April 02, 2008


Welcome to Dracula Week at Goat Rope. Aside from links and comments about current events, this week's Goat Rope will take a look at both the literary character and the historical figure. Short version: if I had to pick which of the two to tangle with, I'd take the vampire any day.

A lot of times when we think of the Renaissance in 15th and 16th century Europe, the things that come to mind are art, architecture, and learning. In reality, it wasn't all art class. Rather, it was a pretty nasty time of cruelty, persecutions, warfare and political hardball.

The real Dracula, Vlad III of Wallachia (1431-1476) in what is now Romania was way over the top in terms of cruelty and sadism, but in some ways his goals were similar to those of other monarchs of the time.

Any self respecting ruler of the time sought to build an absolute monarchy, limit the powers of the aristocracy, create a loyal state apparatus, enforce religious conformity, and come to terms with the merchant class, and play the ruthless games of war and diplomacy among contending powers.

It's just that most of the others managed to do it without impaling as many people or enjoying it so much...

Vlad II, his father, was also a ruler of Wallachia who acquired the name Dracul on being inducted into the Order of the Dragon, an institution pledged to defend Christendom against the Muslim Ottoman Empire. However, it wasn't as simple as Muslims vs. Christians. Many "Christian" rulers vied with each other for power, sometimes allying themselves with the Ottomans. Vlad II died as a result of the machinations of the Hungarian John Hunyadi and the local boyars or nobility. His older brother Mircea was tortured and buried alive.

Vlad III, i.e. Dracula, spent several years as a youth as a hostage of the Ottoman sultan, where he witnessed his share of cruelties. After his father's death, he briefly ruled Wallachia in 1448 with Ottoman support but was overthrown by Hunyadi.

His main period of power in Wallachia lasted from 1456-62, when he exacted brutal vengeance on unfaithful boyars and inaugurated a reign of terror which fueled horror stories for the next few hundred years. His goals were to crush the power of the old boyars and replace them with "new men" from the lower orders loyal to him. He waged a terror campaign against Saxon merchants in the towns of Transylvania and then moved on to war against the Ottomans, with brutal forays into their territory and a scorched earth retreat when the army of Mehmed the Conqueror invaded his territory.

The Ottomans did succeed in replacing Vlad with his brother Radu the Handsome, who was also raised as a hostage. Vlad was held prisoner for several years by Matthias Corvinus of Hungary, during which time he entertained himself by torturing animals. He eventually gained a degree of freedom and married Countess Ilona Szilagy, the king's cousin, with whom he had two children.

Around the year 1475, he again seized power in Wallachia but was soon thereafter killed in an engagement with the Turks. Circumstances of his death are mysterious and some traditions say he was killed by his own men.

He expressed his political "philosophy" succinctly:

Pray, think that when a man or prince is powerful and strong at home, then he will be able to do as he wills. But when he is without power, another one more powerful than he will overwhelm him and do as he wishes.

DOCTORS SUPPORT HEALTH REFORM. According to Reuters, more than half of U.S. doctors support a national health program and fewer than a third oppose it.

WHO REALLY GETS WELFARE? Here's Dean Baker on 21st century corporate welfare kings.

GREAT MOMENTS IN CREATIONISM. Here's Wired Science on a perennially amusing topic. They left out one though: Noah could have gotten all kinds of dinosaurs on the ark if he just took the baby ones. So there...


MAID TO ORDER. Here's the latest on the WV Supreme Court case involving Massey CEO Don Blankenship's former maid, who is suing for unemployment.

ON A RELATED NOTE, Massey opposes a public hearing scheduled for next week by Justice Larry Starcher about recusal issues.


No comments: