The Real-Life Dracula Shed Tears of Blood
Vlad the Impaler
In searching for inspiration for his vampire count, Bram Stoker selected Vlad III, the 15th-century ruler of Wallachia. How much Stoker knew about the real-life Dracula is still debated, but Vlad III was a brutal villain in his own right, once impaling an army of 20,000 invading Ottomans. Just recently, another bloody detail surrounding the voivode of Wallachia has been lent credence, that Vlad the Impaler shed tears of blood, a condition called hemolacria. Vlad III may not have been a vampire, but barbaric war tactics and an unusual blood condition may have helped paint a picture of a real-world monster.
The study in question examined three letters written by Vlad III in 1457 and 1475 for biological material left behind by the prince. A thin film of Ethylene-vinyl acetate aligned with positive and negative ions and hydrophobic resin extracted proteins on the papers which were then subject to a mass spectrometry examination. The study identified roughly 100 human peptides (a sub-unit of proteins) along with 2,000 environmental peptides (plants, insects, bacteria). 31 of the human peptides are found in human blood while another three are linked to tear production. This suggests that tears may have deposited the blood material on the letters.
One of the letters under mass spectrometric analysis
The presence of the 2,000 other peptides also tells scientists something about the environmental conditions in which the letters were written. Wallachia in the 15th century was ravaged by disease, and Vlad III’s letters are a testament to this. 22 proteins identified as viruses include the Flaviviridae family, a group that is spread by mosquitos and ticks and can cause yellow fever and dengue fever. The content of Vlad III’s letters themselves is fairly dry, having to do with taxation on the city of Sibiu, but on the pages is evidence of the instability of Vlad III’s kingdom.
As exciting as this find is, it comes with the obvious qualifier that other people handled these letters and it may have been them who were afflicted with hemolacria. Still, it stands to reason that Vlad III’s DNA would be the oldest material on the paper, as he was the one who wrote the letters, and it was these proteins that were specifically targeted. This find helps form a more complete picture of Vlad III, a historical figure from an unstable period of history that has long been shrouded in mystery. Vlad III’s reputation for barbarism is mostly the result of propaganda leaflets from his lifetime, but some of those unsavory details seem as though they were genuine, including his tears of blood.
Want to learn more about Vlad III or even get ahold of some Dracula artifacts? Check out this article about the prince.