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articles > famous people > dracula, vampires, “strigoi” and “moroi” in the romanian tradition


  • Vlad the Impaler or Dracula?
  • Bram Stoker`s Dracula
  • Vampires, “strigoi” or “moroi”?
  • Means of protection against the “strigoi”

    Vlad the Impaler or Dracula?

    Dracula, one of the most famous characters in the world, is always linked to Romania. More precisely, with Transylvania (a Romanian province), which is believed to be a foggy mysterious land, with lots of vampires and castles.

    The legend of this famous Dracula has its starting point in a historical character, who played a very important role in the 15th century in this part of the world. Several reasons were put together in order to transform the ruler of Wallachia (another Romanian province) in the bloody vampire of today.

    draculaThe real history tells us that Vlad the Impaler (in Romanian: Vlad Tepes) ruled in Wallachia for three times (1448; 1456-1462; 1476), the last reign being finished with his death. Let`s not forget that in that times the rulers came to the throne and left it, according to the interests and the support of the boyars and of the Turks, too.

    Vlad the 3rd the Impaler was probably born in Sighisoara, in the year 1431, in the house where his father, Vlad the 2nd Dracul (also a ruler of Wallachia) had lived for 5 year (from 1431 to 1435). That house still exists today, as a restaurant, but it has kept some parts of the old mediaeval paintings. Vlad the 2nd (the Impaler`s father) was a knight of the Dragon`s order, founded by Sigismund of Luxembourg for fighting against the Turks. The members of this order used to wear at the neck a medallion representing a dragon. The people, not being used to the image of the dragon, nicknamed the ruler “Vlad with the devil” and then “Vlad the Devil” (Vlad Dracul). In the Romanian language the words “dragon” and “devil” (“drac”) are very similar. So, Vlad the Impaler was named “Draculea” and then “Dracula”, meaning “the son of Dracul”.

    In the childhood, for about 6 years, from 1442 to 1448, Vlad and his brother Radu were hostages of the Turks. But in 1447 their father, Vlad Dracul was murdered at the order of Iancu of Hunedoara, ruler of Transylvania, who imposed another ruler for Wallachia, called Vladislav the 2nd. The year 1448 is the year of Vlad the Impaler`s first reign. Returned in the country, he took the throne of Wallachia, but only for a short period of time (2 months), as Vladislav the 2nd came back with an army in order to take back the throne. An exile period came next for Vlad, who wandered in Moldavia and Transylvania from 1448 to 1456. The years spent at the Turks, the years of exile, but the death of his father and elder brother (Mircea, buried alive) also, influenced his personality for ever.

    In 1456, with help from Transylvania, it seems, Vlad the Impaler returned to rule Wallachia. His home policy was based on an idea which can be found in a letter written to the merchants from the city of Brasov: “When a man or a ruler is powerful and respected (inside the country), he can do the peace however he wants it, but when he has no power, a more powerful one will come over him and he`ll do whatever he`ll want with him”. In order to impose the honesty and the justice as values, Vlad used the impaling punishment. He didn`t only impale thieves, but he also impaled the unfaithful and dishonest boyars and obviously, the Turks. This punishment who brought this nickname for Vlad wasn`t though invented by the Romanians. It was very typical for those mediaeval times, characterized by cruelty and torture. The victims were tied with the hands and feet spread and a pale was sticked through their rectum. They were then lifted and let to die in agony. If Vlad had applied this punishment only to the Turks, so to the pagans, maybe it wouldn`t have seemed so unusual. Anyway, the fact that he used to impale not only the Turks, but the Christians also, was a real shock for those times.

    The moment when Vlad revenged the death of his brother and father became famous. In the first Easter day of the year 1459 he impaled some of the boyars and he forced the rest of them to work at the building of the Poienari fortress. Another story tells how Vlad killed in the same way about 500 boyars, who have lived during more than 7 reigns, punishing them for their infidelity and treason proved like this. The beggars weren`t spared either. They were called at a feast in the city of Targoviste (the capital of Wallachia in those times) and asked if they want to be released from the difficulties of life. As the answer was affirmative, Vlad burnt them all, so none of them won`t suffer anymore.

    In these conditions, the thefts weren`t so common in Wallachia. It is even said that in those times a golden cup could have been left near a fountain and nobody would have taken it. A legend goes that a merchant who was passing through Wallachia asked Vlad for protection. The ruler assured him that nothing bad would happen. As 160 golden coins had disappeared after the first night, the merchant complained to Vlad. The ruler caught the thief and impaled him, returning the money to the trader. He didn`t return 160, but 161 coins. The merchant saw that and said that he received one more golden coin. Then Vlad said to him that if he hadn`t told the truth, he also would have been impaled for fraud.

    Very special relations were between Vlad the Impaler and the Saxon merchants from the cities of Sibiu and Brasov. The Saxons were brought in the south of Transylvania in the 12th and 13th centuries, in order to defend the borders with Wallachia, but also for colonizing the lands. Famous merchants, they had always benefited of commercial privileges. But in the year 1459 Vlad began a policy of protecting the merchants from Wallachia, which caused the conflict with the Saxons. This conflict was stressed by the fact that the Saxons always supported other claimants to the throne of Wallachia. One of these claimants, Dan the 3rd, was forced by Vlad to dig his own grave and then was beheaded and thrown into it. In his campaign against the merchants from Brasov, Vlad burnt the city and impaled them on the hills around.

    The battle against the Turks began in 1459 with Vlad`s refusal to pay the requested tribute. More than this, the Impaler fixed by nails the Turkish messengers` turbans on their head, as they didn`t want to uncover themselves, saying that it was forbidden by their religion. The alliance with Mattia Corvin, king of Hungary, played a very important role for Vlad. In the winter of 1461-1462, he organized a surprise campaign in the south of Danube, during which more than 20.000 Turks were killed. In his letter to Mattia Corvin, the Impaler enumerated with a macabre accuracy the burnt places, but the number of victims also: 23.884 exactly, without counting “the ones burnt alive in their houses or the ones whose heads weren`t presented to my officers”. The reply came quickly. In the spring of 1462, the sultan Mehmed the 2nd crossed the Danube with a 60.000 soldiers army (almost the double of the army which Vlad had at his disposal) and went directly to Targoviste. The famous night attack of the Impaler`s army happened in June, this attack causing panic in the Turkish camp, making them retire.

    Vlad`s decline was due to a fake letter, written most probably by the Saxon merchants, letter which “proved” the ties between the Impaler and the Turks. Thus Vlad was accused of treason and arrested at the order of Mattia Corvin. There was also another reason for which the Hungarian king acted like this. In the winter of 1462, Vlad had asked for help from Mattia Corvin, who had received money from the Pope in that purpose. So, the accusing and arresting of the Wallachian ruler hid also the fact that Mattia Corvin didn`t help Vlad, but didn`t return the money received for the Crusade either. Between 1462 and 1474 Vlad the Impaler was prisoner at Visegrad and Pesta. Moreover, his defamation began. “The German stories”, spread by Mattia Corvin and the Saxon merchants would create a bloody and cruel image of Vlad in all the Western Europe.

    In 1475, after the intervention of Stephan the Great (the Moldavian ruler), Vlad was released and he returned in 1476 on the throne of Wallachia. It would only last one month, as he was killed in December, after a conspiracy of the boyars. The legend goes that Vlad was buried at the Snagov monastery (only the body, as the head had been taken to the Turks, at Constantinopol), but the archaeological research from 1930s only discovered some horse bones.

    Bram Stoker`s Dracula

    Beside the negative fame brought by the name of Dracula and by the stories of the Transylvanian Saxon merchants, at the end of the 19th century another decisive element was added at the future renown of the Romanian ruler. An Irishman, Bram Stoker, published at London, in 1897, his novel called “Dracula, the Vampire from the Carpathians”. The novel was based on folk beliefs and distorted historical elements.

    The vampire theme wasn`t for the first time in the literature. Earlier, in 1819, a book called “The Vampire”, signed by Byron, but most probably written by Polidori, his secretary, was published. Yet, Bram Stoker will be the one to bring the celebrity of Dracula. His novel, otherwise rather weak, arrived in 1903 at the sixth edition and it was the best sold book in the world after the Bible (what a strange comparison!).

    Bram Stoker had never traveled to Romania. His information came from the London libraries, as Jonathan Harker himself, one of the main characters of the novel, stated: “Having had some time at my disposal when in London, I had visited the British Museum, and made search among the books and maps in the library regarding Transylvania; it had struck me that some foreknowledge of the country could hardly fail to have some importance in dealing with a nobleman of that country. I find that the district he named is in the extreme east of the country, just on the borders of three states, Transylvania, Moldavia, and Bukovina, in the midst of the Carpathian mountains; one of the wildest and least known portions of Europe.” The region that Harker describes is the Bargau region, near Bistrita. He tells that just in the pass which links Transylvania with Moldavia, in the ruins of a castle, Dracula, a Transylvanian(!!) count lives and every night he turns into a vampire.

    The place where the castle is isn`t identified: “I was not able to light on any map or work giving the exact locality of the Castle Dracula, as there are no maps of this country as yet to compare with our own Ordance Survey Maps”. So, the famous Dracula`s castle is not located at Bran (wrongly linked to the legend)), but at Bargau, where, in order to exploit the legend, a mediaeval looking hotel, called “Dracula Castle” was built in the 1980s.

    Vampires, “strigoi” or “moroi”?

    The Western vampires, who get out of their tombs for sucking their victims` blood, turning them into beings like them, can be considered the represention of the “strigoi” or “moroi” from the Romanian tradition.

    The “strigoi”, dead or alive, are human souls which can`t find their rest.

    The living “strigoi” are formed from the children born with an additional vertebra (“with tail”), from the ones born with “shirt” or “cap” (remains of the embryonic membrane) or from the ones born from an incest. A “strigoi” also becomes the third child born without father, the ninth or the twelfth baby of the same sex or a child conceived on a feast day. It is said that the women give birth to children with “cap” if during their pregnancy they drank the water in which a devil left his slobber or if they came out in the night with the head uncovered and the devil put a red cap on their head, cap with which their baby will born. If the midwife sees that cap, she must break it so the baby shouldn`t eat it and thus become a “strigoi”. Also the midwife, when she sees the “tail”, the “cap” or the “shirt”, can decide where the “strigoi” will cause damages: in the agriculture, in the tame animals etc.

    The living “strigoi” are invisible and they only can be seen by those who were born on a Saturday or by those who on St. George`s Eve cut the head of a white snake with a coin, put incense and garlic in its mouth and buried it under the house entrance. During the day, the “strigoi” can be recognized, as they don`t eat onion and garlic and they don`t touch the incense. During night, the “strigoi” (the souls) leave the bodies of the human beings (who remain as dead) and they cause all kind of damages: they steal the milk of the cows, the wheat from the field or even the men`s virility, they influence the rain or turn the world upside down. There are two very important critical nights from this point of view: St. George`s Eve (April 22nd to April 23rd) and St. Andrew`s night (November 29th to November 30th).

    On St. George`s Eve, the “strigoi”, but especially the “strigoi-women”, steal the wheat of the field and the milk of the cows, but the men`s virility also. On St. Andrew`s night, the souls, after having got out of the body, roll over three times and turn into different animals. They meet the dead “strigoi” on the crossroads and fight for choosing this way the one who will be their leader in the next year. After having healed their wounds, before the first crock of the cocks, they return to the bodies they left at home.

    Unlike the living “strigoi”, who are people whose souls leave their bodies during night, the dead “strigoi” are dead people whose souls can`t reach the other world, for one reason or another. Their bodies don`t rot and they return (after nine days, six weeks, six months or six years), especially in the nights with full moon, between the first and the third crock of the cocks, tormenting the ones who are still alive.

    After the death, if a man was a living “strigoi”, will turn into a dead one if certain rituals haven`t been respected. That is why the mother of a child who was born a “strigoi” will tell him about it. If it is known that someone was a “strigoi” during his life, a spike, a pale or a spindle is sticked in his heart before being buried.

    Dead “strigoi” become also the ones in whose cases the burial traditions weren`t respected. The dead mustn`t be left alone during the night before being buried, as there is the risk that he become a “strigoi” if an animall will pas under him. Another custom is to put in the dead man`s mouth or handkerchief a holed coin, in order to have money to pay the customs duties to the other world or to put incense in all the openings of the body. Also become “strigoi” the ones who sold their souls to the devil during life time, the unbaptized children or the children who were murdered by their mothers.

    Means of protection against the “strigoi”

    In order to protect themselves against the living “strigoi”, the people put green branches at the windows or doors or graze them with garlic. For the same purpose fires were lit and noises were made or the cattle and the fields were carefully watched over.

    In the case of the dead “strigoi”, the protection and annihilation means are more complex. In order to find the grave of a dead “strigoi”, a horse was used during night. The grave over which the horse refused to jump was the grave of a dead “strigoi”. The same thing happened also if the tomb had a hole in it (the “strigoi” got out through it) or if the earth was lowered. Sometimes the dead thought to be “strigoi” were found in the coffins in other positions (a possible explanation can be the clinical death). When he was identified, a “strigoi” had to be killed. Thus, his heart was taken out of the body and burnt, different things were stuck in his heart, the coffin was turned upside down, the dead was shoot or incinerated or garlic sauce was poured through the hole from the tomb. It is believed that when a “strigoi” is killed, a great rain will follow and if a “strigoi” is buried, the drought comes next.
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    Comments (5)
    PoyNcfwLUSWPtWE de vzQsqLNccLDzYzld pe 29-11-2010 04:53
    xnWJeTNQGkLghe de CACTGUCxPqYnkznjgVv pe 25-03-2010 05:12
    Strigoi de mrprincie pe 12-11-2006 09:57
    Unde dai si unde crapa de Catalin pe 28-04-2006 06:26
    mmm de silvia pe 14-02-2006 12:24
    ................ de bumblebee pe 15-11-2004 04:28

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