Massacre of Saxons
One group of people that suffered grievously from Vlad Tepes, to whom we are indebted for the gory details of his alleged crimes, were the Transylvanian Saxons. Not to be confused with the Anglo-Saxons of England, the Transylvanian Saxons were German migrants who had been encouraged to settle in the area after the region was conquered by Hungary in the mid-12th century. They were known as Saxons because they used Saxony as a staging area on their trek east, and in actual fact came from all over Germany. The Saxons were prosperous merchants who fortified several cities in Transylvania.
By contrast, Tepes’s Romanian countrymen in Transylvania had decidedly fewer rights, and were chiefly of the peasant class. This was partially owing to religious observance: the Saxons were Catholic, like their Hungarian overlords, whereas the Romanians belonged to the Romanian Orthodox Church. The ultimate cause of Tepes’s hatred of the Saxons, however, came from a schism between the Hunyadi family and the Hapsburg king of Hungary. Whilst Tepes supported the Hunyadis who had helped him seize his throne, the Saxons supported the king of Hungary. Despite the Saxon propaganda against him, Tepes was motivated by loyalty rather than irrational hatred.
His first violent encounter with the Saxons came in 1457 when they protested against the rule of Hunyadi’s widow, Erzsebet Szilagy, in Bistrita. Tepes helped the Szilagy forces enter Bistrita, where they looted and burned the houses of the suspected ringleaders. The Saxon cities of Brasov and Sibiu rose up in ire, and a rival claimant to the Wallachian throne, Dan III, was crowned at Brasov, with another, Tepes’s half-brother Vlad the Monk, crowned at Sibiu. Tepes responded by placing trade restrictions on Saxon goods in Wallachia, and attempting to solve the issue through diplomacy. He received no response.
Thus Tepes declared war on the Saxons, and immediately burned several villages to the ground along with the entire possessions of Vlad the Monk’s supporters. Moving against Dan III’s supporters near Brasov, Tepes wiped out the village of Bod, and took several prisoners whom he had impaled at Targoviste. At Talmes, Tepes burned the city and had the people ‘hacked to pieces like cabbage’, according to contemporary German sources. Back in Wallachia, he impaled all Saxon merchants who circumvented his trade restrictions, and had some boiled in a huge cauldron. He also impaled 41 Saxon students he suspected of espionage.
A diplomat sent by the Saxons to negotiate with Tepes was entertained at a dining table surrounded by impaled victims. Trying to whittle out Dan III’s supporters, Tepes burned crops around Brasov, and had the inhabitants of Dan III’s suburb impaled and hacked to pieces while he ate dinner. Allegedly, he was seen dipping bread into the victims’ blood, which he said gave him courage, an anecdote which perhaps came to Bram Stoker’s attention. Tepes finally captured Dan in 1460, forcing him to dig his own grave while a priest read the burial mass, after which the pretender was beheaded.