When Vlad the Impaler Repelled an Invasion With a Forest of Corpses

Young Shanahan, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Young Shanahan, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Few historical figures have lived up to their epithets quite as fully (or bloodily) as Vlad the Impaler. Legend has it that the medieval Romanian ruler, who had a habit of putting wooden spikes through anyone who crossed him, inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula. But sometimes history is even more horrifying than fiction—consider, for example, the time Vlad used a forest of corpses to shock and repel an invading Ottoman army.

In 1461, Vlad III was on his second of three reigns as the ruler of Wallachia, a small Balkan country in present-day Romania wedged between Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. In his five years on the throne, Vlad had already beheaded, boiled, burned, skinned, maimed, and impaled enough people to earn a reputation for cruelty. He had also earned the enmity of the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II by refusing to pay the haraç, an annual tribute the Ottomans demanded from their non-Muslim neighbors. In fact, when Mehmed II sent two envoys to Wallachia to collect his taxes that winter, Vlad ended up having them both killed and impaled. Then, for good measure, he crossed the Danube River into Ottoman territory and destroyed all the villages and defensive works he found there.

This didn’t sit well with Mehmed, who eight years earlier had sacked Constantinople, toppled the Byzantine Empire, and earned himself the epithet “the Conqueror.” The sultan raised an army of about 90,000 soldiers—nearly as large as the one he had used to besiege Constantinople—to march on Wallachia and take vengeance on Vlad. Meanwhile, Vlad conscripted a peasant militia of roughly 30,000 Wallachians armed with spears and bows.

As the Ottoman army advanced across Wallachia toward the capital of Târgoviște, Vlad torched crops, poisoned wells, and evacuated the villages in Mehmed’s path in order to deprive the Ottomans of any supplies. Meanwhile, Vlad’s soldiers hid in the woods and harassed the Ottomans with guerilla raids to slow their advance. But the ragged Wallachian resistance couldn’t stop the sultan’s army, and soon the Ottomans were camped just outside Târgoviște.

Backed up against his own gates, Vlad came up with a new plan. On the night of June 17, 1462, he led a cavalry raid into the Ottoman camp in an attempt to personally assassinate Mehmed. He meant to ride down on the sultan’s tent and kill him before his army had a chance to wake up, but luckily for Mehmed, Vlad got lost and hit the wrong tent. Inside was the Ottoman grand vizier and another top official, but not the sultan himself. Soon the Ottoman troops regrouped, repelled the raiding Wallachians, and chased them out of the camp. Vlad and the remnants of his army escaped into the night.

The next day, Mehmed and his troops continued their march. When the Ottomans finally reached Târgoviște they saw, to their surprise, that the city gates were swung open, no soldiers stood watch upon the walls, and the capital’s residents were nowhere to be seen. Mehmed’s army marched three miles into town without meeting any resistance.

But then they found something far more disturbing: a grotesque forest of wooden stakes piled high with skewered Ottoman corpses. Chalkokondyles, a contemporary Greek historian, claims there were 20,000 bodies in all, arrayed over an area of more than seven acres. The tallest stake reportedly propped up Hamza Pasha, the Ottoman official who had led the envoy sent to demand tribute from Vlad the year before. (It seems Vlad had been stockpiling corpses from previous raids to create this brutal display, and also impaling all of his Ottoman prisoners of war in preparation for the sultan’s arrival. But the exact source for all the bodies remains somewhat unclear.)

According to Chalkokondyles, upon seeing the grisly scene, “the sultan was seized with amazement and said that it was not possible to deprive of his country a man who had done such great deeds, who had such a diabolical understanding of how to govern his realm and its people. And he said that a man who had done such things was worth much.”

After taking in as much of the sight as he could stomach, Mehmed turned his army around and marched back to Turkey.

But Vlad wasn’t out of the woods yet. His army was all but destroyed, and he had devastated much of his own land with his scorched earth tactics. To make matters worse, on his way out of town, Mehmed had left Vlad’s younger brother, Radu, behind with a small force of Ottoman troops to challenge Vlad for the throne. Now, Radu roamed through the country stirring up support for his revolt among the Wallachian boyars, the country’s feudal lords.

It wasn’t a tough sell, according to Chalkokondyles. “There are no livestock or pack animals left,” Radu reportedly told them. “You have suffered all these horrible things on account of my brother, and you ingratiate yourselves with a most unholy man who has brought such harm upon Wallachia as we have not heard has been visited upon any other part of the earth.”

The boyars rebelled, and by November, Vlad had been deposed and imprisoned in Hungary. He would return to the throne one more time 14 years later, and rule for just two months before being killed in battle in 1476. The man who slayed him was Basarab Laiotă, a Wallachian rival backed by an Ottoman sultan—none other than Mehmed II.

war

The 10 Best Air Fryers on Amazon

Cosori/Amazon
Cosori/Amazon

When it comes to making food that’s delicious, quick, and easy, you can’t go wrong with an air fryer. They require only a fraction of the oil that traditional fryers do, so you get that same delicious, crispy texture of the fried foods you love while avoiding the extra calories and fat you don’t.

But with so many air fryers out there, it can be tough to choose the one that’ll work best for you. To make your life easier—and get you closer to that tasty piece of fried chicken—we’ve put together a list of some of Amazon’s top-rated air frying gadgets. Each of the products below has at least a 4.5-star rating and over 1200 user reviews, so you can stop dreaming about the perfect dinner and start eating it instead.

1. Ultrean Air Fryer; $76

Ultrean/Amazon

Around 84 percent of reviewers awarded the Ultrean Air Fryer five stars on Amazon, making it one of the most popular models on the site. This 4.2-quart oven doesn't just fry, either—it also grills, roasts, and bakes via its innovative rapid air technology heating system. It's available in four different colors (red, light blue, black, and white), making it the perfect accent piece for any kitchen.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Cosori Air Fryer; $120

Cosori/Amazon

This highly celebrated air fryer from Cosori will quickly become your favorite sous chef. With 11 one-touch presets for frying favorites, like bacon, veggies, and fries, you can take the guesswork out of cooking and let the Cosori do the work instead. One reviewer who “absolutely hates cooking” said, after using it, “I'm actually excited to cook for the first time ever.” You’ll feel the same way!

Buy it: Amazon

3. Innsky Air Fryer; $90

Innsky/Amazon

With its streamlined design and the ability to cook with little to no oil, the Innsky air fryer will make you feel like the picture of elegance as you chow down on a piece of fried shrimp. You can set a timer on the fryer so it starts cooking when you want it to, and it automatically shuts off when the cooking time is done (a great safety feature for chefs who get easily distracted).

Buy it: Amazon

4. Secura Air Fryer; $62

Secura/Amazon

This air fryer from Secura uses a combination of heating techniques—hot air and high-speed air circulation—for fast and easy food prep. And, as one reviewer remarked, with an extra-large 4.2-quart basket “[it’s] good for feeding a crowd, which makes it a great option for large families.” This fryer even comes with a toaster rack and skewers, making it a great addition to a neighborhood barbecue or family glamping trip.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Chefman Turbo Fry; $60

Chefman/Amazon

For those of you really looking to cut back, the Chefman Turbo Fry uses 98 percent less oil than traditional fryers, according to the manufacturer. And with its two-in-one tank basket that allows you to cook multiple items at the same time, you can finally stop using so many pots and pans when you’re making dinner.

Buy it: Amazon

6. Ninja Air Fryer; $100

Ninja/Amazon

The Ninja Air Fryer is a multipurpose gadget that allows you to do far more than crisp up your favorite foods. This air fryer’s one-touch control panel lets you air fry, roast, reheat, or even dehydrate meats, fruits, and veggies, whether your ingredients are fresh or frozen. And the simple interface means that you're only a couple buttons away from a homemade dinner.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Instant Pot Air Fryer + Electronic Pressure Cooker; $180

Instant Pot/Amazon

Enjoy all the perks of an Instant Pot—the ability to serve as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, yogurt maker, and more—with a lid that turns the whole thing into an air fryer as well. The multi-level fryer basket has a broiling tray to ensure even crisping throughout, and it’s big enough to cook a meal for up to eight. If you’re more into a traditional air fryer, check out Instant Pot’s new Instant Vortex Pro ($140) air fryer, which gives you the ability to bake, proof, toast, and more.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Omorc Habor Air Fryer; $100

Omorc Habor/Amazon

With a 5.8-quart capacity, this air fryer from Omorc Habor is larger than most, giving you the flexibility of cooking dinner for two or a spread for a party. To give you a clearer picture of the size, its square fryer basket, built to maximize cooking capacity, can handle a five-pound chicken (or all the fries you could possibly eat). Plus, with a non-stick coating and dishwasher-safe basket and frying pot, this handy appliance practically cleans itself.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Dash Deluxe Air Fryer; $100

Dash/Amazon

Dash’s air fryer might look retro, but its high-tech cooking ability is anything but. Its generously sized frying basket can fry up to two pounds of French fries or two dozen wings, and its cool touch handle makes it easy (and safe) to use. And if you're still stumped on what to actually cook once you get your Dash fryer, you'll get a free recipe guide in the box filled with tips and tricks to get the most out of your meal.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Bella Air Fryer; $52

Bella/Amazon

This petite air fryer from Bella may be on the smaller side, but it still packs a powerful punch. Its 2.6-quart frying basket makes it an ideal choice for couples or smaller families—all you have to do is set the temperature and timer, and throw your food inside. Once the meal is ready, its indicator light will ding to let you know that it’s time to eat.

Buy it: Amazon

This article contains affiliate links to products selected by our editors. Mental Floss may receive a commission for purchases made through these links.

10 Fast Facts About Wilma Rudolph

Wilma Rudolph breaks the tape as she wins the Olympic 4 x 100 relay in 1960.
Wilma Rudolph breaks the tape as she wins the Olympic 4 x 100 relay in 1960.
Robert Riger/Getty Images

Wilma Rudolph made history as a Black female athlete at the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, Italy. The 20-year-old Tennessee State University sprinter was the first American woman to win three gold medals at one Olympics. Rudolph’s heroics in the 100-meter, 200-meter, and 4 x 100-meter events only lasted seconds, but her legend persists decades later, despite her untimely 1994 death from cancer at age 54. Here are some facts about this U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame member.

1. Wilma Rudolph faced poverty and polio as a child.

When Rudolph was born prematurely on June 23, 1940, in Clarksville, Tennessee, she weighed just 4.5 pounds. Olympic dreams seemed impossible for Rudolph, whose impoverished family included 21 other siblings. Among other maladies, she had measles, mumps, and pneumonia by age 4. Most devastatingly, polio twisted her left leg, and she wore leg braces until she was 9.

2. Wilma Rudolph originally wanted to play basketball.

The Tennessee Tigerbelles. From left to right: Martha Hudson, Lucinda Williams, Wilma Rudolph, and Barbara Jones.Central Press/Getty Images

At Clarksville’s Burt High School, Rudolph flourished on the basketball court. Nearly 6 feet tall, she studied the game, and ran track to keep in shape. However, while competing in the state basketball championship in Nashville, the 14-year-old speedster met a referee named Ed Temple, who doubled as the acclaimed coach of the Tennessee State Tigerbelles track team. Temple, who would coach at the 1960 and 1964 Olympics, recruited Rudolph.

3. Wilma Rudolph made her Olympic debut as a teenager.

Rudolph hit the limelight at 16, earning a bronze medal in the 4 x 100-meter relay at the 1956 Summer Olympics in Melbourne, Australia. But that didn’t compare to the media hype when she won three gold medals in 1960. French journalists called her “The Black Pearl,” the Italian press hailed “The Black Gazelle,” and in America, Rudolph was “The Tornado.”

4. After her gold medals, Wilma Rudolph insisted on a racially integrated homecoming.

Tennessee governor Buford Ellington, who supported racial segregation, intended to oversee the Clarksville celebrations when Rudolph returned from Rome. However, she refused to attend her parade or victory banquet unless both were open to Black and white people. Rudolph got her wish, resulting in the first integrated events in the city’s history.

5. Muhammad Ali had a crush on Wilma Rudolph.

Ali—known as Cassius Clay when he won the 1960 Olympic light heavyweight boxing title—befriended Rudolph in Rome. That fall, the 18-year-old boxer invited Rudolph to his native Louisville, Kentucky. He drove her around in a pink Cadillac convertible.

6. John F. Kennedy literally fell over when he invited Wilma Rudolph to the White House.

President Kennedy, Wilma Rudolph, Rudolph’s mother Blanche Rudolph, and Vice President Johnson in the Oval Office.Abbie Rowe/White House Photographs/John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum // Public Domain

In 1961, Rudolph met JFK in the Oval Office. After getting some photos taken together, the President attempted to sit down in his rocking chair and tumbled to the floor. Kennedy quipped: “It’s not every day that I get to meet an Olympic champion.” They chatted for about 30 minutes.

7. Wilma Rudolph held three world records when she retired.

Rudolph chose to go out on top and retired in 1962 at just 22 years old. Her 100-meter (11.2 seconds), 200-meter (22.9 seconds), and 4 x 100-meter relay (44.3 seconds) world records all lasted several years.

8. Wilma Rudolph visited West African countries as a goodwill ambassador.

The U.S. State Department sent Rudolph to the 1963 Friendship Games in Dakar, Senegal. According to Penn State professor Amira Rose Davis, while there, Rudolph independently met with future Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah’s Young Pioneers, a nationalist youth movement. She visited Mali, Guinea, and the Republic of Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) as well.

9. Denzel Washington made his TV debut in a movie about Wilma Rudolph.

Before his Oscar-winning performances in Glory (1989) and Training Day (2001), a 22-year-old Denzel Washington portrayed Robert Eldridge, Rudolph’s second husband, in Wilma (1977). The film also starred Cicely Tyson as Rudolph’s mother Blanche.

10. Schools, stamps, and statues commemorate Wilma Rudolph’s legacy.

Berlin, Germany, has a high school named after Rudolph. The U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp celebrating her in 2004. Clarksville features a bronze statue by the Cumberland River, the 1000-capacity Wilma Rudolph Event Center, and Wilma Rudolph Boulevard. In Tennessee, June 23 is Wilma Rudolph Day.