Book Review: Dracula's Wars: Vlad The Impaler and His Rivals

Dracula's Wars: Vlad The Impaler and His Rivals

By James Waterson

The History Press, 2017
ISBN: 9780750964883

Review by Andrei Pogăciaș

The subject of voivod Vlad III/the Impaler/Dracula is one that fascinates everybody, not because of a real knowledge of the matter itself and its flamboyance, but because of a fantasy book written in the 19th century by an Irish author, Bram Stoker. Ever since, the historical character of Vlad III was mingled in the most unhappy ways with the figure of a bloodthirsty immortal vampire who ruled Transylvania and did a lot of horrible things to everybody. Hence, a very biased understanding of his life, deeds and times, from the historical perspective. Good for tourism, though, although the souvenir industry supporting the myth all over Romania is a huge kitsch.

Any enterprise to present for the large western audience the life and wars of Vlad the Impaler is a very useful activity indeed. The historical character must be separated from the mythological and literary beast. His place among the Eruopean rulers of the day must be well established and objectively analysed. Sources must be critically presented and the truth must finally come out in a pleasant way.

Unfortunately, this book fails on all levels and is a long tragedy of historical errors. For any person who knows the subject of Vlad the Impaler’s wars, there is a question mark right from the start, as the title of the book is not in direct “proportion” with the number of pages – the pages about the history of Wallachia, Vlad’s family, Vlad, his campaigns and legends about him are only roughly around 10% of the book.

The author is a historian, a graduate of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, with a Master’s Degree from the University of Dundee. He has already written three books on Islamic military history and one about Chinese wars against the Mongols. This time he addressed a topic completely unfamiliar to him and without being able to overcome the language barrier and have direct access to Romanian bibliography and especially collections of medieval documents and letters linked to the subject. While he is clearly a fan of Ottoman history and military actions, giving really good explanations about the Islamic world, diplomacy, matrimonial alliances etc, he lacks basic knowledge of Balkan and eastern European medieval geography, languages, history, religions, diplomatic affairs and geopolitics. Still, also in this field there are various mistakes.

The style of the writing is cursive, easy to follow, sometimes (too many times) ironic and witty, but the wrong information he gives all over unfortunately transform this book into a totally useless instrument.

From the beginning, the errors start appearing – the author writes about “Cyrillic languages” instead of Cyrillic writing and gives wrong explanations - “voivode, a vassal prince” (the voivode was a military leader and ruler of a territory); “zupan, or Byzantine vassal lord” (p. 44) – the župan/jupan was not a vassal lord, but a ruler – possibly an independent one - in Slavic lands. Kapikulu simply means Servants of the Gate (not „military-slave administration”).

Many proper names are spelled wrong all over the book - Jonas Hunyadi instead of John Hunyadi or Hunyadi Janos; Mehemmed II instead of Mehmed; Vladislaus for Hungarian kings and Wallachian rulers instead of Vladislav; Bayezid I Yildiran (p 53) instead of Yildirim; Karakamids (p 55)instead of Karamanids; Chinggis (Mongol version) instead of Genghis (English version); at page 51 he writes about the region “Branichera” - perhaps he is talking about the Branichevo region and town in northern Serbia, but then the whole explanation is very biased, because the author is referring to the Turkish immigration in Rumelia, which is another area, at a certain important distance from Branichevo and the explanation lacks logic; ”Hungarian cannon maker Urban II”(p 130) instead of Urban or Orban (without II), a Transylvanian, probably Hungarian.

Common names are also written wrong - „fitnet devri” instead of “fetret devri”, which is another name for the civil war after the death of Bayezid I, so the phrase „Fitnet Devri and civil war” is a tautology; “grand wazir” instead of “Grand Vizier”; Turcomen instead of Turkmen; akinje instead of akinji.

Latin is also terra incognita for the author, as he uses „longum belli” in Nominative instead of bellum longum; “Athletae Christi” several times for one person, in the Nominative, instead of Athleta Christi. He uses the term razzia for raids, but this generally applies to the Mediterranean geographic space.

Very many mistakes appear when writing Romanian names. The Romanian language has diacritics, which can be avoided, and the meaning of the word remains the same. The editing program could be to blame, but this is not an excuse – Dnesti instead of Dănești; Fgra si Amla (p 127) instead of Făgăraș and Amlaș; Bistri instead of Bistrița/Bistritz; Brila (p 163) instead of Brăila; Buzu (p 169) instead of Buzău; Brgau (p 170) instead of Bârgău; Haig Sophia instead of Hagia Sophia (last photo from the illustrations part); „Radu III of the Dracul”(p 183) instead of Drăculești; „River Vodnu just west of Bucharest” (p 184) instead of Vodnău/Vodna, a river which was and is actually north/north-east of Bucharest; Laiot instead of Laiotă; Maria Voichi instead of Maria Voichița; Arghi instead of Arghiș; Merghindel instead of Merghindeal; Gregorevi instead of Gregorevich; Rucr instead of Rucăr; Richard Couer de Lion (p 198) instead of Richard Coeur de Lion. He also uses the name Borgo Pass for the modern Pass Tihuța or Bârgău.

Historical and explanation errors are all over the Introduction. This could also be the effect of the lack of good sources and historical literature dealing with medieval history in this space and time, but the events can be checked even online. The fortress of Chilia was not taken by the Moldavians in 1467, but in 1462, and in 1467 it is Mathias Corvinus who invades Moldavia, not just for Chilia issue, and is defeated. In 1475-76, “Ottoman Turks raid Moldavia, but are defeated by Stephen the Great at the Battle of Vaslui” – there were two full invasions, not just raids, one in January 1475, ended in defeat at Vaslui, and another invasion, led by the Sultan himself, in 1476, ended eventually also in defeat. In 1492, “Moldavia again accepts Ottoman suzerainty” – actually, they started paying again tribute in 1487, after three years of continuous Ottoman invasions – 1484, 85, 86.

The timeline is much too long – from 1241 to 1989! - , it is too general and doesn’t have much to do with the subject of the book. The map of Europe has strange incorrect lines/borders, and the map of the Balkans lacks borders and also has mistakes. Strangely, all chapters have at their beginning quotes from Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

In the Introduction and along the book, the author uses phrases like “Vlad Tepes ...was...a walking shadow and a poor player” or the rulers of Eastern Europe were “petty tyrants”, which are not necessarily an objective way to present to an amateur audience the realities of the time.

Chapter I talks about religion and social structure in the Turkish tribes and presents the Balkans on the eve of the Ottoman conquest and beyond. One good idea emerges from the whole chapter, i.e. that the local Christian feudal anarchy was way worse than Turkish occupation. The historical argument, unfortunately, lacks clarity and valid information. At page 21, the author writes that the lack of security in the Balkans after Manzikert 1071 was due to the loss of the „eastern Anatolian colonies” and to the Bulgar raids in the Danube Valley in the 1180s and the Vlach raids in the Balkans in the 1190s. Perhaps the author is referring to the Norman invasion in 1081 and the battle of Dyrrachium, the creation of the second Bulgar Empire in 1185 following the rebellion of the Asen brothers (of Vlach origin) and the incursions of the Pechenegs in the late 1190s, stopped at Lebunion in 1091, when the Vlachs from the nearby mountains actually fought alongside the Byzantines. Strangely, not a word about these capital events. At page 27, a statement without any further analysis, hard to understand by an amateur in this field of history - “The Byzantine civil wars … were the root cause of the Ottoman expansion into Europe”. At page 35, a strange sentence - “the other Balkan states that Vlad Dracula would later both ally with and compete against”. Which Balkan states? There were no independent states in the Balkans in that moment, certainly not ones to ally or compete against Wallachia. At page 57, another biased information - „The medieval Kingdom of Hungary was ruled by a Magyar minority”. We don’t actually have a lot of demographics for the period. The further idea that Hungarians inhabited the plains, while the majority of the Slavs and Vlachs inhabited the mountains and forests is very romantic, in the 19th century style.

Another mistake comes at page 59, where he writes that Turkish pressure led to „major confrontations in Transylvania in early 1395”. The only major confrontations in early 1395 were in Moldavia, where the Hungarian army led by King Sigismund was defeated, and at Rovine, in Wallachia, where the Ottomans were eventually defeated by the Mircea the Elder, voivod of Wallachia. There were no military actions in Transylvania proper.

Another mistake present all over the book is that the author always writes about Transylvania and Transylvanian armies as if they were not part of the Hungarian Kingdom, for example at page 64, where, after the battle of Nicopolis, „Sigismund, for fear of the Wallachians or Transylvanians capturing him and selling him to the Ottomans or worse” etc.
There is a lot of information on various countries and states, but there is much too little information on Wallachia and its history, almost not at all at the end of the chapter.

There are several battles presented in the book, because there were many military events during this time in the area. It would be interesting to know the sources the author used, because not one of these battles is presented correctly, some of them really lack proper information and some have utter nonsense. Details are wrong at Nicopolis (p 60); for the campaign at Varna (p 103) he writes that the Hungarian King ”is killed when his multinational Crusader army is crushed at Varna”, when events were exactly the other way around – the army was crushed AFTER the king was killed; also, „The crusade of Varna was the last concerted attempt by the medieval Christian West to drive the Ottomans from Europe” (p 109) - no, it wasn’t, because it was mostly a Hungarian enterprise, with a small useless European naval help; there were other later attempts, such as the campaign of 1448; the Danube campaign in 1445 (p 108) is also biased; Hunyadi’s invasion in Wallachia in 1447 (p 111); Kosovo 1448; the siege of Constantinople in 1453 and its name, which officially became Istanbul in the 20th century, not immediately after the conquest; Belgrade 1456; Vlad the Impaler’s famous night attack (p 167); Vaslui 1475 is almost fantasy; the battle of Baia 1467 is placed in Baia Mare – Baia was a town in eastern Moldavia, destroyed during the fight in 1467, and nowadays a village; Baia Mare is a former industrial town in northern Transylvania, where the author of this review lived almost half of his life. It is too bad that all these battles and also others from the 16th and 17th centuries are presented in this shallow way, the book is about military history after all.

Chapter II deals a bit with Vlad’s father early years, but again, wrong information. At page 74, we find out that Vlad II was associated to the throne of Wallachia. Actually, the young Vlad II grew up at the court of King Sigismund, while his brother Michael I was associated to the throne of their father.

The lack of historical knowledge is clear in sentences like „Vlad II Dracul was born into a Romanian elite that still held the real power in Transylvania despite the infiltration of nomads and other non-Vlach groups from Saxony and Hungary.” Vlad’s family was not from Transylvania, but from Wallachia, the country between Transylvania and the Danube, but this is not the only time that the author confuses Transylvania with Wallachia and the analysis turns into nonsense. In the 15th century, there were no more nomads roaming Transylvania, and the Hungarians and Saxons had already been settled for the last 200 years at least. The Romanian elite of Transylvania, anyway, slowly joined the ranks of the Hungarian nobility, for obvious reasons.

A strange unexplained sentence comes next - „...several rulers in the Balkans in this period including the Byzantine emperor were not averse to claiming degrees of allegiance to Rome for political and diplomatic reasons.” No comment…

The language barrier probably stopped the author from reading about the Romanian medieval social system, because it is clear that he has no clue about it, as he confuses again Transylvania, Wallachia and the Balkan Vlachs, a common and recurring mistake in the book - „The Vlach aristocracy was a warlike collection of voivodes that had evolved out of older tribal systems present in Transylvania. It seems that the early Vlachs raised cattle and lived a semi-nomadic existence travelling between temporary winter dwellings and the high mountains. They most likely rode small ponies…” (p 75). The same confusion appears in „The voivodates, or governates, the building blocks of Vlach governance, had developed in the high valleys during a period of Hungarian rule as Vlach tribalism was replaced by a simple form of feudalism under local hospodars or „lords.”” The explanation to this part would be too long even for this long review. Other confusions in the book are only between the Wallachians from the eponymous country north of the Danube and the Balkan Vlachs.

„Wallachian feudalism was not like that found in Serbia or Bulgaria, as it had fewer social tiers. There were „free” peasants and boyars, and then a prince. There was, therefore, not the level of complexity seen in these other Balkan societies.” Again, complete lack of information, as the social system in Wallachia had all the strata.

The idea that all the boyars stood together and Wallachia was cohesive is wrong in any kind of society we would take to study; a country or a social layer is not a monolith, not ever.

„The first Vlach or Wallachian ’state’ was formed on the river Olt in the Carpathians as a refuge for higher Vlach lords fleeing Hungarian-Catholic forces during the thirteenth century.” Curtea de Arges, the first capital, was not the seat of the Orthodox Patriarch, but of the Metropolitan – the first Romanian Ortohodox Patriarch was in ...1925! Also, the town is east of the Olt River, on the Argeș River. The leader of the “exodus” was the so-called Black Voivod, who, as the sources clearly state, crossed the Carpathians to the south leading Romanians, Hungarians and Saxons. Unfortunately, we don’t have any kind of documents to prove why they crossed in that fateful year 1290.

Ungro-Wallachia was the name for Wallachia in several medieval sources, but it was not another name for Transylvania.

Speaking about „various overlords of the Ukraine”, the author uses a term which came into use way later than our events.

The confusions continue, as the author speaks about the Catholic monasteries in Transylvania belonging to several orders, as being in Wallachia, where Catholicism was not so well represented.

And again, when writing about Transylvania - „The population was mixed and included Turks as well as Mongols, Saxons and the Hungarian-Catholic ethnic group of the Szekels”. Turks and Mongols were not settled in Transylvania, but at the outskirts of Wallachia and especially Moldavia, while the “Szekels” are actually called in English Szekelys or Szeklers.

There is no information in any source about the „alliance with the Muslim-Mongol Golden Horde against Hungary” that the author is mentioning.
One important point would have been to present the forming of the medieval state of Moldavia, but the information is again very shallow.

While writing about Mircea the Elder, the author didn’t check the fact that, in 1417, Wallachia had to accept Ottoman suzerainty and pay the tribute not because it was „collapsing into anarchy”, but as a result of a very powerful Ottoman invasion that occupied Dobrudja and plundered almost the whole country. He also completely omitted the battle of Rovine in 1395, a very important battle.

At page 82, there is an exaggerated statement, i.e. military success transformed the sultan in a pantocrator – the term is used mainly in religious matters, not for the temporary omnipotence of a human ruler. On pages 83-84, the author writes that the Order of the Dragon „was a distinctly Catholic one and antagonistic to the Orthodox faith”. On the contrary, it also had Orthodox rulers from south-eastern European countries. A few pages later, the author writes that Vlad II Dracul had a „reputation as a cruel and oppressive tyrant”, he is probably confusing him with Vlad III, and no explanation for the statement is given.

For the wrong information at page 90 about the coins minted by Vlad II, they had on the obverse the Wallachian eagle with the cross and on the reverse a dragon, with wings open and curly tail, but not the dragon of the Order as stated in the book.

At page 91, another proof that the author did not check his info at all - „Jonas Hunyadi was a Magyarised Romanian from Transylvania”, and the rest of the biography is also biased. Hunyadi’s father, Voicu, was a Wallachian boyar who came to Transylvania and received a domain from Sigismund himself. He married a local woman from a Hungarian family. John Hunyadi had hence mixed blood and he spoke both languages.

On the next page, the statement that Vlad II „was continuing with his own plundering in Transylvania” in 1437-38 is partially wrong. Actually, he had to join an Ottoman army sent to plunder, but managed to save as many inhabitants – mostly noble, of course – as possible.

At page 110-111, among other information about Vlad III, we find out that „At Tirgoviste he began his training as a knight”. There were no knights in the Romanian countries. The info is part of the last two pages of the chapter, where there is finally a bit of information about Vlad III, mostly unreliable.

Chapter III deals mostly with Skanderbeg’s wars against the Venetians and the Ottomans and Mehmed II’s internal and external policies. While trying to explain the circumstances of these events, the author writes about Balkan states like they were independent or at least with a very large autonomy. After mentioning again the “petty tyrants” of the area, he writes about the “fluctuation of Serbs, Byzantines and other Balkan powers between union and animosity towards the Ottoman” (p 113). Which other Balkan powers?! There was no other Balkan power than the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century! He also mentions “the feudal nature of the Balkan states in which power was often devolved to lesser lords”, again a statement without any analysis, wrong in itself, as almost the whole Balkan Peninsula was ruled by Ottoman administration and there was no European feudal devolution of power as in parts of Western Europe. Furthermore, “it had become by this time a ‘standard practice’ in Balkan diplomacy to make alliances with a potentially threatening force in the short term against other enemies”. With all due respect, a very serious question arises right now – does the author know the geographical extent of the Balkan Peninsula and the geopolitical realities of the 15th century in the area?

At page 139, there is the story of how Vlad III took the throne, executed Vladislav II but…remained in Wallachia as a ruler, did not return to Transylvania, as the author writes!

At pages 144-145 there is info on the coins minted by Vlad, including one with a comet o one of the sides. In reality, it seems there were actually two coins minted by Vlad the Impaler, one indeed with a comet, but specialists do not fully agree on their chronology.

At page 147, the reader will find out that Vlad III founded Bucharest, today’s capital of Romania. In fact, he didn’t, Bucharest already existed, it is just mentioned during his rule.

At page 149 there is maybe the utmost nonsense of the book. We find out that Vlad III “placed another government body above the council of boyars: the arma”. Apart from the fantasy explanations following this fake info, arma in Romanian simply means “weapon”, and any other attempt to clarify the matter is useless. There was no other administrative body over the high council of boyars, except for the ruling prince.

Next, another confusion about the creation of the soldiers called viteji, „nucleus of peasant armies”. First of all, “viteji” is the plural of the word “brave” and we don’t know exactly what they were; they are mentioned mainly as cavalry in both Wallachia and Moldavia, possibly recruited from the rich peasants who owned land and from the small nobility, but we don’t know the date of their “creation”, they might as well come from the 14th century as an army corps. Also, the idea of eastern European peasant armies being gathered against Ottomans etc is way overdue, no feudal ruler would be so careless as to arm peasants and send them against professional troops for a series of objective reasons. The idea of peasant armies was very fashionable in the 19th century during the romantic nationalist revival of eastern European peoples and during the 20th century, especially during Communism. Serious researchers do not even mention this subject.

Other explanations regarding the army mention “the men of Vlad Dracula’s standing army, or bodyguard, the sluji”. First of all, the term sluji means domestic servant, while the term for the household troops in the Romanian countries is slujitori. They were not only bodyguards of the ruler, the term has a broader meaning. A dozen pages later, there is again the mention of peasants organised into armies and of “standing bodyguard of the sluji and gypsies”. While there are hints that Vlad actually had gypsies into his army, it is exaggerated to talk about a gypsy guard.

Next, Vlad is presented as a “generous patron of the Romanian Orthodox Church”. Not exactly, his relations with the church seem to have been very limited and practical for political purposes. Again, in the next lines, the author confuses Wallachia with Transylvania and the explanation about the Roman Catholic Church expanding and being used by Vlad is pure invention.

At page 150 and not only, the author states that the Romanian countries – Wallachia and Moldavia - were in the Ottoman devshirme system. Very wrong, the devshirme was never applied to the Romanian Countries, as they were not directly ruled by the Ottomans and they had not been subdued through conquest.

Next, the author writes that it is a mystery why Vlad didn’t pay the tribute in his first two years of rule. It is not. It is known from the contemporary sources that he asked the Sultan to pardon him, because the Transylvanian campaigns drained all the money for the tribute, and the sultan accepted the reason.

Also from sources we know very well the causes of the rebellion of the town Bistritz. The author tries to guess at page 152 the reasons, but again lacks important details from medieval documents.

At page 157 he again confuses the two territories, Transylvania and Wallachia. Speaking about the relations of Vlad with the peasants, he writes that the Romanian peasants had allied with the Hungarian peasants in the rebellion of 1437. Partially true, but NOT the Wallachian peasants from Wallachia, only the Romanian peasants from Transylvania.

At page 158 and not only, he mentions that the Ottomans wanted to secure the Danube Delta. Well, it already belonged to them, there was nothing to secure, and there was no fleet on the lower Danube able to compete against the Ottoman fleet.

At page 161, talking about the nailing to the head of the turbans of the Ottoman envoys, the author tries again to guess a series of reasons for it. Actually, the legend clearly says that they kept their hats on in front of Tepes, so he wanted them to keep their custom forever and he ordered the ordeal.

Lack of geographical knowledge, easy to check on any map, leads to the mention that from Brila (p 163, instead of Brăila), the Turks attack north into Wallachia. They simply couldn’t do that – Brăila lies in the north-eastern corner of Wallachia, any attack north from here being towards Moldavia. Another geographical error is at page 183. The author states that if Wallachia were on the Ottoman side, “then Moldavia’s entire western flank was open to invasion”. A simplelook at themap shows us that Moldavia’s southern flank was towards Wallachia, the western border was towards Transylvania.

There are a series of illustrations in Chapter III. At page 8 of these, the author speaks about the fortress of Poenari, but the photo on top is a photo of the Bran castle. At page 15 he writes about the royal court of Târgoviște, although the rulers of Wallachia and Moldavia were never kings. Later on, he also calls the Modavian ruler king. The explanation for the photo of Sighișoara there are two mistakes - Vlad II was not governor of Transylvania, he was merely responsible with the defence of its eastern border for a while. Also, Sighisoara is not ”in the centre of the border with Wallachia”, a simple look at a map shows its exact location.

Chapter IIII presents the last years of Skanderbeg’s wars and gives an analysis about Vlad’s loss of power, with comparisons to other European states of the time. While analysing, there are certain phrases such as “Vlad Dracula was a fine general and tactician but a poor war leader and strategist” (p 173), which doesn’t make much sense.

At page 175, after talking about Vlad’s flight to Transylvania, it is good to know that he met King Matthias Corvinus in Brașov/Kronstadt/Brasso, not in the (inexistent) fortress of “Konigstein”, allegedly built by Janos Hunyadi. The author probably confuses to the mountainous massif near this city, known as Konigstein in German, or The King’s Rock (Piatra Craiului in Romanian).

A necessary lecture of the Romanian bibliography would have made the author know that the fake letters involving Vlad’s treachery and his allegiance to the Turk (p 176) actually seem original and true. A very important detail of the Impaler’s existence and political entanglements.

Talking about the general situation in the area, Waterson writes that “It seemed unlikely that the Poles would intervene” in a case of an ottoman attack in Moldavia. A further analysis could have been useful here and the result of the sentence might have been different.

For those who get to page 185 and read about the alleged insignia of Vlad the Impaler, they must know that there is no known insignia of his, having the Dragon of the Order and the Raven of Hunyadi’s family together.
The description of the Ottoman campaign at Vaslui in January 1475 is completely wrong on all levels, from the description and numbers of the armies and the general information regarding the Ottoman route to the description of the landscape and the details of the battle.

Chapter V briefly deals with the fall of Vlad towards the end of the chapter. He is presented again as an irrational and ruthless blood loving violent ruler, being to blame for a real mass slaughter in his country and not only - 203 “For his people he brought mass slaughter. Estimates range from 40,000 to 100,000 people over his six-year rule.” Is there a source for the estimates? There is also no critical analysis of medieval sources, starting from the Turkish and Byzantine chronicles (Romanian chronicles are scarce, as they have been almost completely destroyed, it seems, in the 16th century wars) and finishing with the legends and stories written about him and published in Europe even then. Also, very important for the relations of Vlad with the Transylvanian Saxons and with the Hungarian administration are the letters and various documents that shouldn’t miss from such a biography.
Vlad’s head, indeed, was taken to the Sultan, but surely not all of it, as the author implies. The custom was to peel the skin off the skull and fill it with hay, so the skin dried and the face remained recognizable.

The rest of the chapter deals with the 1476 Ottoman campaign in Moldavia. A series of mistakes occur here too: the Tatars who attack Moldavia (p 193) were not north-east of Moldavia, but rather south-east; the Ottomans didn’t take Cetatea Albă/Akkerman in 1476; at page 194, the explanation about name of the place of the battle is wrong, actually vice versa – initially, it was called Valea Albă/White Valley, and after the battle it became known as Războieni, from the Romanian word război/war. The whole campaign of 1476 is, of course, as usual, with more mistakes than valid information.

The author probably copies a line or two from a Romanian book when he writes, at page 199, that “it was only the strength of Stephen the Great’s sword arm that kept the ottomans from crossing the Danube and taking Wallachia and Transylvania into Mehemmed II’s empire.” The statement is at least funny and entirely wrong.

The mistakes continue – at page 207 we find out that, after 1848, “Wallachians, Moldavians and Transylvanians all looked to shrug off Turkish and Russian domination”. Well, Transylvania was part of the Habsburg Empire, and the other two were officially part of the Ottoman Empire. The rest of the analysis about Romanian foundation myths lacks, again, valid information. Vlad the Impaler, in opposition to what Waterson writes, is /was not the only heroic historical figure taken as a model by the Romanian politicians in the 19th century.

A rather pejorative statement comes a few lines after - “The evolution of the Romanian language and its acceptance among the literati as an acceptable language for writing literature in” in the 18th-19th centuries and is also contradicted by other historical information and facts regarding the use of Romanian in literature and other writings.

Those who read page 208 should know that the “Third Letter” was not a ballad, but a poem, and by 1881 Romania was already an independent country. The author missed that info too…

Chapter VI presents the history of Europe after the death of Mehmed II, up to the 20th century, a useless enterprise with no logical link to the subject of the book. Also here the mistakes appear on every age, too many to mention. A few stand out. At page 214, the author talks about a Hungarian rebel in the 18th century – Ivan the Black, but a simple search on the internet will lead to the real Ivan the Black, a 15th century leader of the Principality of Zeta, in what is now roughly Montenegro. Also, it is too soon to talk about a Russian threat towards the Ottomans in the 16th century, even if Ivan the Terrible managed to conquer the Kazan and Astrakhan khanates. The notes at the end also contain mistakes, and it is no wonder, because the bibliography Waterson uses is almost inexistent for the subject in the title of his book. He used two books about Vlad III, cited along the book, three articles and mentions two other books in the “further reading” section.

Unfortunately, the book is absolutely worthless for the specialists and amateurs alike, given the fact that it has so many mistakes and lacks valid information about Vlad the Impaler’s wars or other subjects presented. The analysis are shallow or simply wrong, perhaps because the author has worked on a subject completely strange to him without the possibility of having access to the right sources. Not at all recommended, for anybody.

6 thoughts on “Book Review: Dracula's Wars: Vlad The Impaler and His Rivals”

  • Stephen Ede-Borrett
    Stephen Ede-Borrett August 16, 2017 at 10:32 pm

    Thankyou Andrei

    That has saved me some pennies and, more importantly, corrected much information that I would otherwise have taken as accurate.

    I was wondering if you would allow the republication of the review in the Pike & Shot Society's journal 'Arquebusier', under your name and with full acknowledgment to Karwansaray of course.

    Again thankyou

    Reply
    • Andrei

      Hello
      As long as the guys from Karwansaray agree, I have no problem with your proposal.
      Actually, thank you!
      Andrei Pogăciaș

      Reply
  • Lew Cottell

    Can you recommend an alternate book ?

    Reply
  • John Hill

    I couldn't agree more.For all the issues and points you raise the book is so sadly a waste of money and more importantly damaging to a fascinating period of Eastern European history!

    Reply
  • Saroni Kellogg

    Good evening Andrei,

    I'm in the middle of writing a book about Vlad III and a lot of my information comes from the Florescu/McNally book, Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and His Times. I've never come across the particular book you reviewed here, but since you're so knowledgeable, do you have recommendations? Or, better yet, do you have a website where I can find information or contact you about it? I'm writing an historical novel, but my goal is to make it accurate.

    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Peter Konieczny

      Peter here - I would check out Matei Cazacu's book Dracula, which was just translated into English and published by Brill. I just started reading it, but it looks to be a thorough and well-sourced work.

      Reply
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