Impalement was Dracula’s preferred method of torture and execution. Impalement was and is one of the most gruesome ways of dying imaginable. Dracula usually had a horse attached to each of the victim’s legs and a sharpened stake was gradually forced into the body. The end of the stake was usually oiled and care was taken that the stake not be too sharp; else the victim might die too rapidly from shock.
Normally the stake was inserted into the body through the buttocks and was often forced through the body until it emerged from the mouth. However, there were many instances where victims were impaled through other bodily orifices or through the abdomen or chest. Infants were sometimes impaled on the stake forced through their mothers’ chests. The records indicate that victims were sometimes impaled so that they hung upside down on the stake.
Death by impalement was slow and painful. Victims sometimes endured for hours or days. Dracula often had the stakes arranged in various geometric patterns. The most common pattern was a ring of concentric circles in the outskirts of the city that was his target. The height of the spear indicated the rank of the victim. The decaying corpses were often left up for months.
It was once reported that an invading Turkish army turned back in fright when it encountered thousands of rotting corpses impaled on the banks of the Danube. In 1461 Mohammed II, the conqueror of Constantinople, a man not noted for his squeamishness, returned to Constantinople after being sickened by the sight of twenty thousand impaled corpses rotting outside of Dracula’s capital of Tirgoviste. The warrior sultan turned command of the campaign against Dracula over to subordinates and returned to Constantinople.
Thousands were often impaled at a single time. Ten thousand were impaled in the Transylvanian city of Sibiu (where Dracula had once lived) in 1460. In 1459, on St. Bartholomew’s Day, Dracula had thirty thousand of the merchants and boyars of the Transylvanian city of Brasov impaled. One of the most famous woodcuts of the period shows Dracula feasting amongst a forest of stakes and their grisly burdens outside Brasov while a nearby executioner cuts apart other victims.
Impalement was Dracula’s favorite but by no means his only method of torture. The list of tortures employed by this cruel prince reads like an inventory of hell’s tools: nails in heads, cutting off of limbs, blinding, strangulation, burning, cutting off of noses and ears, mutilation of sexual organs (especially in the case of women), scalping, skinning, exposure to the elements or to wild animals and boiling alive.
No one was immune to Dracula’s attentions. His victims included women and children, peasants and great lords, ambassadors from foreign powers and merchants. However, the vast majority of his victims came from the merchants and boyars of Transylvania and his own Wallachia.
Many have attempted to justify Dracula’s actions on the basis nascent nationalism and political necessity. Many of the merchants in Transylvania and Wallachia were Saxons who were seen as parasites, preying upon the Romanian natives of Wallachia, while the boyars had proven their disloyalty time and time again. Dracula’s own father and older brother were murdered by unfaithful boyars.