Scanderbeg at Alessio

When George Castriota Scanderbeg raised the flag of revolt against Ottoman rule and seized his family fortress at Coya [Krujë] in November 1443, he realized the difficulty Albaians faced in defending their homeland. As one who had been a hostage at the Ottoman court and served in the Sultan’s army, he knew lack of political unity had been the principal cause for failure in previous Albanian encounters with the Islamic invaders. Konstantin Mihailović, a veteran of the janissary corps, noted: “The reason he [the Sultan] defeated them [the Albanians] so easily was that one looked on while he was defeating another.”
With this in mind, Scanderbeg and other Albanian nobles met at Alessio [Lezhë, in Albanian], a port city controlled by Venice on the Adriatic coast. The meeting took place at the cathedral of St. Nicholas on 2 March 1444. Venetian representatives attended the meeting as observers, interested in protecting their coastal possessions from Ottoman aggression, as well as hoping to prevent any Albanian leader from becoming so powerful that they could threaten Venetian territories or break their economic monopoly. Despite some hesitation by those who preferred to wait for the organization of a Christian crusade, the Albanian nobility agreed to pool their resources and organize a unified military resistance to the Ottomans.
His military and administrative experience, combined with his first-hand knowledge of the Ottomans made Scanderbeg the logical choice as General of the new army. The chronicler Marin Barletti recalled: “He was unanimously chosen the commander-in-chief of the armies, and to his sole direction was committed the conduct of the war. He was esteemed most worthy of the honor bestowed upon him on account of his skill and science in military affairs, his great prudence and deliberation, his long acquaintance with the manners and customs of the barbarians, and his wonderful judgement, which was confirmed by long use and daily experience.”
The League of Alessio proved a decisive moment in the Albanian resistance to the Islamic invasion as it gave Scanderbeg the resources to organize an effective defense of the country. As a result he would defy the Sultan’s power for a quarter of a century, until his death in 1468. The story is available in a new book from Histria Books – Scanderbeg: A History of George Castriota and the Albanian Resistance to Islamic Expansion in Fifteenth Century Europe by Dr. A.K. Brackob  available on Amazon.

Mircea the Old, father of Wallachia, Grandfather of Dracula

Mircea the Old, one of the greatest leaders in Romanian history, comes to life in this beautiful new book. Although his grandson, Vlad the Impaler, better known as Dracula, has acquired much greater international fame, Mircea the Old was the most significant ruler to sit on the throne of the small principality of Wallachia during the Middle Ages. He, along with his own great grandfather, Basarab, who secured the independence of the principality with his remarkable victory of over Hungarian King Chares Robert of Anjou at the battle of Posada in 1330, must be considered the father of this Romanian land bordering the left bank of the Danube. Mircea the Old, during his long reign from 1386 to 1418, consolidated the political and administrative structure of his principality and maintained its freedom at the time of its most significant peril. He defeated the mighty Ottoman Empire, the greatest power of his day, in the battle of Rovine in 1394 and made his small country a major force in international politics at the dawn of the fifteenth century. Mircea positioned himself to play the role of kingmaker as the great powers fighting for control over southeastern Europe all recognized his skill and acumen. He also established the dynamic ruling dynasty from which the Dracula legend would ultimately be born.
Although six hundred years have passed since his death, the legacy of the Mircea the Old endures. He is revered as one of the greatest Romanian rulers in all of history. To understand his famous grandson, best known as Dracula, it is essential to comprehend the life and times of Mircea the Old. Now available on Amazon: Mircea the Old: Father of Wallachia, Grandfather of Dracula by Dr. A.K. Brackob With numerous illustrations, this book brings to light the life and times of this remarkable prince and the turbulent history of the land over which he reigned. It brings to light Mircea’s role as one of the most significant rulers of late fourteenth and early fifteenth century Europe, who the Turkish chronicler Leunclavius rightly described as the “the bravest and most able of Christian Princes.”

The resistance to Islamic expansion into Europe led by George Castriota Scanderbeg from 1443 to 1468 was one of the most remarkable military achievements of the fifteenth century. Despite this, General James Wolfe, hero of the French and Indian War, commented: “There is an abundance of military knowledge to be picked out of the lives of Gustav Adolphus and Charles XII, King of Sweden, and of Zisca the Bohemian; and if a tolerable account could be got of the exploits of Scanderbeg, it would be inestimable; for he excels all the officers, ancient and modern, in the conduct of a small defensive army. I met with him in the Turkish History, but nowhere else.” Wolfe’s remark about Scanderbeg recognizes the historical importance of the Albanian struggle against the Ottomans in the fifteenth century. Since his complaint over two and a half centuries ago that he could only find mention of Scanderbeg in Richard Knolles’ The Generall Historie of the Turkes, there has been much literature, in many languages, written on the subject.

The resistance led by Scanderbeg has often been viewed as an almost miraculous feat. Writing of Scanderbeg in 1905, William J. Armstrong said, “the exploits even of the renowned paladins of the crusades, whether Godfrey or Tancred or Richard or Raymond, pale to insignificance by similar comparison. Only the legendary feats of King Arthur and his knights, or of the Guardsmen of Dumas suggest a parallel of wondrous achievement.” Though not all writers have accorded to Scanderbeg the same type of mythical glorification bestowed upon him by Armstrong, historians have generally portrayed him as a Christian hero par excellence. There have even been efforts to canonize him. He has retained an image similar to Saint George or the Archangel Michael, a militant fighter for Christendom, a leader of a holy crusade against the Turkish Infidels.

To commemorate the 500th anniversary of Scanderbeg’s death in 1968, Pope Paul VI declared: “This Holy See is pleased to join in the praise of this man of great nobility, a faithful son of the Church and a son whom sovereign pontiffs before us have praised possibly more glowingly than any other man of his time. For twenty-five years, he saved his country from the assault of enemies. He defended his country threatened by the greatest danger, at the head of an army which the rampart and defense of Christianity.”

The image of Scanderbeg took on an additional aspect as Albanian historiography developed along with the national movement in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Scanderbeg assumed the role of a national hero. The Albanian Orthodox Bishop and historian Fan Noli clearly expressed this sentiment, writing: “In 1912 Ismail Kemal raised the flag of Scanderbeg in Valona when he declared Albanian independence. Scanderbeg was our inspiration in those first arduous years during the birth pangs and growing pains of Albania. He has inspired our poets, historians, and sculptors. And he still inspires us. Sometimes I wonder whether there is any other living man who is alive today as he is!”

Yet to understand the man and the movement he led it is necessary to go beyond the constraints of nationalism and religious or political ideology. It is essential not only to understand the external factors affecting the Albanian resistance, namely Ottoman and Venetian imperialism, but to analyze its internal dynamics as well. To do this, it must be considered in light of the political, social, and economic crisis which occurred throughout Europe during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries as Islam encroached upon Europe and the peoples of southeastern Europe bore the brunt of the struggle to defend Christianity. Only in this way can the historical significance of Scanderbeg’s accomplishments be fully appreciated, and the successes and failures of the Albanian resistance understood. As the 550th anniversary of the death of the great hero approaches in 2018 a new study, SCANDERBEG: A History of George Castriota and the Albanian Resistance to Islamic Expansion in Fifteenth Century Europe, coming from Histria Books takes a fresh look at the remarkable achievements of George Castriota Scanderbeg and the Albanian people in defending Western Civilization.

Dracula's night raid on Sultan's camp 1462

Kurt W. Treptow

The best documented part of Vlad III Dracula’s stormy reign as prince of Wallachia from 1456 to 1462 is his war against the Ottoman Turks which began late in 1461 and ended with the campaign against the rebellious prince, led by Sultan Mehmed II, in the summer of 1462. Despite the relative abundance of sources about this campaign, certain myths persist in the historiography concerning the famous Romanian prince and his conflict with the mighty Ottoman Empire. Some of these myths have become so widely accepted that they have gone virtually unchallenged in recent studies. The purpose of this short article is to discuss certain aspects of the campaign of 1462 to challenge particular assumptions which historians have made regarding it. To do this, I will focus on three fundamental questions:

1) What were Mehmed the Conqueror’s intentions when he undertook this campaign against the Wallachian Prince?

2) What role did Stephen the Great, the Prince of Moldavia, play in the conflict between Vlad III Dracula and the Turks?

3) What were the causes of Vlad III Dracula’s defeat in 1462?

These questions are fundamental to an understanding this campaign and its most significant consequence, the overthrow of Vlad III Dracula and the installation of his brother, Radu the Handsome, as prince of Wallachia.

The Campaign of 1462

First, a general review of the campaign of 1462 is in order. The conflict between Vlad III Dracula and the Turks began during the winter of 1461-1462, when the Romanian prince seized Giurgiu and other Ottoman fortresses along the Danube, and plundered northern Bulgaria. This occurred after Vlad captured and killed emissaries sent by Sultan Mehmed II to demand the tribute which the Wallachian prince had not paid for three years.[1] The Sultan also feared that Vlad’s improved relations with Matthias Corvinus, which included an agreement to marry a blood relative of the king, would bring Wallachia increasingly into the Hungarian sphere of influence.[2] Faced with the Sultan’s demands that he pay the tribute and break off his relations with Hungary, which included abandoning the marriage proposal, Vlad declared war by attacking Ottoman positions along the Danube and in northern Bulgaria. In a famous letter to King Matthias Corvinus, dated 11 February 1462, Vlad described the devastation caused by his raids along the Danube, giving the precise number of those killed as being, “23,884 Turks and Bulgarians in all, not including those who were burned in their houses and whose heads were not presented to our officials.” He went on to appeal for assistance from the Hungarian King against the inevitable Ottoman counterattack: “When the weather permits, that is to say in the spring, they will come with evil intentions and with all their power.”[3]

This conflict culminated in the Ottoman offensive against Wallachia, led by the Sultan himself, in the summer of 1462. As indicated in his letter to Matthias Corvinus, Vlad clearly anticipated this attack, and by April, 1462 he knew well the scope of the Sultan’s intentions as preparations were being made in the Ottoman capital for the expedition against Wallachia.

In early June, Mehmed II prepared to cross the Danube at Nikopolis with an army of approximately 60,000 to 70,000 men. According to the Serbian janissary, Konstantin Mihailović, who participated in this campaign, when the Sultan reached Nikopolis, “on the far side of the Danube Voivode Dracula was encamped with his army so that he guarded against a crossing… And when it was already night, we boarded the boats and shoved off downstream in the river so that oars and men would not be heard. And we reached the other side some furlongs below where the Voivode’s army lay, and there we dug in … [Dracula’s army] killed two hundred and fifty Janissaries with cannon fire… Then, seeing that so many of us were dying, he [the Sultan] quickly prepared, and having one hundred and twenty cannon, immediately began to fire them heavily and thus we drove all the army from the battlefield and established and fortified ourselves… And Dracula, seeing that he could not prevent the crossing, moved away from us.”[4] Vlad, who had gathered an army of almost 10,000 men, realized that he could not engage the more experienced and numerically superior Ottoman forces in open field combat; under these circumstances, he retreated before his enemy, employing a scorched earth policy and using guerilla warfare tactics. After crossing the Danube on 4 June,[5] the Sultan proceeded northwards, in the direction of Târgoviște, the capital of Wallachia at that time, but before reaching it, Dracula made his famous night attack on the Sultan’s camp. The great Romanian historian Nicolae Iorga called this assault, ‘”one of the most interesting episodes in the military history of the Ottomans.”[6] It was a bold, desperate effort by the Wallachian prince to turn back the invaders. Though the night assault on the Sultan’s camp inflicted some damage upon the Turks, the Ottoman forces could not be stopped. After reaching Târgoviște, where he encountered the gruesome spectacle of impaled bodies vividly described by the Byzantine chronicler Laonic Chalkondyles,[7] the Sultan proceeded eastwards where he again encountered and defeated Dracula’s forces. He then moved on to Brăila where he recrossed the Danube on 29 June. Meanwhile, an Ottoman fleet, in cooperation with the Moldavian army led by Stephen the Great, had tried and failed to capture the fortress of Chilia, at the mouth of the Danube, which was a Wallachian possession at that time. The campaign lasted three and a half weeks. Its result was the removal of Vlad III Dracula from the Wallachian throne and his replacement by his brother, the Sultan’s favorite, Radu the Handsome.

1) What were Mehmed the Conqueror’s intentions when he undertook
this campaign against the Wallachian Prince?

Recent historiography has held that Mehmed II set out to transform Wallachia into a Turkish pashalik, as he had done with Serbia in 1459 and Bosnia in the year following this campaign, 1463. It is generally held that it was only the determined resistance led by Vlad III Dracula that prevented the Sultan from carrying out his plan.[8] Thus, Nicolae Stoicescu wrote that the Sultan’s intention was to, “turn the country into a pashalik.”[9] Yet this interpretation must be called into question for a number of reasons. First of all, Ottoman sources are clear that the Sultan’s intention was to change princes, not to transform the country into a pashalik as has often been claimed. Tursun Beg, who was the secretary of the Imperial Council (Divan) during the time of this expedition, wrote, “the conquering Sultan gave the throne of that country to the brother of that wicked man, named Radu voievod, who had been accepted by the Porte a long time before and had worked for the Imperial Court for many years.”[10] Being a high official at the Porte during the time of this campaign makes Tursun Beg our most informed and reliable source concerning the intentions of Mehmed II. Tursun Beg’s account is also confirmed by many other sources. The Byzantine chronicler Kritoboulos of Imbros wrote that the Sultan, “appointed Rados, the brother of Drakoulis, as commander and ruler of the Getae [Wallachians]. This Rados he had with him [on the expedition].”[11] Likewise, the Serbian janissary, Konstantin Mihailović, wrote, “we marched forward to the Wallachian land after Dracula, and his brother ahead of us.”[12] All of the most informed sources concerning Mehmed II’s intentions lead us to the conclusion that the Sultan set out in the summer of 1462 to remove Vlad III Dracula from the Wallachian throne and to replace him with his brother, Radu the Handsome. He did not have any intention of transforming Wallachia into a Turkish pashalik.

Apart from the documentary evidence, there are other factors which corroborate this thesis. In volume IV of his great synthesis Istoria Românilor, Nicolae Iorga asserted that the Sultan did not intend to transform Wallachia into a pashalik because, “There was not here, as in Bosnia or Serbia, or in Byzantium, stone fortresses where the cowardly leader of the country hid,” and which, once conquered, the Turks could easily hold. The only solution to the dispute with Dracula, Iorga held, was to put a loyal prince on the throne.[13] Also, it must be remembered that Wallachia and Moldavia were more valuable to the Sultan as buffer states. Their conquest would have inevitably brought the Ottoman Empire into conflict with Poland, destroying the basis for the cooperation between the two powers against Hungary which has its origins in this period.[14]

There are other considerations which would have led Mehmed II to reject the idea of imposing direct Ottoman rule in Wallachia. The natural path of Ottoman expansion in Europe was to the northwest, as evidenced by the attacks Belgrade in 1456 and 1521, the Otranto campaign in 1480-1481,[15] the battle of Mohacs in 1526, and the sieges of Vienna in 1529 and 1532, among others. The reasons for this are obvious. It was not only the more affluent part of Europe, but also the location of the strongest opponents of Ottoman expansion, particularly the Kingdom of Hungary and, later, the Hapsburg Empire. Thus, the desire for material gain and the need to ensure the security of the Empire drove Ottoman expansion in this direction in Europe. Of course, one must not forget about the important Ottoman interests in the Middle East and Africa which also drew on the resources of the Empire. The logical Ottoman objective was to secure the Danube as a line of defense. This also helps explain the simultaneous Moldavian-Ottoman attack on Chilia in 1462 and its ultimate capture by the Turks in 1484. After all, the Roman army had abandoned Dacia in the second century A.D. to shorten the border it had to defend and to use the Danube as a natural line of defense against the barbarian invasions. If the Ottomans had imposed direct rule in the Romanian principalities it would have vastly expanded the border area that needed to be defended, and required a much larger commitment of men and resources than was needed to garrison troops in a series of fortresses along the Danube, apart from the political implications which I have already mentioned. Besides this, the system of indirect rule proved to be much more profitable economically, especially in the sixteenth century.[16] All these reasons support the documentary evidence and make it clear that Mehmed II had no intention of changing Wallachia into a pashalik in 1462. When the Sultan crossed the Danube with his army in the summer of that year it was with the express intention of placing Radu the Handsome on the throne.

2) What Role did Stephen the Great, the Prince of Moldavia, Play in the Conflict
between Vlad III Dracula and the Turks?

This question refers to the attack launched by Stephen the Great, in conjunction with the Ottomans, on the fortress of Chilia at the mouth of the Danube. Chilia had long been a source of dispute between the princes of Moldavia and Wallachia. The fortress became a Moldavian possession in 1421 when Alexander the Good, the grandfather of Stephen the Great, invaded Wallachia, which was then in the midst of a dynastic struggle for the throne in the wake of Mircea the Old’s death, and seized the Danubian stronghold. Despite the efforts of Dan II (Prince of Wallachia, 1422-1431) to regain the fortress,[17] it remained a possession of Moldavia until 1448 when John Hunyadi intervened in a dynastic struggle in Moldavia and again made it a Wallachian possession, though he garrisoned it with Hungarian troops. Thus, it is natural that Chilia became a point of conflict between Vlad III Dracula and Stephen the Great, despite the fact that the former helped the latter secure the throne of Moldavia only five years earlier.

There has been much debate over why Stephen the Great cooperated with the Ottomans against his cousin in 1462. At issue is a passage from Chalkondyles which reads: “[Vlad] divided his army in two, keeping one part with him, and sending the other against the Prince of Black Bogdania [Moldavia], to keep him back if he tried to invade the country. Because this Prince of Black Bogdania had had a misunderstanding with Vlad he was at war with him and, sending messengers to Emperor Mehmed, he said that he was also ready to join him in his war against Vlad. The Emperor was pleased to hear this and urged this Prince to have his commanding general join with the commander of his fleet at the river, and that together they should lay siege to the city called Chilia, which belonged to Vlad, at the mouth of the river.”[18]

Most historians have generally rejected such active cooperation between Stephen the Great and the Ottomans. Nicolae Stoicescu wrote, “most historians have generally refuted the idea of such a collaboration, some of them holding with good reason, too, that the Prince of Moldavia attempted to get hold of Chilia before the Turks did.”[19] Because Chalkondyles is one of the few sources of information about this, most historians have found it easy to say, as Ioan Bogdan did, that, “No one, apart from Chalkondyles, speaks of a war between Stefan and Vlad the Impaler in 1462… The common attack of Stephen the Great and Mehmed II [against Vlad] remains, until proven to the contrary, a simple combination of the Byzantine historian who, knowing that the attack on Chilia and the defeat of the Impaler happened in the same year, connected the two events.”[20]

The interpretation usually accepted is that of Iorga who argued that Stephen did not coordinate a joint offensive with the Ottomans, but, “When the Sultan’s fleet was before Chilia, the Moldavian. Prince by all means had a duty to be there and to use any means to impede the installation of the Turks in the Lower Danube, which would have been a catastrophe for himself.”[21] By joining the attack, Stefan hoped to take possession of the fortress, as he was an ally of the Sultan at that time and had a legitimate claim to the territory. This line of thought is bolstered by the assertion that Chilia was still garrisoned by Hungarian troops.[22] This, however, is unlikely. While John Hunyadi placed a Hungarian garrison in the fortress when he took it from Moldavia in 1448. It was subsequently restored to Vladislav II and Wallachia. While Hunyadi was alive, Hungarian forces and different times occupied the Danubian stronghold. It is unlikely that they continued to do so after the death of the Hungarian governor. Dracula certainly would not have tolerated this and the internal weaknesses of the Hungarian kingdom in the period following Hunyadi’s death would have made the continued occupation of Chilia unsustainable. Most likely Wallachian forces occupied the fortress in 1462 and there is no evidence to suggest the contrary. Therefore, to argue that the attack on Chilia was not an attack on Vlad and Wallachian sovereignty is misguided.

Despite the apparent contradiction between the account of Chalkondyles and those of contemporary historians, one does not necessarily completely invalidate the other. First of all, there is other evidence of a conflict between Stefan and Vlad in 1462. The Governor of Caffa wrote to King Casimir of Poland on 2 April 1462, asking him to make peace between the two Romanian princes because, “I understood that Stefan, prince of Moldavia or Wallachia Minor, is fighting with Vlad voievod who makes happy war with the Turks. This quarrel not only helps the Sultan, but, what is more dangerous, if the Turks enter into these two Wallachias, it will be a great danger for us and for other neighboring countries.”[23] When taken together with Chalkondyles’ account, this is strong evidence that there was a conflict between Stephen and Vlad prior to the attack on Chilia in June. The reasons for this are apparent: Vlad was now an ally of Matthias Corvinus and Hungary, while Stefan was allied with Poland and paid tribute to the Sultan. Moreover, Matthias had given refuge to Stephen’s predecessor, Petru Aron, and supported his attempts to regain the Moldavian throne.[24] In addition, in an act issued by Stephen at Suceava on 2 March 1462, which renewed his relations of vassalage with Poland, the Moldavian prince declared that, “we will not give to foreigners any country, land, city, or estate, without the acceptance and approval of the above-mentioned Prince, our King, and the Crown by any means; likewise, if some of these have been taken by foreigners, we want to win them back and we will win them.”[25] This is a clear reference to Chilia, the principal Moldavian possession in foreign hands at that time. Thus, the evidence makes it clear that there existed a conflict between Stephen and Vlad in 1462. “The antagonism between the two princes,” as the great historian Nicolae Iorga explained, “is reflected in the political orientation of the two principalities.”[26]

If we accept that the two Romanian princes were at war, or at the very least on hostile terms, at this time, and that Stefan sought to regain possession of Chilia, as indicated in the act of 2 March 1402, then it is quite logical to accept Chalkondyles assertion that Stephen made overtures to the Sultan. Certainly, he did so with the intention that the Turks help him take possession of Chilia and not the other way around. After all, Stefan knew of Ottoman plans to attack Wallachia and he was an ally of the Sultan; why should he not try to take advantage of the situation and ask for Turkish assistance to help him regain a territory which he believed rightfully belonged to Moldavia?

The theory that Stefan sought Ottoman help to regain Chilia in 1462 is corroborated by other circumstantial evidence. It is certain that Vlad III Dracula anticipated a Moldavian attack in conjunction with the Ottoman offensive in the summer of 1462. Apart from Chalkondyles, other sources tell us that Vlad had to divide up his army to defend against a possible attack by Stephen the Great. The Imperial secretary Tursun Beg wrote, “The truth was that the voievod of Wallachia [Vlad the Impaler] had ordered one of his commanders to be near that place [in the northeast] with 7,000 soldiers chosen to protect the country against his Moldavian enemies.”[27]

That there was a plan for a joint Moldavian-Ottoman attack on Chilia is also implied in a letter of Domenico Balbi, the Venetian representative in Constantinople, who informed the Senate that, “the naval fleet of the Sultan, together with the Prince of Moldavia, went to attack the fortress of Chilia, they stayed there for eight days, but they were unable to do anything.”[28] Even Moldavian chronicles mention the participation of Stephen in this unsuccessful attack. For example, the Moldavian-German Chronicle reads, “6970 (1462). In the month of June on the 22nd day, voievod Stephen came in front of Chilia, but he could not take it, and was shot in the left ankle, then he left from Chilia.”[29] All of this evidence taken together certainly indicates that the Moldavians cooperated with the Turks in the attack on Chilia in 1462.

After careful examination of the available evidence, Chalkondyles account of Stephen the Great’s role in the conflict between Vlad III Dracula and the Ottomans cannot be so easily rejected as some historians have done in the past and continue to do. It appears that Stephen, knowing of the Sultan’s upcoming campaign against Wallachia, and he himself being in conflict with Vlad, sought to take advantage of the situation and enlist Ottoman support in his efforts to regain possession of Chilia. Certainly, he did not intend to help facilitate the Ottoman occupation of this strategic fortress. Less than three years after this campaign, in January, 1465, he achieved his goal and conquered Chilia.

Without a doubt, Stephen the Great was one of the shrewdest political figures of fifteenth century Europe. It may be difficult for some to accept that Stephen collaborated with the Sultan against his cousin Vlad III Dracula in 1462, but it must be remembered that Stephen’s interest lay in preserving the territorial integrity and autonomy of Moldavia; he had no sense of national consciousness as such a thing did not exist at this time. Stephen’s cooperation with the Turks in trying to obtain Chilia, though unsuccessful, is characteristic of his political behavior throughout his reign which was aimed at furthering Moldavian interests. After all, it was his diplomatic skill and political adroitness that made Stephen the Great the most remarkable prince in the history of Moldavia.

3) What were the Causes of Vlad III Dracula’s Defeat in 1462?

The question of how Vlad III Dracula was removed from the throne of Wallachia in 1462 has been and continues to be the source of some debate. Much recent historiography has held that Vlad did, in fact, defeat Sultan Mehmed II and forced him to withdraw, but the betrayal of his boyars, who defected to Radu the Handsome after Dracula’s victory over the Turks led to his downfall. This idea was developed by Barbu T. Câmpina who, as one historian observed, “imposed it as a definitive conclusion in recent Romanian historiography.”[30] A recent work by James Waterson, Dracula’s Wars, continues in this vein arguing that Dracula’s downfall was largely the result of the betrayal of the boyars.[31] In short, many historians have analyzed the events of the summer of 1462 and declared, as Nicolae Stoicescu did, that “Vlad the Impaler was victorious and the Sultan was compelled to leave Wallachia without having attained the goal he had set – to subdue the country and replace the Impaler.”[32] Although it is not our objective here to dissect this interpretation of the outcome of the campaign of 1462 and its corresponding explanation of the removal of Vlad III Dracula from the Wallachian throne, we will point out why such a theory is fundamentally flawed.

The idea that Dracula had driven the Sultan from his country and was then overthrown by his own boyars does not stand up to a careful scrutiny of the evidence. It is well-known that Vlad had pursued a conscious policy designed to break the power of the boyars almost from the beginning of his reign.[33] 1459 is generally acknowledged as the year in which the Wallachian prince completed the subjugation of his internal opposition and consolidated his hold on power. It seems incredible to believe that a prince who had so carefully rooted out the opposition of the great boyars and replaced them with men who owed their wealth and status to him, and who had just defeated the mighty conqueror of Constantinople, could then be so quickly and easily overthrown by his own people. The eminent Romanian historian Constantin C. Giurescu correctly observed that, “If Dracula had defeated the Turkish army… his authority and prestige would have been so great that any uprising by the boyars would have been impossible.”[34] Though it is possible to find some sources that proclaim Vlad the Impaler as the victor in his confrontation with the Sultan,[35] the fact that he was defeated by the Ottoman army and driven from the Wallachian throne cannot be denied.

After the Sultan crossed the Danube, Vlad retreated before his enemy, using scorched earth and guerilla warfare tactics to wear down the superior Ottoman forces. As the Turkish army neared Târgoviște, Dracula made a desperate attempt to stop the invaders, the celebrated night attack on the Ottoman camp mentioned earlier. Vlad probably hoped to kill the Sultan which would have forced the Turks to flee in disarray. The daring exploit, however, failed. Mehmed II’s army then continued on to the capital where a gruesome spectacle of thousands of impaled bodies awaited them, but it did not impede them from realizing their objective and installing Vlad’s brother Radu the Handsome on the throne. From there, the Sultan moved eastward to continue the subjugation of the country before he recrossed the Danube at Brăila.

In all likelihood, the unsuccessful night attack on the Sultan’s camp marked Dracula’s defeat. After it, the Serbian janissary Konstantin Mihailović, a participant in the campaign recounted, “The Wallachians, seeing that it was going badly, abandoned him [Dracula] and joined his brother. And he himself rode away to Hungary to King Matthias of glorious memory…”[36] Both the Byzantine chronicler Kritoboulos of Imbros and the Imperial secretary Tursun Beg confirm that Vlad was defeated after the attack.[37] The failure of the night attack made it clear that Dracula’s forces were no match for the power of the Imperial army.

Following the ill-fated night attack and the fall of Târgoviște and other major cities, it became clear to the boyars that their interests lay with joining Radu the Handsome, to whom the victorious Sultan had granted the throne of Wallachia. As Constantin C. Giurescu pointed out, the boyars “deserted the loser and sided with the man who had accompanied the victorious army of Mehmed the Conqueror.”[38] This, of course, does not imply that all of the fighting ceased in June. Vlad continued to harass the Ottoman army and, later, the forces of his younger brother, while he awaited the long-anticipated arrival of Matthias Corvinus, his ally, whom he hoped would help him reclaim his throne, but his desires would be thwarted. Matthias did not even leave Buda until after the Sultan had departed from Wallachia. It was early November before the Hungarian King reached Brașov. Clearly, he had no serious intentions of going to war launching the crusade against the Turks that Pope Pius II had lobbied so hard for him to undertake. Already in August, the King’s Transylvanian subjects were making peace with the new prince of Wallachia, Radu the Handsome.

Matthias’s dispute with the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick III of Hapsburg, over the Hungarian crown is one of the reasons for his apparent lack of enthusiasm. But the Hungarian King, who had received substantial financial support as part of Pius II’s plan for a crusade to liberate the Balkans from the Turkish Infidels elaborated at the Congress of Mantua in 1459, had to make a gesture to justify his use of these funds. Thus, he began the. slow march to Transylvania on the pretext of aiding Vlad. After the King reached Brașov, however, he had Vlad arrested, using forged letters in which the former Wallachian prince allegedly told the Sultan, “in atonement for my sin [I can] hand over to you all Transylvania, the possession of which will enable you to bring all of Hungary under your power,”[39] as evidence that the former prince had betrayed, the Christian cause. Though this explanation for Vlad’s imprisonment was accepted in some official circles, the absurdity of it is clear. Even Matthias’s chronicler, Antonius Bonfinius, wrote, “On his way there, I do not know the reason why because this was never understood clearly by anyone, he [Matthias] captured Dracula in Transylvania, but the other Dracula [Radu the Handsome], whom the Turks had appointed prince of that province [Wallachia], he approved of, against all expectations.”[40] Thus ended Vlad’s hopes of regaining his throne in the fall of 1462.

The historical evidence make it clear that Vlad III Dracula was defeated by the Sultan who then placed Radu the Handsome on the throne. It is of little use to look for heroic victories where they do not exist. Lacking Hungarian assistance, Vlad, although he fought bravely, simply could not resist the power of the Ottoman army on his own, and, as a result, he met with defeat in the summer of 1462. The theory that Dracula defeated the Turks and then lost his throne, Ioan Bogdan wrote, “is a clear contradiction. If the Turks would have been beaten by the Impaler, he would have remained prince of Wallachia, he would have impaled all of them, and probably he would have put his brother Radu on the highest stake.”[41] Having lost the throne as a result of the Turkish expedition, and then being imprisoned by his ally, Vlad waited another fourteen years, until 1476, when, with the help of two of the men responsible for his downfall in 1462, Matthias Corvinus and Stephen the Great, he again became prince of Wallachia, though he ruled for less than two months before he died in battle.


The questions addressed in this short article by no means encompass all the issues surrounding the campaign of 1462. For example, the reasons for Dracula’s revolt against Ottoman authority merit careful reconsideration, as does the role of Matthias Corvinus in this conflict. The topics I have briefly discussed here, however, are some of the most important and controversial aspects of the campaign. Vlad III Dracula was a bold, autocratic ruler, driven by the desire for power; he was not a crusader for Christianity or a nationalist fighting to preserve the identity of the Romanian people. After all, it is usually peasants and not princes who are responsible for preserving a culture. Vlad clearly sought to consolidate and enhance his power, and to maintain the autonomy and territorial integrity of his country. In this respect, his aims were quite similar to those of his cousin, Stephen the Great, in Moldavia. Vlad, however, lacked the political and diplomatic acumen of Stephen the Great; the position of the Romanian principalities in the fifteenth century demanded such skills. As a result, his reign was relatively short. In fairness to Vlad though, Wallachia also had a far less favorable geographic location, making it even more susceptible to foreign interference in its internal affairs than neighboring Moldavia. Nevertheless, his thirst for power and his daring exploits, combined with the legends that grew up around his name, make Vlad III Dracula one of the most interesting figures in fifteenth century European history.


[1]Doukas, Decline and Fall of Byzantium to the Ottoman Turks, (Detroit, 1975), pp. 259-260 (XLV.20); Kritovoulos, History of Mehmed the Conqueror, (Princeton, 1954), p. 178 (IV.60-61); Konstantin Mihailović, Memoirs of a Janissary, (Ann Arbor, 1975), p. 129; Tursun Beg, “Tarih-I Ebu-l Feth-I Sultan Mehmed-han,” in Cronici turcești privind țările române, vol. I, ed. Mihail Guboglu and Mustafa Mehmed, (București, 1966), p. 67; and Laonic Chalcocondil, Expuneri istorice, (București, 1958), pp. 283-284.

[2]Chalcocondil, pp. 283-284; and “Letter of Vlad the Impaler to Matthias Corvinus, 11 February 1462,” in Nicolae Iorga, ed., Scrisori de boieri, scrisori de domni, 2nd ed., (Vălenii-de-Munte, 1925, pp. 166-170.

[3]Iorga, Scrisori de boieri…, pp. 166-170

[4]Mihailović, pp. 130-133.

[5]Ștefan Andreescu, Vlad Țepeș (Dracula), (București, 1976), p. 119. Andreescu’s study is definitive for the chronology of this campaign.

[6]Nicolae Iorga, Istoria armatei românești, vol. I, (Vălenii-de-Munte, 1910), p. 121.

[7]Chalcocondil, pp. 288-289.

[8]For example, see James Waterson, Dracula’s Wars: Vlad the Impaler and His Rivals, (Stroud, 2016), p. 163; Radu R. Florescu and Raymond T. McNally, Dracula: Prince of Many Faces, (Boston, 1989), p. 139; Radu R. Florescu and Raymond T. McNally, Dracula: A Biography of Vlad the Impaler, 1431-1476, (New York, 1973), pp. 109-110; Nicolae Stoicescu, Vlad Țepeș, Prince of Wallachia, p. 96; Barbu T. Câmpina, “Complotul boierilor și ‘răscoala’ din Țara Romînească din iulie-noiembrie 1462” in Studii și referate privind istoria Romîniei, (București, 1954), p. 609; and Andreescu, p. 123.

[9]Stoicescu, p. 96.

[10]Tursun Beg, p. 72.

[11]Kritovoulos, p. 179 (IV.63).

[12]Mihailović, pp. 132-133. See also Chalcocondil, p. 287.

[13]Nicolae Iorga, Istoria românilor, vol. IV, (București, 1937), p. 140.  Iorga’s earlier works contain varied conclusions. Sometimes he claimed that the Sultan set out to transform Wallachia into a pashalik, see Istoria armatei românești, p. 123. Iorga’s History of the Romanians, however, is the culmination of his life’s research and should be taken as his final word on this matter.

[14]See Veniamin Ciobanu, “The Equilibrium Policy of the Romanian Principalities in East-Central Europe, 1444-1485,” pp. 29-52 in Kurt W. Treptow, ed., Dracula: Essays on the Life and Times of Vlad Țepeș, (New York, 1991).

[15]On the Otranto campaign see Kurt W. Treptow, “Albania and the Ottoman Invasion of Italy, 1480-1482,” in Studia Albanica, no. 1 (1990), pp. 81-105.

[16]Keith Hitchins, “Ottoman Domination of Moldavia and Wallachia in the Sixteenth Century,” in Asian Studies One, ed. Balkrishna G. Gokhale, (Bombay, 1966), p. 132.

[17]Alexandru A. Vasilescu, Urmașii lui Mircea cel Bătrân până la Vlad Dracul (1418-1437), (București, 1915), p. 37-39.

[18]Chalcocondil, p. 286.

[19]Stoicescu, p. 48. See also Andreescu, pp. 110-111; Iorga, Istoria românilor, vol. IV, p. 138; and Nicolae Grigoraș, Moldova lui Ștefan cel Mare, (Iași, 1982), p. 59-60.

[20]Ioan Bogdan, Vlad Țepeș, (București, 1896), pp. 26-27.

[21]Iorga, Istoria românilor, vol. IV, p. 138.

[22]Waterson, p. 169 continues this line of thinking and implies that Vlad would have somehow grudgingly approved of Stephen’s actions: “Stephen’s ‘betrayal’ of his cousin and erstwhile fellow fugitive would probably have received a nod of understanding if not approval from Vlad Dracula.”

[23]quoted in Iorga, Studii istorice asupra Chiliei și Cetății-Albe, (Bucuresci, 1899), pp. 125-126.

[24]Andreescu, p. 98; and Radu Rosetti, “Stephen the Great of Moldavia and the Turkish Invasion,” pp. 86-103 in The Slavonic Review, VI:16 (June, 1927), pp. 94-95.

[25]Ioan Bogdan, Documentele lui Ștefan cel Mare, vol. II (București, 1913) p. 287.

[26]Iorga, Studii istorice asupra Chiliei…, p. 126.

[27]Tursun Beg, p. 69.

[28]quoted in Iorga, Studii istorice asupra Chiliei…, p. 125.

[29]Cronicele slavo-romîne din sec. XV-XVI publicate de Ion Bogdan, ed. P.P. Panaitescu, (București, 1959), p. 29.

[30]Andreescu, p. 8. See Câmpina, “Complotul boierilor,” and Barbu T. Câmpina, “Victoria oștii lui Țepeș asupra sultanului Mehmed al II-lea,” pp. 533-555 in Studii, XV:3 (1962).

[31]Waterson, pp. 172-175.

[32]Stoicescu, p. 95.

[33]Kurt W. Treptow, Vlad III Dracula: The Life and Times of the Historical Dracula, (Iași, Oxford, Portland, 2000), pp. 73-86. 

[34]Constantin C. Giurescu, “The Historical Dracula,” in Dracula: Essays on the Life and Times of Vlad Țepeș, p. 20.

[35]for example, see Doukas, pp. 260-261, Venetian chronicles, especially D. Malipiero, etc. Much of the confusion derives from Christian zeal to portray the Ottomans in a negative light. 

[36]Mihailović, pp. 132-133.

[37]Kritovoulos, pp. 179-180 (IV.64-66); and Tursun Beg, pp. 67-73.

[38]Giurescu, p. 20.

[39]Pius II, “The Commentaries of Pius II, Books X-XIII,” in Smith College Studies in History, XLIII (Northhampton, MA, 1957), p. 739 (Bk. XI).

[40]see Appendix V in Treptow, Vlad III Dracula, pp. 224-226.

[41]Bogdan, Vlad Țepeș, p. 27.