Historical Background

To appreciate the story of Vlad III it is essential to understand the social and political forces of the region during the 15th century. In broad terms this is a story of the struggle to obtain control of Wallachia, a region of the Balkans (in present-day southern Romania) which lay directly between the two powerful forces of Hungary and the Ottoman Empire.

For nearly one thousand years Constantinople had stood as the protecting outpost of the Byzantine or East Roman Empire, and blocked Islam’s access to Europe. The Ottomans nonetheless succeeded in penetrating deep into the Balkans during this time. With the fall of Constantinople in 1453 under Sultan Mohammed the Conqueror, all of Christendom was suddenly threatened by the armed might of the Ottoman Turks. The Hungarian Kingdom to the north and west of Wallachia, which reached its zenith during this same time, assumed the ancient mantle as defender of Christendom.

The rulers of Wallachia were thus forced to appease these two empires to maintain their survival, often forging alliances with one or the other, depending upon what served their self-interest at the time. Vlad III is best known by the Romanian people for his success in standing up to the encroaching Ottoman Turks and establishing relative independence and sovereignty (albeit for a relatively brief time).

Another factor influencing political life was the means of succession to the Wallachian throne. The throne was hereditary, but not by the law of primogeniture. The boyars (wealthy land-owning nobles) had the right to elect the voivode (prince) from among various eligible members of the royal family. This allowed for succession to the throne through violent means. Assassinations and other violent overthrows of reigning parties were thus rampant. In fact, both Vlad III and his father assassinated competitors to attain the throne of Wallachia.
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