If you’ve never heard the name Vlad Tepes then your knowledge of all things vampiric is severely limited. It is said that he was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s now notorious Count Dracula. He is a fascinating character for any historical study, made more so by his methods of torture and execution. There is some dispute as to his birthplace but most accounts cite the citadel of Sighisoara, Transylvania in 1431. His father, Vlad Dracul, was a member of the Order of the Dragon and the ousted leader of Wallachia. Under pressure from the Ottoman sultan, Vlad Dracul offered his two sons as hostages to ensure that, in simple terms, he would work for the sultan. Some believe it was during these years in enemy hands that young Vlad acquired a taste for torture.

Eventually Vlad Dracula became ruler of his native land of Wallachia and it was then that he put what he had learnt into practice with a vengeance. His castle was built by the forced labor of the nobles who had opposed him. The older members were impaled (hence the name Vlad the Impaler) while the younger, healthier members were essentially enslaved. There are stories of men being made to work until their clothes shredded and fell off, at which point they had to work naked or die.

The most vivid accounts of Vlad Tepes’ alleged atrocities come from German accounts which attribute burning, skinning while alive, boiling, drowning and cutting off limbs as common practices. While all this might sound quite disturbing, it was Vlad’s love for impaling which has cemented his bloodthirsty reputation, although there is no indication that he actually drank blood. There is only anecdotal evidence that he dipped parts of his meals in the blood of those slain before consuming them. If you have no taste for blood yourself, I’d suggest avoiding the rest.

The most frequent method of impalement was to have horses hold the victim’s legs apart while an oiled stake was inserted into the anus. In a testament to depravity the stakes had a tapered but blunt end to ensure that the victim didn’t die too quickly from shock and blood loss. The stake was often forced upwards until it came out of the mouth. There were cases where the stake was sent through other bodily orifices or even through the abdomen and chest. Victims often lingered for hours, and in some extreme cases for days, before succumbing to death. It is said that Vlad liked to dine amongst the screams of the impaled, and indeed there is a famous woodcut depicting this, but it is unknown whether this was actually true.