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To be a little gross, when we die, we rot. Plain and simple. Our bodies break down like a three-week old piece of beef left on a counter. Not only does this give off an abominable stench, (and take my word on this, decaying (or rotting) humans give off a smell that is indescribably horrible,) but it goes through a process of chemical and other changes that are a little... well... they aren't too pleasant.
Basically, the first thing that happens is that bits of your soft, warm organs (like the liver, kidneys, stomach, etc.) rot first. This process creates a lot of "putrefying" gasses inside your body that are, for the most part, sealed in. (And yes, before anyone asks, post-mortem burps and... y'know... are not uncommon.) These gasses force the rotting tissues and all out with them. This means, if you're not embalmed properly, you will bloat up and blood and rotted, liquefied tissue will "come out" through the nearest exit... the mouth is indeed one of these. So, we have our bloated, bloody-mouthed, corpse. (In fact, these gasses have indeed been known to "explode" a corpse... not with a match, although that might do it, but by being sealed up inside the corpse, and like a balloon with too much air... "POP!" This pressure has been documented not only to have made the corpse a lot less attractive, but to have actually splintered the wood of coffins in the days before embalming!)
Next, one of the first muscles to completely relax after death is the jaw. This causes the mouth to hang open (next time you're watching a movie and someone dies with their mouth firmly closed, remember this!) So now we have a bloated corpse, smelling awful, with blood coming out of it's open mouth.
Now, we do understand that, indeed, your hair and fingernails grow after death, right? Nope!
What happens is, the skin actually dehydrates first so it shrinks... this exposes the nails and hair hidden beneath it. So, it's not really growing, but it looks that way due to shrinking skin. So now we have our bloated corpse, smelling awful, with blood coming out of it's open mouth, and seemingly growing skin and fingernails.
Next, the first or outer layer of the skin peels away because of the dehydration, showing the under-layers... being insulated from as much dehydration and not being as exposed to the elements during life, it appears pink and healthy... but it's not alive, and in a matter of days, it will start the same process as the outer skin... until it's all putrefied and fallen away. So now we have our bloated corpse, smelling awful, with blood coming out of it's open mouth, and seemingly growing skin and fingernails, with new skin showing up!
Eyes, on a corpse, can by post-mortem reflex and by skin shrinkage, open up to reveal usually "cloudy" eyeballs (again, because of putrefaction of the tissues and lack of moisture.) Now our nasty corpse might have it's eyes open!
Lastly, the groan... Well, remember those gasses I mentioned because of the rotting of the tissues in the body, imagine yourself being a bit "gassy" after a big bowl of five-alarm chilly and I slammed an object into your chest... Well, that gas has to go somewhere now that it's being forced out, and with a corpse, if it comes out of the mouth (the foul breath that's been reported,) it passes the vocal chords for a nice, post-mortem groan.
So, in essence, the corpse was probably just that... a poor, insensible corpse. But, since no one had sat down and studied the process of bodily decay, this all seemed very much like bad juju. In fact, even recently thanks to ignorance of what happens to a decaying body, there have been many "modern" cases of corpses being exhumed to be "proven" a vampire.
So, there you have it... the origins of the vampire... not much but a poor, rotting corpse.
- So, how did this evolve to Vlad? -
Okay, let's start with Vlad... or Vlad Tepes... or Vlad Dracula... or Vlad the Impaler... the list goes on.
His "real" name was Vlad Tepes (the III) and his father was known as "Vlad Dracul" which is liberally translated to "Vlad The Dragon" or "Vlad the Devil"... adding the 'A' to the end of the nickname denoted "Son Of" ergo: Vlad Dracula... which was, as you can see, a nickname, and he was a prince in Wallachia (near, but not in Transylvania... later to be pretty much the Romanian/Hungarian border). He was born in 1431 and died in 1476.
Vlad Jr. didn't have what one would call a great childhood... I mean having to live with a younger brother known as "Radu the Handsome" couldn't make anyone happy... but that was the least of his worries. When he was around the age of thirteen, Vlad Jr. and little, handsome, Radu were unceremoniously shipped off to Adrianople, Turkey, as "hostages" to ease the mind of the Turkish Sultan (the Turks, then being steeped in the Ottoman Empire were basically at war with Europe and taking bits and pieces of it all the time. Vlad Sr. sent his boys there to "prove" he wouldn't risk their wrath and fight so they'd leave him and Wallachia alone).
Vlad stayed a prisoner of the Turks until the mid-1400's when they released him and his brother, Radu. Radu, oddly enough, chose to stay in Turkey as it was where he grew up and all he really knew, but Vlad Jr. wanted to go back to Wallachia and was even supported by the Turks as the Wallachian heir to the throne.
Something tells me that the Sultan probably regretted this as Vlad Jr., after a while, was really unpleasant to the Turks that came into Wallachia. You see, Vlad had learned a lot from the Turks... especially an unpleasant way to put people to death... impalement.
After a time, the Turks tried to forcibly take Wallachia and met a fierce resistance under Vlad III. After the battle, Vlad would have the prisoner impaled... According to one account, Vlad had over 10,000 men impaled as a grisly "fence" near the Danube where he left them to rot.
Many times, people have seen the old wood carving of Vlad having dinner near a bunch of impaled folks... this image is pretty accurate as he did do this once, but the method of impalement was... well... cleaned up a bit for the carving. To be "blunt" (forgive the pun,) Vlad would have a high stake sharpened... but not too sharp so it would cause a quick death. He would have the stake greased and slide the steak into the rectum (the "hind-quarters", if you will...) of his victim and usually, allow the stake to come out of the victims mouth. Only on occasion, when rushed, would he have victims "tossed" onto stakes "chest first".
Anyway, Vlad's methods, though cruel and somewhat unusual, were very effective. The Turks rarely ventured near Wallachia, and because of this, he was an is considered a bit of a hero to the people of Wallachia. I mean, after all, he did keep the Turkish hoards at bay and the homeland safe! What's a few impalements compared to that?
Don't get me wrong either... Vlad apparently had a sense of humour in his cruelty. Once, when a couple of diplomats from the Turks came to visit, they refused to take their hats off in the presence of the prince. Obligingly, he had their turbans nailed to their heads.
So, needless to say, Vlad was revered by some, hated mercilessly by others. As one of my historian friends put it, "If you're the winner, it was the 'Battle of'. If you were the loser, it was the 'Massacre of'."
Vlad did eventually lose a few battles to the Turks and fled for Transylvania... and at that time, guess who came back as a pro-Turkish ruler? Yup, Radu the Handsome! Radu, now firmly in the control of the Turks, probably wasn't too helpful in helping the public image of his now exiled brother... Stories and reports of executions and sadistic torture of not just Turks, but of Wallachian's too, made the rounds... Vlad was painted, possibly with some justification, possibly not, as a monster. When Vlad made it to Transylvania, he was arrested and imprisoned as a "Royal Prisoner". Must have been a tough life and his jail and captors must have thought he was a real monster, since he married the sister of the prince of Transylvania and sired two sons with her during his incarceration.
Believe it or not, he did actually regain the Wallachian throne in 1476 just in time to be die... I've never found out how, but it's likely it was an assassination.
Once again, Vlad in death was revered for a bit, and then painted as an unspeakable monster as it suited the new ruling body's purposes to make Vlad the villain.
Vlad was buried in a mausoleum in a monastery that he had founded... and we will need to revisit this place shortly.
Poor old Vlad was NOT accused of being any sort of "paranormal monster" until after he was long dead... and even then (and now), it was not everyone who thought he was this "creature". His bloodlust and popular folklore combined to get him a passing accusation as a possible vampire... but, to be honest, no one then seemed to think this might be true until, a number of years after his death, they ordered his body be exhumed from it's mausoleum at the monastery and when his tomb was opening, it was empty!
Did Vlad escape the assassin and fake his own death? Unlikely, as one has to assume he'd want to still be the ruler of his tiny empire. Was he really the undead and his bloodlust and lack of a corpse prove it? I and many others doubt it. It's more likely that the monks, grateful to Vlad for founding their home and knowing that the Turks (or, realistically, a "Turkish-Friendly Ruler") was in power and would want to wreak post-mortem revenge on Vlad's body, simply moved him to hide his remains so they would lie undisturbed.
None-the-less, Vlad Dracula was a "hero" to some, villain and monster to many others. We will re-visit Vlad shortly...