Thursday, November 11, 2010

Vlad Dracula and Coeval Armatura

by Jeffrey Hull

The famous/infamous European hero, crusader & voivod, Vlad “Tepes” Dracula III (1431-1476), was actually (for better or for worse) one of knightly peers of European Chivalry. Already at the age five he was inducted into the Order of the Dragon, as previously his father Vlad II Dracul had been inducted by the Emperor Sigismund. For the next several formative years, Vlad III gained his primary academic & martial arts training at Targoviste, the Byzantine- & German-influenced capital of Wallachia. Then later at the former sultanate capital of Edirne, he learnt Turkish warfare during his much-hated hostagement beside Mehmed II. Then eventually as an advisor to the brilliant Hungarian general János Hunyadi; and as a combatant, strategist & tactician in his own right; Vlad Dracula exerted his prowess against the Ottoman Empire, resisting it as a premiere European leader and warrior.

Yet with the sole exception of the relatively correct artifactal portrayal in that gorgeous yet ludicrous movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) (i.e. its replication of an exacting Type XIV.1 sword plus a plausible Type XV sword, plus imagination of some fanciful yet acceptable musculature plate-armour); most modern cinema portrays Vlad as some sort of artifactal bumpkin, a backward anachronist; someone wrapped in an archaic Mongolian coat of plates, topped by a junky Cossack hussar-helmet, and armed with a crummy Arabic sabre, etcetera; looking like some kind of Medieval gutter-punk gypsy-king; and thus hardly distinguishable from the stereotype of the Turkish hordes that he and his Wallachian armies so bravely fought in order to keep their part of Christendom free of foul Mahound.

Of course one may excuse and dismiss these misportrayals as ultimately the vampiric fictional Dracula, who has little relevance to the real historical Dracula, and should thus be ignored. Howsoever, the Hollywood film industry produces ignorance exponentially in modern society by its continued and unrepentant misportrayal of practically everyone, everywhere and everything; which in turn produces obscene amounts of money for its owners & operators. Accordingly, each and every one of those damnable chuckleheads deserves to be ruthlessly hunted for his insolence & insipience by Children of the Night. But I digress…

So in the case of the historical Dracula, there no longer exists any of his own personal armatura. However, there exists both neighboring iconography and many native artifacts to prove the alternative truth of the matter: That he and the rest of the noble peerage of Chivalric Europe had similar contemporary martial equipment; thus they all enjoyed much the same fine coeval armatura; thus the same kind of wieldy arms and wardsome armours. Consider the following:

Exhibit A : Noble Knight in Chronica Hungarorum
This Hungarian portrayal of a battle-ready knight in Chronica Hungarorum (Thuróczi János; Augsburg; 1488) is that of Voivod & Governor János Hunyadi (johanis wayvode in gubernatore); although some have previously mistaken it for his peer Voivod Vlad Dracula. In any event, this illustration was done within a dozen years after Vlad’s death, and is remarkable for showing that a nobleman of Eastern Europe could be as well-outfitted as any nobleman of Western Europe. It shows the noble knight wearing a full field-harness of Gothic plate-armour, wielding either a Type XVIa or XVIIIa longsword, and shielding with a battlefield-pavise, ready to fight. This is the implicative evidence:

Johanis Wayvode in Gubernatore

Exhibit B : Vlad in Contemporary Artworks
In Dracula’s own lifetime, he was so nefarious and notorious that to much of Europe he apparently symbolised the tormentors & executioners of the Lord Christ. That is ironic since he was an Orthodox (later Catholic) Christian who doubtlessly defended the Faith versus invading Islamic hordes. But of course, Vlad Dracula did do great deeds of Evil in this World, which nobody should condone. In any event, contemporary artworks showed Vlad amid contemporary armatura. Thus he was shown among knights & troopers covered in advanced steely armour or complex linen armour, and bearing arms like ranseur, pollaxe or voulge; all in fashion standard to the rest of Chivalric Europe, and by implication, to his Romania. This is the circumstantial evidence:

Crucifixion of Christ; Kirche Maria am Gestade in Wien; 1460

Christ before Pilate; Narodna Galerija Ljubljana; 1463

Exhibit C : Artifactal Swords of Transylvania
The following are actual Medieval swords found throughout Transylvania which match those found elsewhere in Chivalric Europe; swords which all fit neatly & recognisably within the expertly crafted Oakeshott Medieval Sword Typology.

These swords feature in Spada si Sabia Medievala in Transilvania si Banat (Secolele IX-XIV) (Zeno-Karl Pinter; Bibliotheca Brukenthal; 2001 & 2007). Below are reproduced a sample of five plansa (plates) from that book, which illustrate over a dozen swords circa 1000-1400 from throughout Transylvania (as per captioned find-places). This is concrete artifactal evidence:

Plansa 36: Spade medievale;
a – Sanpetru (BV); b – Codlea – Cetatea Neagra; c – Sighisoara.

Plansa 39: Spade medievale;
a – Fagaras; b – Coroi.

Plansa 42: Spade medievale;
a – Hamba; b – Fagaras; c – Timisoara – Padurea Verde; d – Timisoara.

Plansa 44: Spade medievale;
a – Jupa; b – Agnita.

Plansa 46: Spade medievale;
a – Orastie; b – Oradea; c – Oradea.

Unfortunately, the revelations in Spada point to an unavoidable & understandable lack in the otherwise excellent masterwork Records of the Medieval Sword (Ewart Oakeshott; Boydell Press; 1991). For when the late-great Mr. Oakeshott researched and laboured for decades to assemble and write Records, he of course did so during the time of the Cold War (1947-1991). Thus basically all the fine and exemplary weapons in Records were, by necessity, resident only in states of NATO, with nothing resident in states of Warsaw Pact. (Incidentally, Spada multiplicatively cites four works by EO, although oddly not Records itself.)

Even the good & venerable EO could not have gained proper scholarly access during most of his authoring-lifetime to the castles, churches, museums and armouries of East Germany, Poland, Czech-Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Moldavia, the Balkans, the Baltics, Ukraine and Russia, in order to research swords of Eastern European origin or residence; as he could to those of West Germany, England, Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Canada, America, etcetera, in order to research swords of Western European origin or residence. Such hindrance of scholarship was but one sad result of the Cold War. That said, EO’s aforesaid Typology nonetheless turned out to be valid across all Europe.

Accordingly, a later post-Soviet work like Spada shows what fine swords were to be found in one of those formerly repressed lands, namely Romania; and indeed, that she held her fair share behind the Iron Curtain, practically unbeknowst to scholars of the Western Bloc. Accordingly, a survey of Records reveals that only five swords have possible or plausible provenance (going by “Find-place” as per Records) within the former Eastern Bloc; which are helpful to consider:

Xa.10 : For which EO stated its find-place was: Within a tomb in a church in S. Germany or Austria. EO then detailed further: I once had a tracing of a very similar sword, with this wide flat pommel, brought me from Romania [!] by an American diplomat. Unfortunately (this was over thirty years ago)[circa 1957] this drawing is lost, but I can’t [sic.] help thinking that this is the same sword. That “same sword” might have been one of those Romanian swords portrayed in Plansa 36 of Spada.

EO then went on to state that: The present owner (Dec. 1987) sent me a very full set of photographs, with the statement that the sword was found in a knight’s tomb. Unfortunately what knight this was, or when he died, or where the tomb was, has not been revealed. I assume [!] that it was in Austria or South Germany.

Thus EO had to assume its Germanic find-place, not least because its owner would not reveal further. However, such a find-place does concord with the fact that in the time of Vlad III Dracula, his Romania hosted a considerable minority of mercantile Saxons, who may have imported some of the best armatura from the West. Such would simply have been continuation of access enjoyed by Romania to the well-evolved metallurgy of the Holy Roman Empire.

So indeed, such a fine weapon as Xa.10 might well have been made in Austria or South Germany, what with their renowned steelcrafting. However, its knightly owner, we might instead assume, possibly resided in Romania or another neighboring land, if not either Austria or South Germany.

XIIIa.6 : For which EO stated its find-place was: Unknown, in Bohemia. Other than it being a way-cool sword, there is really nothing else to say of relevance here & presently.

XIIIa.9 : For which EO stated its find-place was: Perhaps the Danube. EO explained further: The dark red-brown colour of the patination, according to what Sir James Mann told me, suggests the Danube mud, which is a superb preserver of swords. Okay, let us also assume that EO’s/JM’s prior speculation was accurate.

Then we may note modern Romania contains and/or touches more of that great river of Central & Eastern Europe than both modern Germany and modern Austria combined, if in turn we assume correct an uncited citation (which to its credit is substantiated by graphic of a Danubian map) from the Wikipedia article for Danube River: Known to history as one of the long-standing frontiers of the Roman Empire, the river flows through or acts as part of the borders of ten countries: Germany (7.5%), Austria (10.3%), Slovakia (5.8%), Hungary (11.7%), Croatia (4.5%), Serbia (10.3%), Bulgaria (5.2%), Moldova (0.017%), Ukraine (3.8%) and Romania (28.9%).

Thus XIIIa.9 might once have had a knightly owner in Romania; which is as likely as any other Danubian land.

Unclassifiable 6 (?XIIIb) & Unclassifiable 7 (?XIII) : For which EO stated the find-place of each was: Unknown. Yet EO correctly discerned that: This type of sword seems to be of Eastern European fashion; at least one can say that many have been found in Hungary, for instance, and in E. European collections. Of the latter, EO also stated that it was: Probably river-found, quite good. Dark patina.

Thus Unclassifiable 6 & Unclassifiable 7 are distinctively Eastern European, if not perhaps specifically Danubian.

However, none of that gets into the several European swords covered in Records which have so-called find-place of “The (Hall of Victories in the) Arsenal at Alexandria”; swords which were likely made in either Germany or Italy; which then evidently resided and/or got wielded somewhere in Eastern/Southeastern Europe; which were then pillaged by the Mameluke Dynasty and/or Ottoman Empire; which in turn were eventually liberated by the British Empire; and which consequently now reside at the Royal Armouries or Glasgow Museum,

Plus none of that gets into those pillaged European swords which were not liberated from said Hall/Arsenal; but instead were removed and condemned to the Topkapi Musuem or Askeri Museum, Thus the relevant weaponry of neighboring Euro-lords may often get overlooked, e.g. the Type XXa sword of Vlad’s allied Moldavian cousin, Saint Stefan the Great.

And finally none of that gets into those many swords with find-place of “Unknown” – any number which had previous residence of who-knows-where, again possibly somewhere in Eastern/Southeastern Europe, maybe even Romania.

Well, that should be enough to convince anybody that the premise of this essay is correct:

Vlad Dracula was probably as relatively and contemporarily well-outfitted as any noble-knight of Chivalric Europe.

At least that should convince anybody who is not impaled on a stake. Or who does not have his turban nailed to his skull for discourtesy. Or who is not a despised & deposed boyar being worked to death building the mountaintop castle of his great & grand voivod. You get the idea…

The author thanks Ethnographic Arms & Armour and Sword Buyers Guide.

The author thanks
Muzeul & Bibliotheca National Brukenthal and Zeno-Karl Pinter.

The author thanks
Mr. Ewart Oakeshott (1916-2002).
©Copyright 2010 of Jeffrey Hull.