Night Attack, 1462: Vlad The Impaler & The Ottoman-Wallachian War, 1460-1462

On the night of 17 June 1462, Prince Vlad III, known to history as Vlad Tepes, Vlad the Impaler or Dracula (b.1431-c.1476), carried out a daring night raid on the camp of Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II (b.1432-1481) during the Ottoman-Wallachian War, 1460-1462. The bloody nighttime assault, known to history as the Night Attack, occurred when Dracula's force attacked the Ottoman encampment outside Târgoviște (Tirgoviste), Wallachia, in modern day Romania. Dracula assaulted the Turkish camp in an assassination attempt of Sultan Mehmed following the punitive Turkish invasion of the Kingdom of Wallachia in 1462.

Prince Vlad III watches the impalement of German settlers, Art by Angus McBride

Separated from the myth made famous in Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula, Vlad III was a voivode  (princely ruler) of Wallachia, once a influential kingdom in the southern Balkans, near what is known archaically then and still today as Transylvania. Prince Vlad III, or Dracula, meaning son of the dragon, had inherited his titles from his father, Prince Vlad II, Dracul. Vlad II had been a member of the Order of the Dragon, a noble crusading order founded by the King of Hungary and King of the Holy Roman, Emperor Sigismund, in the year 1408. This eastern chivalric order was devoted to defending the Balkan kingdoms from the Ottoman Empire's steady advance and internal heretics alike.

Ultimately, Dracula's violent efforts for control of the Wallachian crown were unable to turn back the Ottomans or to keep at bay both his domestic enemies, the boyars (feudal aristocracy), and regional threats from the Moldavians and Hungarians. Dracula ruled Wallachia three separate times, for a brief tenure in 1448, from 1456-1462, and then again briefly in 1476, directly before his death.

Warlords of Wallachia: Crusader Princes in the Balkans, 1443-1456

Modern historical accounts correctly place Prince Vlad III in the context of the ruthless world of Slavic-Balkan crusader princes. Although these nobles and princes were numerous, Dracula remains the most revered and reviled, but he was just one of the many warlords who ruled over the region, infighting with rival claimants and crusading against the Turks on Europe's frontier. Another Wallachian, Janos Hunyadi (d.1456), had a significant influence on the events which preceded Dracula's conflict with Sultan Mehmed II. As regent of Hungary and voivode of Transylvania, the Wallachian-born knight was of great importance militarily and politically.

Hunyandi had fought and won a series of battles against the Turks in 1443-1444, known as the Long Campaign, briefly liberating portions of the Balkans from direct Ottoman control. The Hungarians and Transylvanians, including Hunyandi had feuded with the House of Drăculești before the Battle of Varna in 1444. Hunyandi also nursed a personal rivalry with Dracula's father, Prince Vlad Dracul II. Diplomacy was a knife's edge issue between many of these Balkan kingdoms and the Ottoman Empire during this period. In the Balkan kingdoms, internal politics were often dictated by ancient feuds and personal indemnities. The kingdom of Wallachia had been propped up as a vassal state caught between the Christian kingdoms to the north and Ottoman sultanate to the south, a dangerous position which the House of Drăculești exploited to both their advantage and eventual peril. This must have been draining for the kingdom's coffers as well, since Wallachia paid tribute to both Hungary and the Ottomans during Dracula’s lifetime, and had to appease both without angering the other.

Janos Hunyandi, voivode of Transylvania & governor of Hungary

Hunyandi did not trust Dracul, as the Wallachian voivode had generally refused to aid the crusading efforts of the allied European kingdoms against the Ottomans.* Dracul had also allowed Turkish raiding parties leave through Wallachia in order to pillage Transylvania, likely violating any sort of oath he had taken in joining the Order of the Dragon. Wallachia did however send a token force of cavalry to Varna commanded by Dracula's oldest brother, Prince Mircea, but the House of Drăculești offered little else to the Balkan crusades. When Hunyandi attempted to cross through Wallachia after Varna, Dracul imprisoned him and threatened his execution. In 1445, Dracul and his son Prince Mircea aided a Burgundian fleet of eight galleys which had been traversing the Danube, besieging Turkish forts and plundering what could be stowed on small river ships known as manocques.

Fortune's wheel was ever spinning through to the year 1447, when Hunyandi repaid Dracul's indemnity, aiding the Wallachian boyars who overthrew and killed Dracul in support of Prince Vladislav II of the House of Dăneşti. The boyars also killed Prince Mircea during this same revolt, vengefully burying him alive after blinding him, a common extra-judical killing method of the period. Prince Vlad II's two surviving sons, Vlad III (Dracula) and Radu, were already in exile beginning around 1442, living as royal hostages at the Ottoman court while their father's successor, Vladislav II, ruled Wallachia. In October of 1448, Hunyadi and Prince Vladislav II were defeated by the Ottomans at the Second Battle of Kosovo, allowing Prince Dracula an opportunity to enter the country and claim the crown with Ottoman support. When Vladislav II returned, alive with his army, Dracula was forced to safe haven in Moldavia and later Hungary. Making peace with his father's old enemy, Hunyandi, the elder voivode nominated Dracula with defending the Transylvania frontier in c.1455-1456.

Woodcut of Prince Vlad Dracula, Nuremburg 1488

In 1456, Prince Vlad III returned to Wallachia and overthrew and killed Vladislav II, regaining his familial crown. Hunyandi perished in the same year from plague, removing another obstacle to Dracula's power in the region. Hastily, Prince Vlad consolidated his power base, executing many of the boyars who had wronged his family and elevating new nobility from the peasantry. Warriors who served well were promoted to viteji, forming a cohesive, upper-echelon similar to an officer corps. Dracula also formed a bodyguard, the sluji, comprised of paid mercenaries and the surviving boyars who could be trusted. Scant information exists on the sluji but one can surmise that they were prudently armed and fanatic warriors who utilized the composite bow from horseback.

*Following the fall of Constantinople in May of 1453, the Balkan kingdoms sought to begin a new crusade against the Ottoman Empire and Mehmed II. Most of Europe was lukewarm on the idea however; France and England were still at war, whilst England was beginning to suffer from their own dynastic civil war, the Wars of the Roses, the German and Italian states either refused or disagreed on the terms of service. The Varna Crusade of 1443-1444 was just one example of this new Balkan crusade fervor. Ordered to march by Pope Eugene IV, the allied army was led by the Polish King Władysław III and consisted of soldiers loyal to Hungary, the Duke of Burgundy, the Byzantine Emperor, the Pope, Venice, Ragusa (Sicily), and the emir of Karaman (what is today southern Turkey). The allies were defeated outside Varna, Bulgaria where Władysław III was slain and the crusader army scattered.

Ottoman-Wallachian War, 1460-1462

The first phase of the Ottoman-Wallachian conflict began around 1460 following Prince Vlad's continued refusal to pay taxation on all non-Muslims living within his kingdom (jizya) and the continuation of cross-border raids into Ottoman territory. In the winter of 1460, the Ottoman governor of Nicopolis, Hamza Bey, was ambushed and killed along with the entirety of his armed escort outside the border fortress at Giurgiu by soldiers loyal to Prince Vlad III. According to the chronicles, Dracula reserved the tallest impalement stake for Hamza Bey, who had gained battle honors as an admiral in the Ottoman navy during the Siege of Thessalonica c.1422-1430 and during the blockade of Constantinople, April-May 1453. Further Wallachian raids on Bulgaria and Transylvania drew the ire of both ethnic-German settlers and the Ottoman sultan in 1459-1461. Precluding the death of Hamza Bey, Dracula's horsemen had crossed the frozen Danube river, pillaging nearly 500 miles of Ottoman controlled territory.

More than 23,000 Ottoman subjects were killed during this campaign of terror, a near exact account of which was personally scripted to the King of Hungary by Dracula. The noses and ears of those slain were sent along with the same letter as proof of the Wallachian's savage deeds. Saxon traders in Brasov and German settlers in Transylvania had previously drawn the fury of Dracula after they had refused his partial trade agreements, Many surviving German accounts, heavily dosed with embellishment, speak to the fear and hatred that Dracula and his sluji inspired in the local populaces. In response to these acts of war, Turkish troops were sent down the Danube into the Olt River and landed in Romania beginning in the early summer months of 1462. Sultan Mehmed II came ashore with the main Ottoman army as did Prince Radu, who was at the head of 4,000 cavalry which consisted of exiled Wallachian boyars. The first skirmishes between the two sides took place during the initial Turkish crossing of the Danube, Dracula's cavalry harried the invaders with some minor success before melting back into the forests and hillsides.

Wallachian cavalry attack Ottoman skirmishers crossing the Danube in 1462, Art by Angus McBride

The Ottoman expeditionary force numbered 60,000-80,000 soldiers and noncombatants. Comprised of disciplined Janissary units, many of which would have been armed with early handguns, tens of thousands of sipahi cavalry, and more than a hundred artillery pieces, this was a battle ready and battle tested host. The azapi infantry made up the bulk of rearguard. Distinctive from the professional Janissary units, the azapi were light infantry similar to a militia. Knowing that his smaller and divided Wallachian army of 24,000-30,000 could not stop the brunt of the Ottoman advance, Dracula engaged in a scorched earth and guerrilla campaign. In response, the Turks dug trenches to protect their infantry and artillery from Wallachian raiders. One account from the Janissary Konstantin Mihailović, a Serb who had been captured by the Turks in 1455, details the death of 250 Janissaries attempting to cross the Danube after an attack by Dracula's feared horsemen.

Peasants and laborers fled their homes and livelihoods to hide in the forests and marshes, avoiding the wrath of both armies in June of 1462. An oppressively hot and humid summer added to the misery of the Turkish troops who must of had difficulty finding potable water or a reliable source of food in unfamiliar territory, though they were likely aided by the ever-plotting boyars who defied the rule of the prince of Wallachia. Plodding slowly towards Tirgoviste, thousands of Turkish soldiers died from disease and hundreds more were killed in nightfall guerrilla attacks.

†A frequently viewed German woodcut from 1499 depicts Dracula dining among the corpses of impaled German settlers in Transylvania. In the corner of the artwork, a butcher prepares additional bodies for the bloody feast.

‡Also known as Constantine of Ostravica (b.1430), the Serbian Jannisary turned his experiences serving Mehmed II, which included the Siege of Belgrade in July 1456 and the campaign against Dracula, into Memoirs of a Janissary, which was finished sometime after 1490. Some of his account was likely fiction or based on the tales which he had heard from fellow Turkish soldiers.

The Night Attack, June 1462

The battle that is called the Night Attack or 'Night of Attack' was a raid launched by Prince Dracula in order to overrun the camp of Sultan Mehmed II in June 1462. According to one period Italian source, Dracula learned the location of the sultan's camp from several captured Turkish foragers taken prisoner at twilight on the eve of the attack. The raid took place in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains south of Tîrgoviște. According to one Ottoman chronicler, the battle began about three hours after the sun had set and was fought until four in the morning the next day. The Night Attack would be the largest and bloodiest engagement that was fought between the two armies, although Dracula's attack was not a pitched battle.

Wallachian soldiers carried torches whilst they stormed the sultan's camp, plundering and slashing open tents, killing the inhabitants as they went. Thousands were killed or wounded by sword, mace, and bow. Another Wallachian boyar commanded riders alongside Vlad but had been unwilling to join in on the attack, diminishing the already grave Turkish casualties inflicted during the Night Attack. One massive tent was spotted and quickly assaulted, the inhabitants were slain by the Wallachians but they were two grandly dressed viziers, not the sultan. Janissaries were able to protect Mehmed's tent and it is doubtful if any of the Wallachians came close to penetrating it during the attack.

The Battle with Torches, Theodor Aman, 1891

Sources confer that Dracula lost 5,000 combatants and the Turks lost 15,000 soldiers, counting certainly the skirmishes fought in the immediate aftermath of the Night Attack. The remaining numbers of the Sultan's army retreated east beginning 22-23 June. Secondary and primary sources confer that the withdrawal from Wallachia was due partially to the fear instilled in the remaining Turkish soldiers upon witnessing perhaps as many as 10,000-20,000 Turkish, Bulgarian, and Wallachian captives impaled to death on wooden stakes outside the city of Tîrgoviște. Disease coupled with the nocturnal attacks of the Wallachian cavalry, greatly thinned the once swollen Turkish ranks. In the final weeks of the Ottoman campaign in Wallachia, the Turks won a minor victory around seventy-five miles east of Tîrgoviște in the hills of Buzău.

Requiem for Prince Dracula, 1463-1476

Vlad did not enjoy his success for long; his cousin King Stephen of Moldavia attacked Wallachia in 1462 in an attempt to take the fortress at Chilia. The Wallachians defeated Stephen's army at a heavy cost to the Moldavians, but it was all for naught. Dracula was soon stripped of his crown and forced to flee to Hungary in November of 1462, becoming a prisoner of his former ally King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary (son of John Hunyandi) until his release sometime around 1475. Dracula's brother Prince Radu ruled as voivode of Wallachia following his brother's ouster, gaining the support of the many boyars whose forebears had been brutalized and killed by his older brother. The Ottomans and his own loyal Janissaries backed Radu as prince of Wallachia from 1462 to 1473 and then again briefly in 1475.

Turkish soldiers as depicted in Hungary c.1460's

During the final interregnum of Dracula's life, Prince Radu had taken control of a portion of Wallachia, fighting for control over the crown with another claimant, Basarab Laiotă. A power vacuum had formed and Dracula attempted to finally reclaim Wallachia for himself. By 1476, a massive host of Hungarians, Transylvanians, Wallachians, and Serbs, led by Dracula and Prince Stephen Bathory of Ecsed, a Hungarian vovoide and Order of the Dragon member, had assembled and soon marched on Romania. Vlad was made ruler of Wallachia after taking Tirgoviste and ousting Basarab in November but he was assassinated or killed in battle near Bucharest in December 1476 or early January 1477. According to both legend and historical chronicles, his head was severed and then sent as proof of his demise to his old adversary in Constantinople, Sultan Mehmed II.

Suggested Further Reading
Vlad III Dracula: The Life and Time of the Historical Dracula Kurt W. Treptow (2000).

Dracula By: Matei Cazacu (Brill, 2011).

Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life and His Times Radu R Florescu and Raymond T. McNally (Back Bay Books, 1990), 261 pgs.

Medieval Warlords By: Tim Newark, Illustrations by Angus McBride (Blandford, 1987).

1 comment:

  1. - Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia (1431–1476), was a member of the House of Drăculești. His father Vlad the II was Dracul, Vlad the III was the impaler.
    - Wallachia is in the north of balkans and in the south of Transylvania. Map of balkan peninsula http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Balkan_topo_en.jpg

    - In December 1447, boyars in league with the Hungarian regent John Hunyadi rebelled against Vlad II Dracul and killed him in the marshes near Bălteni. Mircea, Dracul's eldest son and heir, was blinded and buried alive at Târgoviște. To prevent Wallachia from falling into the Hungarian fold, the Ottomans invaded Wallachia and put young Vlad III on the throne. However, this rule was short-lived as Hunyadi himself now invaded Wallachia and restored his ally Vladislav II, of the Dănești clan, to the throne.
    - as for books : Florescu, Radu R. & McNally, Raymond T. (1989). Dracula, prince of many faces: his life and his times. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 0-316-28655-9.


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