Archaeologists find cannonballs the real-life Dracula used to conquer a fortress

As the Ottoman Empire sought to invade southeast Europe in the 1400s, they feared one ruler above all others: Vlad III Dracula. And now, cannonballs used by his forces to defend Europe have been found in the ruins of a fortress in Bulgaria.

Considered a national hero in Romania, Vlad Dracula ruled a region known at the time as Wallachia, where he ruled three times between 1448 and his death in 1476.

Of course, the man known as Vlad the Impaler for the brutal way he treated his enemies, would be immortalized by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel “Dracula”. Stoker based his character on Vlad with several major differences, but the main similarity both shared by the real-life man and the character is the bloodthirstiness that gave rise to his legend.

For years, Vlad Dracula and his army stood in the way of the Ottoman Empire’s attempt to invade and conquer Europe, using his ruthless reputation to strike fear into the hearts of invading forces who dared to face-off against him.

Just south in Bulgaria, Vlad would lay siege to Zishtova Fortess in 1461 near the present-day town of Svishtov at the southern end of the Danube River, which had been occupied by Ottoman forces.

During the siege, Vlad’s army used early medieval cannons that fired cannonballs known as culverins.

Culverins via Wikipedia

The siege lasted throughout the winter, but the Ottoman forces eventually relented and Vlad took the fort and added to his legend.

Now, archaeologists excavating the fortress have found cannonballs used by his forces during the siege.

According to Archaeology in Bulgaria:

The culverin cannonballs purported to be from Vlad Dracula’s siege and conquest of the Zishtova Fortress in the winter of 1461 – 1462, and the inscription mentioning a cohort from the Roman Empire’s First Italian Legion have been found during excavations started less than two weeks ago by a team led by Prof. Nikolay Ovcharov from the National Institute and Museum of Archaeology in Sofia.

“The history of the Svishtov Fortress [Zishtova] is very long,” Ovcharov said. “[The artifacts] we see here are just a sample.”

The team even found an inscription from Roman times.

“We have a partially preserved inscription from the 4th century AD, from the Roman period, about a cohort from the First Italian Legion,” he said. “Our hypothesis is that this is from the last period of the Roman presence in this region. We know that they had been quartered at Novae, but towards the 4th – 5th century AD, as a result of the barbarian invasions, it became indefensible, it was abandoned, and the Late Antiquity fortress [that predated the Zishtova Fortress] was built here,” Ovcharov explained.

“Then we go to the [medieval] Bulgarian period, the 13th – 14th century when the [existing] fortification was built, [which is represented] with coins of Tsar Ivan Alexander [of the Second Bulgarian Empire] (r. 1331 – 1371), Tsar Ivan Shishman (r. 1371 – 1395), and coins of Byzantine emperors,” he continued.

So, the fortress clearly has a long history connecting the Romans to Vlad Dracula, and Ovcharov is certain that the cannonballs are connected to him as well.

“What’s really interesting is that from the [early] Ottoman period we have found cannonballs,” he said. “We rejoice at those small cannonballs because they are from culverins. These were the earliest cannons which were for the 15th century, up until the 16th century, they weren’t in use after that. These were still very imperfect cannons. That was precisely the time of Vlad Dracula, there is no doubt that they are connected with the siege [and conquest of the Zishtova Fortress] by Vlad Dracula in 1461. The truth is that Vlad Dracula besieged this place, conquered it, and most probably also resided here.”

Surprisingly, Ovcharov also rejects the idea that Vlad Dracula was any more violent than other leaders of his era, and the only reason we think of him as being such a bloody figure is because of his later image as a vampire as portrayed in books, films, and television shows.

“Dracula, Vlad Tsepesh, was not a vampire at all, of course,” the archaeologist said. “He was one of the most meticulous fighters against the Ottoman invasion. He was cruel but, at the end of the day, that was the Middle Ages, and he was allowed those things.”

In fact, Vlad likely impaled Ottoman soldiers upon conquering Zishtova. It turns out that the team knows Dracula must have resided at the fortress for a time because he wrote a letter informing the Hungarian king that his forces had killed 410 Turkish defenders. And because Vlad’s favorite method of execution is via impalement, any enemy survivors likely experienced such torture that they wished they had died during the siege.

“Some of them were probably impaled, in his style,” Ovcharov concluded. “Probably during that winter of 1461 – 1462 that was the castle where he resided because, apparently, he had not gone back to Wallachia yet.”

The cannonballs and other items found will almost certainly be displayed in a museum so that more people can learn about the bloody ruler who will live forever as a vampire in modern fiction.

More about the real Dracula from Elite Facts below:

Featured Image: Wikimedia

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