Dracula's Wars: Vlad The Impaler and His Rivals

Dracula's Wars: Vlad The Impaler and His Rivals

by James Waterson


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Dracula's Wars: Vlad The Impaler and His Rivals by James Waterson

The real Dracula was far from Bram Stoker’s well-mannered aristocrat. Better known as Vlad the Impaler, he was named for his favoured execution method: running a spear through his victim’s lower body, then standing them upright so it skewered their vital organs.In a world ruled by petty tyrants and constantly at war, the young Dracula was held hostage by the Turks while his father was assassinated and his brother was buried alive. Finally released, Dracula conducted an almighty purge, surrounding his palace with noblemen impaled on stakes. Then he turned his attention to military campaigns against the Turks and Bulgars to consolidate his power.Yet to Romanians and the Pope he was a hero and liberator, fighting to protect his kingdom and countrymen from invasion in a complex and treacherous time. And, as an initiate in the Order of the Dragon, Dracula also played a vital (if not entirely noble) part in the fight against the Ottoman war machine.In this full account of Vlad Dracula, James Waterson details the good and the bad of this warlord prince, offering a fascinating insight into the violent end of the Middle Ages.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780750964883
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 10/01/2016
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 217,861
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

James Waterson is a graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London and received his Master’s Degree from the University of Dundee. He is the author of The Ismaili Assassins, The Knights of Islam: Wars of the Mamluks, Sacred Swords, and Defending Heaven.

Read an Excerpt

Dracula's Wars

Vlad the Impaler and his Rivals

By James Waterson

The History Press

Copyright © 2016 James Waterson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7509-6916-1




He may not enter anywhere at the first, unless there be some one of the household who bid him to come; though afterwards he can come as he please.

The world that Vlad Dracula was born into was one of petty tyrants, and even today, after the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the collapse of the Communist Bloc in the late twentieth century, we are once again in a period defined by 'Balkanisation'. Indeed, the history of the region has, almost perpetually, been defined by fragmentation with, at best, non-cooperation between neighbours and, at worst, straightforward hostility.

It was not always so but the progressive disasters that struck the Byzantine Empire from the close of the eleventh century onwards through to the Latin–Venetian Crusader conquest of Constantinople in 1204 and the spectacular implosion of a Serbian successor state after the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 left behind a prickly assortment of nationalities, faiths and affiliations with little cohesion, led far too often by men of narrow vision and debased motives.

The tenuous hold of the Latin emperors of Constantinople, and of their Venetian allies, ended in 1261 when Alexius Strategopoulos, a general of Michael Palaiologos the Emperor of Nicaea, whilst reconnoitring in the vicinity of Constantinople discovered that the city was virtually undefended. The majority of the city's Latin and Venetian forces were off besieging an island in the Black Sea, and whilst Strategopoulos did not exactly stroll into Constantinople he was certainly the recipient of a great deal of help and advice from the populace and was unhindered by any defence worth the name by the Latin forces. A small detachment of Nicaeans entered through an undefended portal in the land walls and opened the city to the main army.

Baldwin II, who had been emperor for some thirty-three years, fled and the Latin Empire died quietly:

By the providence of God the city of Constantine again became subject to the Emperor of the Romans, in a just and fitting way, on the 25th July, in the fourth indiction, in the 6769th year since the creation of the world, after being held by the enemy for fifty-eight years.

The hyperbole of the Byzantine historian George Akropolites notwithstanding, nothing can disguise the fact that Michael had, in fact, gained little more than the opportunity to regain the seat of his illustrious predecessors. No Byzantine emperor would ever again wield the power of a Justinian or even an Alexius and the city was a shadow of its former glory.

Indeed, the events of 1261 presaged much of what was to occur in the Balkans throughout the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Michael's success against the Latins was due largely to his alliance with Bulgaria and a treaty with Genoa, by which he granted it privileges similar to those enjoyed by the Venetians in the former Byzantine Empire. A Genoese fleet ferried the Nicaean army across the Straits to Thrace, and that it did so was no surprise. Bitter rivalry between the two main Italian maritime republics in the eastern Mediterranean was a feature of the entire crusading period and it would continue to damage European attempts to meet the challenge of the Ottomans in the eastern Mediterranean in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries despite repeated papal interdictions.

Furthermore, the forces of the restored Byzantine Empire remained weak. Improvements in the economic condition and security of Western Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries appear to have been matched by a downturn in the economy of the eastern Mediterranean. There was a lack of 'external security' in the Balkans following the loss of Byzantium's eastern Anatolian colonies after 1071, and through the incursions of the Bulgars into the Danube valley in the 1180s and the Vlachs throughout the Balkans in the 1190s. In fact the Greek Empire's agricultural production and manufacturing output actually grew over the eleventh century, but there was an economic decline in the empire in the same period that became so acute that the first debasement of gold coinage since the fourth century was made in this period. This economic deterioration was related to a rise in the influence of the Byzantine aristocracy, whose acquisition of lands made the peasantry dependent on local 'feudal' lords and made direct revenue collection by the state increasingly difficult.

The effects of the economic embarrassment of the state can be seen in the empire's naval dependence on Venice in the late eleventh and twelfth centuries, leading to its concession of toll-free passage through Byzantine waters following Venetian ravaging of the Greek coastline and islands in 1125 and a further extension of rights following more Venetian 'gunboat diplomacy' in 1175. By the time of the Massacre of the Latins in 1182 there were approximately 60,000 Venetians in Constantinople.

The Latin Empire's financial woes between 1204 and 1261 are a good indication of what Michael was winning back for the Greeks. It was throughout its brief life chronically short of manpower and money and appears to have been unattractive even to adventurers from the West. By example, during the poverty- racked reign of the last emperor 1,000 Latins were in the service of the Saljuq Turks against the Mongols. Pope Gregory IX even resorted to pleading with the Count of Brittany to crusade for the Latin emperor rather than for Outremer. Henry of Romania neatly summarised the situation: 'there is nothing lacking to [our] complete possession of the Empire save an abundance of Latins.'

Given the above it is not surprising that the restoration of Michael Palaiologos to Constantinople depleted Byzantium's Anatolian border of troops. Between 1204 and 1261 there was a definite lessening in the westward movement of Turkish nomads in Anatolia as the Byzantine ruling elite's enforced Anatolian exile in Nicaea and Trebizond required them to defend the region, and to at least attempt to reduce a rapacious tax regime that had been applied to the peasantry of Anatolia. These crushing taxes had commonly caused desperate peasants to join the nomad Turks.

This partial renascence of Byzantine Anatolia ended abruptly with the move back across the Bosporus of the Byzantine aristocracy. The westward movement of the Turkish war bands that thrived in the hinterland between the Byzantine Empire and the Saljuq Sultanate of Rum began afresh. Later, of course, the Byzantines' internecine struggles for power would even lead to active invitations to these same Turkish nomads to fight in the Greek civil wars.

Byzantium was a hollow shell of its former self. Its territories embraced a corner of north-western Anatolia, Thrace, Macedonia, Thessaly and a smattering of small holdings in the Peloponnese. Most of Greece still lay in Latin Frank hands, and all of the north-western Balkans was lost irretrievably. Venice and Catholic Hungary controlled Dalmatia and Croatia, and even Michael's ally, Bulgaria, remained wary of too close an alliance with the old Orthodox power. That the Latin Empire of Constantinople failed to last in fact had less to do with a renascence of Greek power than a failure on the part of the Latins to ally themselves with the Vlacho-Bulgar states and 'diplomatic ineptitude' in dealings with the native populace. Any actions of the Latin emperor were also hampered by a constitution that favoured the Venetians and fief holders far more than the central authority. A not dissimilar position faced the Byzantine emperors in the late thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. The power of the aristocracy had been enhanced by the simple fact that the emperors needed every ounce of Greek support they could gather, and the empire resembled more and more the feudal entities by which it was now surrounded.

Of course the Latin Empire had failed to gain the support of the emerging Balkan states because of what we might today term confessionalism, but what was to the medieval mind a much more straightforward question of faith, salvation and identity. Identity was a potent concept in the Middle Ages and particularly so in the Balkans. The sometimes vicious attempts to suppress religious dissent in this period, and the lack of a unified and coherent response between Catholic and Orthodox Europe to the Ottoman threat, only make sense as long as we keep this idea of identity in mind. Medieval communities were defined by their religion, and religion also demarcated each community's political allegiances. Leaders who 'switched' their allegiances from Catholic to Orthodox or vice versa risked losing all allegiance from their lords and from the 'peasant base'. It was not for nothing that Thomas Aquinas compared those who slipped from the true faith to counterfeiters, as both eroded the secular foundations of society.

A distinct religious and cultural identity seems to have been arrived at by Western Europeans during the High Middle Ages. This appears as an element of the changes to the Western European mindset over the Crusades period. There was a change from the desire to make pilgrimage to the Holy Places to one of the 'holy right' of the Latins as holders of the only true Christian creed to conquer Christendom and beyond for the Catholic faith. As an example of this, Robert of Clari justified the sack of Constantinople in 1204 by the need to remove the relics from the schismatic Greeks to the safety of the West.

Furthermore, the outlook of Western Europeans appears to have been affected profoundly by a notion of 'universal' Crusades. Helmond of Bosau discussed the attitude of the Second Crusade's participants: 'to its initiators it seemed that one part of the army should be sent to the eastern regions, another to Spain and a third against the Slavs ...' Certainly during the preaching for the Second Crusade there was an alteration in the 'format' of indulgences. There was a distinct change from the notion of a penitent pilgrim to a more formal system of indulgences that were not centred on the Holy Sepulchre. This has been viewed as an attempt by the Papacy to bring the Crusading movement more under its own control in order to use the movement as a tool of its temporal policy.

A distinct shift away from the notion of Crusading as being centred on the Holy Sepulchre was certainly clear by the time of the Latin conquest of Constantinople. The indulgences granted for the Fourth Crusade differ markedly from those of any previous expeditio; the notion of a merciful god who rewards meritorious works was introduced and this allowed for an even greater degree of flexibility in the use of the Crusade weapon. Certainly an extension of the essence of crusading was seen later in this period with the Albigenisian Crusade and the Baltic Crusades, which went as far as the settling of peasants from the Netherlands, Flanders and Westphalia in East Prussia by the Teutonic Knights. There was concurrent success for Western Christendom in Spain and by 1248 only Granada remained to be taken in Spain by the Reconquista.

Of the Catholic world's wooden-headedness towards the 'Eastern question' on both temporal and spiritual matters much more later, but it is enough to say now that the Byzantines had, potentially, in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries the opportunity to cast themselves as leaders of the Orthodox world by simple virtue of once again having possession of the senior Patriarchate of the Orthodox world within the walls of their capital. To this end Michael VIII Palaiologos had both the Bulgarian and Serbian Orthodox churches subordinated to the authority of the Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1272.

The newly restored Byzantine Empire concentrated its efforts during the 1260s and 1270s on bringing the Black Sea coast back under its control and returning Bulgaria to a position of clientage through a 'classic' Byzantine blend of military action and marriage alliance. There were also piecemeal recoveries of the minor Latin principalities in the southern Peloponnese. Michael VIII Palaiologos came to the throne with southern Thrace, Thessalonica, southern Macedonia and a few offshore Aegean islands under his control. Michael was able to establish a Greek district of the Morea and by the first decades of the fourteenth century, Byzantium again controlled most of the southern Peloponnese.

Michael allied himself to Catholic Hungary in the hope that it would act as a counterweight in the north to the rising Orthodox state of Serbia. Ironically, the greatest threat to Michael's ambitions in fact came from the Catholic West. Charles of Anjou had enjoyed papal favour in his usurpation of the Crown of Sicily in 1266 and this meeting of minds seems to have extended to the possible re-conquest of Constantinople and to the extension of Charles' power throughout the eastern Mediterranean. Charles undertook lengthy preparatory work for such a venture by gathering an invasion fleet, and by forming alliances with the Balkan states surrounding Byzantium. He also established cordial relations with the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt and Syria, with the aim of allowing unimpeded operations for his fleet in the eastern Mediterranean.

Byzantium lacked the resources to reconstitute a fleet anywhere close to the empire's navy of the eleventh century and Michael was forced to take on economically disadvantageous alliances with Venice and Genoa, which were granted extensive commercial privileges and resident colonies in Constantinople, in exchange for naval assistance.

Charles made good headway in his plans to restore the Latin Empire of Greece, and by the 1270s Corfu, some of the adjacent Greek coastline and Achaia were in his hands. He then moved against Epiros and drove the despot John Angelos into Thessaly. Charles also proclaimed himself King of Albania, and established alliances with Stefan Uros I of Serbia and even with John of Thessaly.

Michael gained a short-term advantage in the conflict by acknowledging papal primacy over a proposed union of the Orthodox and Catholic churches at the Council of Lyon in 1274. In exchange for agreeing to the union, Michael obtained papal assurances of non-interference as he gathered allies and forces for an offensive against Charles' forces in Epiros and Thessaly.

All the benefits that Michael gained by recognising the Pope as the overlord of the Orthodox church were, however, swiftly lost as the empire's Orthodox clergy, patriarch and a large part of the population rejected the union. Michael attempted, through a fairly vigorous persecution, to stem this loss of support for his cause but soon enough he had lost the Balkan Orthodox states of Bulgaria, Serbia, Epiros and Thessaly to the enemy. Byzantine leadership of the Orthodox world was damaged irreparably, and the ultimate benefactor of Michael's policy was to be Serbia.

The election of a French Pope, Martin IV, in 1281 seemed likely to doom Michael, and the Pope took no time at all to condemn Michael as a schismatic and illegitimate ruler. Charles therefore seemed primed to conquer the Balkans for Catholicism and was prevented from doing so only by Byzantine gold. In a masterful piece of diplomacy, Michael brought to life the revolt against Charles known as the Sicilian Vespers, and also financed the fleet of Pedro III of Aragon during his attack on Sicily and his attempt to take Charles' throne. Charles' challenge was effectively ended by Michael's political skill but the Byzantine emperor had been forced to alienate his own people and any potential Orthodox allies and to denude Anatolia of its forces to meet it. By the turn of the century Byzantium's armies were dependent on Latin, often Catalan, and Turkish mercenaries.

These mercenary forces were, however, still impressive in their make-up and abilities. Turkish mercenaries acted generally as light cavalry skirmishers armed with a bow that was used to lay down harassment fire, a typical technique of steppe nomads. There were also heavy cavalry archers who shot larger composite bows like their contemporaries in the Mamluk armies of Egypt and Syria. Their discipline and ability to lay down rapid, accurate and coordinated arrow-fire would have been similar to that of the famous Bahriyya regiments of Egypt. The Byzantine Varangian infantry guard of Anglo-Saxon and Scandinavian mercenaries would have provided both longbow archery and close quarters capability with their war axes.

Michael had, however, also exhausted the treasury and growing financial pressures forced him to hold back on fortifications repair and rebuilding, and also to strip away garrisons along the Anatolian border that faced the increasingly aggressive Turkish nomads.

Michael died in 1282, and that his successors were unable to match his achievements or repair the damage done by his religious policy is not surprising. That they were unable to do so is related partly to the above issues of exhausted finances, heavy taxation in Byzantine lands, Western European threats, and the actions of a Greek aristocracy that made alliance to the empire by other Orthodox states unattractive. What was perhaps more important, however, were the internecine feuds and competition for the imperial purple that wracked the empire in the first half of the fourteenth century and the rise of Serbia, which claimed both militarily and spiritually to be the true successor to the Byzantine state from before 1204. The Byzantine civil wars are of utmost importance in the creation of the world that Vlad Dracula was born into simply because they were the root cause of the Ottoman expansion into Europe, an occurrence that would define the character of and the conflicts within the Balkans for the next seven centuries.


Excerpted from Dracula's Wars by James Waterson. Copyright © 2016 James Waterson. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgements 6

A Note on Transliteration, Titles and Dates 8

Timeline 9

Maps 15

Introduction: Why Dracula? 17

1 An Ottoman Creation? The Europe into which Vlad Tepes was Born 19

2 The Dragon's Son: Vlad II Dracul's Deeds and the Youth of Dracula 74

3 To Catch a Sultan: Dracula 's First Reign 113

4 The Fall: Dracula's Loss of Wallachia 171

5 Death and Resurrection: Dracula's Return to Power, Murder and Immortalisation 193

6 Aftermath, History and Myth: The Legacies of Dracula and his Rivals 210

Notes 229

Further Reading 249

Index 252

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