan’s son, Mehmed 11, Vlad 111 received the blunt of physical punishment used for discipline and therefore grew again even more angry, resentful and insecure.
Meanwhile, in 1444, Mircea and Vlad 11 again joined the Christian forces, breaking the oath made to the Sultan and as such Radu and Vlad 111’s lives became forfeit. But they were not harmed and rather received military training from the Sultan’s personal guard the Janissaries. During their training, both Radu and Vlad 111 had to remain celibate but homeosexuality among the Janissaries was common practice. So both Radu and Vlad 111 were used by force probably. The psychosocial development must have been traumatic. The psychologist Robert Jay Lifton (1983) states that such events often leads to psychic numbing. But Vlad 111 obviously was not totally numbed by this desecration as he developed later on an unusual intensity to impale people thus becoming “The Impaler” which has many characteristics of rape such as forced penetration, pain and humiliation. His act of impalement might just represent the replaying of his own traumatic event that he lived through which he was totally unable to process internally. But, beyond this, psychic numbing, coupled with psychic doubling becomes a defensive mechanism employed in extreme situations where the subjects (here Vlad 111) are allowed to keep a separate set of moral registers: one for extreme situation and one for everyday life. Psychic numbing isolates and insulates the subject from the emotional impact of their extreme life situation, while doubling insulates the subject from the consequences of his own actions. Hence Vlad 111 isolated himself from his young childhood and adulthood life experience and insulated himself apart from the atrocities he committed and at the same time destroyed his ability for empathy.
With this short and brief history of Vlad that I present here but also knowing what he did in his later years, I am persuaded that Vlad 111 suffered from an overlap of Paranoid Personality Disorder and also probably Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The worldview that Vlad 111 developed was in agreement with the paranoid one because his life experiences had confirmed it totally. Subjects with PTSD also display a tendency to become suspicious, hypervigilant and on their nonstop guard. But let us not forget that Vlad 111 also had some good sides such as the independence of Wallachia, breaking the grip of the Boyars on power, the safeguard of Christianity from Islam. Thus Vlad combined all of his abilities to achieve these goals by using terror and without care about their consequences.