Why did Vlad the Impaler impale people?

Before the Geneva Convention there was medieval warfare and it was often barbaric and brutal. Vlad III Dracula (Dracula meaning “son of Dracul” or “son of the dragon”), otherwise known as Vlad the Impaler, or Vlad Ţepeş (Tze-Pesh, Romanian for “Impaler”), would torture and kill his enemies by impaling them on sharpened poles and setting them on display as examples. He chose impalement because at the time it was considered degrading and embarrassing for the victim, and he wanted to instill fear in potential invaders. He also had significant mental trauma from his early life that surely complicated the matter. Let’s see how it all ties together.

Much to be angry about

To start off, in their childhood Vlad III and his brother Radu were given captive to the Ottoman Empire as a token of loyalty by his father, Vlad II Dracul, so that he could maintain rule over Wallachia. Vlad III and Radu were awfully abused, tortured, and even raped. To further aggravate the trauma, there was also a lot of psychological agony they were put through. Eventually, Radu was given to the Sultan to be his personal lover. Vlad III’s father and mother were also murdered, so there’s that.

There’s a lot of terrible history to learn of Vlad III just in his early years, so when he came to rule Wallachia, he was full of animosity, ire, and thirst for vengeance. By this point, he likely had mental conditions exacerbating his anger such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, and possibly some insanity. The sexual nature of impalement (it was often done through the rectum) suggests the act was consciously or unconsciously linked to Vlad III’s past.

The fear factor

To say that Vlad the Impaler used his impaled victims to instill fear and deter possible invaders is just the tip of the iceberg. Soldiers in that time considered a degrading and embarrassing form of punishment. Especially considering the way that Vlad the Impaler chose to impale his victims was through the rectum and up through the body. The embarrassment of this violation and having the spike set standing, putting the victim in the air, letting him see from above as he is slowly dying, and smelling his own blood was stomach churning. No soldier wanted that fate.

What was worse was that this process took a long time, so when there were lots of victims to impale many of them were just impaled through the belly and hoisted up, making the horrific scene that much harder to behold. The sheer numbers of these victims were enough to make even the strongest of people lose their lunch. Near the capital, Târgoviște (Tur-Goh-Vish-Teh), Vlad the Impaler had what was called “the forest of the impaled,” where thousands upon thousands of impaled bodies and skeletons towered over the land on spikes.

You can see what I mean by the word “fear” being just the tip of the iceberg, right? Maybe there are other words. Trepidation? Terror? Horror? None of these words seem to really describe what these abominable scenes were really like.

A torture device

Another reason for the impaling of enemies was that it served as a form of torture. On some victims, the pole was sharpened for a quicker death, on others the pole was oiled to prevent the prisoner from dying too quickly. Vlad III would attempt to extract information from them. Careful attention was placed to ensure vital organs such as the heart were not pierced. It is unclear if this was a very effective method of extracting information since the tormented prisoner was fully aware of his impending doom.

A surprise ending

Vlad III is actually considered a hero to much of Romania. He is credited for steadfastly holding back the unrelenting advance of the Ottoman Empire into Europe. It has been said that under his rule you could leave a golden vessel at the well and nobody would steal it. Furthermore, he was in open rebellion against the Turks, who were very cruel to the people of Wallachia, and they would also use impaling as a form of punishment. It was surprising to them that Vlad, a Christian, not only dared to impale so many Turks, but did so with absolutely no fear of consequence and, when all was said and done, with impunity.

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