An analysis of the 15th century prince Vlad III, famously known as Vlad the Impaler, presents new insights into the health conditions of this fearsome military leader, providing potential inspiration for the creation of Count Dracula, the iconic vampire character in literature.
Recently published in the journal Analytical Chemistry, the study unveils Vlad’s likely struggles with skin and respiratory conditions, and perhaps even the ability to shed tears of blood.
Vlad III, also referred to as Vlad Drăculea or “the son of the dragon,” brutally ruled Wallachia, a region in southern Romania, during the mid-1400s. Historians estimate that he executed over 80,000 individuals, primarily through impalement, earning him his infamous moniker.
To gain insights into his health and the conditions prevailing over half a millennium ago, researchers, including Vincenzo Cunsolo from the University of Catania in Italy, conducted the first analysis of letters written by Vlad.
By utilizing a special plastic film called ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA), scientists effectively extracted proteins and small molecules from the ancient documents without causing harm.
Subsequently, the researchers employed mass spectrometry, a commonly used technique in chemical characterization, to identify thousands of different small peptide molecules present in the letters.
The focus was placed on the most degraded proteins, presumed to be the oldest and most likely associated with Vlad, rather than more recent proteins potentially introduced by individuals handling the letters throughout history.
In total, the analysis identified 16 proteins of human origin related to skin, breathing, and blood. These findings suggest that Vlad likely suffered from respiratory issues and may have experienced a condition known as hemolacria, possibly causing him to weep tears mixed with blood, an apt characteristic for the eerie Count Dracula.
Researchers speculate that Vlad could have been exposed to plague-related bacteria or even annoying fruit flies during his lifetime.
This research not only sheds light on Vlad’s health, but it also demonstrates the potential of similar techniques in uncovering new insights about important historical documents and the individuals behind them.
“While it is possible that other individuals from the medieval era may have come into contact with these documents, it is presumable that the most significant ancient proteins are associated with Prince Vlad the Impaler, who authored and signed these letters,” the scientists explained.