In the history and legend of eastern Europe, Dracula was the popular name of Vlad the Impaler, a merciless Romanian tyrant of the 1400s. Dracula means "heir of the Order of the Dragon," dedicated to fighting the Turks. However, in the worlds of fiction and film, the name Dracula has been associated with Count Dracula, the vampire. He was the main character in an 1897 novel by the British author Bram Stoker.

Vlad the Impaler. The historical Vlad the Impaler, or Vlad Tepeş, was prince of Walachia (near Transylvania) and lived from 1431 to 1476. The tales told about him were filled with horror and cruelty Fond of dining outdoors, Vlad would have his enemies impaled on stakes around the dinner table so that he could listen to them scream as he ate. Once a group of Turkish envoys who came before him refused to remove their turbans. Vlad ordered that the turbans be nailed to their heads. In another story, Vlad told some guests that if they wished, he could put an end to their troubles. They said yes, whereupon he had them locked in a room and burned alive.

Bram Stoker's Dracula. The legends of Vlad the Impaler's inhuman behavior may have contributed to an association of Dracula with vampires, corpses that rise from the grave during the night to drink the blood of humans. However, it was Stoker's novel that forever linked the name Dracula with the "undead" bloodsucking creatures of the grave.

In Stoker's book, Count Dracula is a centuries-old vampire of Transylvania, a region in central Romania. During the day, he rests in his coffin, but at night, he rises to feast on human blood. The people he bites turn into vampires themselves. Dracula continues to claim victims until his pursuers succeed in driving a stake through his heart, finally ending his reign of terror.

Stoker's novel became the best-known vampire tale of all time. Produced as a play in 1927, the story was the basis of many movies, starting with the famous 1922 silent film Nosferatu. The classic motion picture version of Stoker's story, made in 1931, won international fame for the actor Bela Lugosi, who starred as the black-cloaked Count Dracula. This film established a pattern for vampire-based horror movies that continues to this day.

See also Vampires .

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