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(pop culture)

In describing himself to Jonathan Harker, Dracula took the label Szekely. “We Szekelys have a right to be proud,” he asserted as an opening for a lengthy discourse on the role of his people in the history of Transylvania. As he continued, he began to discuss the Draculas, “about one of my own race who crossed the Danube and beat the Turk on his own ground” (chapter 3). This discourse raises many of the questions concerning the relationship of Dracula, the fictional character created by Bram Stoker, and the medieval Romanian ruler, Vlad the Impaler.

The Szekelys (or Szeklers) was a distinct group that emerged in Transylvania from among the Hungarian tribes, which moved into the area at the end of the ninth century. Others suggest an independent origin, possibly a lost group of Bulgars who had invaded the area in the seventh century. Szekelys claim a pre-Hungarian origin. Originally they settled in southeastern Transylvania, but in 1224 C.E., they migrated northward and relocated in the eastern mountains. The Szekelys formed a first line of defense for the Hungarians who controlled the Transylvanian plain to their west, and they developed a reputation for their bravery and fierceness in battle. They participated in the establishment of the Union of Three Nations in 1437 that set the Hungarians, Szekelys, and Germans as a controlling majority and made room for the Roman Catholic, Reformed, and Lutheran churches. That same agreement disenfranchised the Romanians and excluded their Eastern Orthodox faith.

After identifying Dracula as a Szekely, Stoker positioned his castle near Borgo Pass, a location in Szekely-dominated land in northeastern Transylvania near the Ukrainian border. Stoker thus quite properly sent Harker into the best place to find a Szekely nobleman. The problem arose in identifying this Szekely nobleman, Count Dracula, with the historical ruler of Wallachia, Prince Vlad the Impaler, or Dracula (the son of Vlad Dracul).

If Stoker also intended to see his character as a fictionalized version of Vlad, he had hopelessly confused two historical realities. Vlad the Impaler, though born in southern Transylvania, was a Romanian and ruled in Wallachia, the area across the Carpa-thian Mountains to the south of Transylvania. He was neither Hungarian nor a Szekely. His castle was located near Curtea de Arges in Wallachia, nowhere near Borgo Pass. Most likely, Stoker saw Hungarian and Romanian history and folklore in less than precise terms and borrowed elements from each (as well as other sources) in creating the fictional world inhabited by his vampire creation. The problem of identifying Vlad the Impaler as both a Szkeley warrior and a Wallachian prince was amply illustrated in the opening scenes of the film Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which hopelessly confused Romanian geography by trying to integrate the story of Vlad with that of Dracula.


Cadzow, John F., Andrew Ludanyi, and Louis J. Elteto. Transylvania: The Roots of Ethnic Conflict. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1983. 368 pp.
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