Vlad, Prince of Wallachimi - ’History prefers to remember him by his nickname, Țepeș, the Romanian word for “Impaler.” He is guilty of crimes so orgiastically malicious that their horror is not expressible. You might consider it impossible for anyone to rank higher than any of the other entries of this list, but if the motive is the same, that of torture for sheer amusement, then in the end, ranking has to be done according to the cruelty of the tortures, and the numbers of victims.
Vlad III lived from 1431 to 1476, about a hundred years before Erzsebet Bathory, in the Wallachia and Transylvania areas of central Romania. His infamous Castle Poenari, on a steep cliff in the middle of the Transylvanian Alps, would be sitting in a peacefully scenic part of the world if it weren’t for the almost Satanic history he brought to the area. During his rule, Transylvania and Wallachia became Hell on Earth.
You’re sure to know at least some of what he did, particularly his preferred method of execution, which is how he got his nickname. The luckier Turkish invaders, under Mehmed II, were merely impaled through the belly or chest, from front to back, or back to front. But most of them were not lucky. Vlad thought of torture as something to study, to extract the maximum amount of pain possible from each body, while keeping the victims alive as long as possible.
The standard impalement method, not invented by him, but made most indelible by him, was to sharpen one end of the stake to a dull point, not very sharp, then oil it and insert into the anus or vagina, erect the victim on it, and leave him or her to die over the course of several days, sometimes a week, as gravity pulled the body down the stake and the stake up, perforating the intestines, pushing the organs aside, and finally exiting at the mouth or collarbone. Death was typically due to general shock, and in one famous woodcut from 1499, not 25 years after his death, Vlad is depicted eating lunch in a garden decorated by hundreds of dying people impaled on stakes.
This is true. The legend that he drank the blood of his victims from a goblet is probably not true, as this tends to make a person violently sick, but he did derive sadistic elation out of watching people suffer, hearing them scream and sob and beg, and then die. As a member of the nobility at war with other states and countries, especially the Ottoman Empire, the only thing anyone could do about it was try to overthrow him. But he was an expert field tactician, and an extremely capable fighter man to man.
Emissaries sent by Mehmed seeking a truce, refused to take their turbans off to show respect to Vlad. To require a Muslim to remove his turban is extremely insulting. So Vlad had his men nail the emissaries’ turbans to their heads, killing them, and then sent them back to Mehmed. Everywhere Vlad invaded and conquered, he impaled the surviving soldiers and most non-combatant civilians, even infants. Anyone caught stealing in his domain was locked in a pillory, had his bare feet coated in honey, and then suffered a goat to lick the honey off. Goats have rougher tongues than cats, and the goat would lick until the soles of the feet came off. Then salt was sprinkled in the wounds and the thief was released. Most of them died soon from infection.
During his war with Mehmed’s Ottomans, Vlad had a total of 30,000 to 40,000 men at his disposal, against a little less than 100,000 Ottoman Turks, but Vlad was no fool, and fought a series of masterful ambushes and skirmishes, flanking and cutting off mountain passes from the Turks. Vlad was not going to sit around and wait for Mehmed to come to him. He invaded modern Bulgaria and, near Oryahovo, which Vlad called “Rahova.” It is right on the present border between Romania and Bulgaria, and in that area, in early February 1462, Vlad invaded and killed 23,884 Turks, by his own count, among them women, children, peasant and wealthy. Most of them, he impaled. Then he burned down the entire city.
Why? To provoke Mehmed, and show him what sort of a monster he was dealing with. Mehmed, who was known to be sadistic, himself, responded in fury by invading Wallachia. The two armies fought around Targoviste, Romania, where Vlad routed and killed 15,000 Turks. Mehmed was already demoralized by what he had seen, and tried to flee, but was nearly forced back by his officers.
He attempted to besiege Targoviste, but instead found the city gates open and the whole city empty. On the other side of the city, his army followed the one road deeper into Romania, and the sight that greeted them was awesomely horrendous. The road was flanked for 60 miles by 20,000 Ottoman Turks and Bulgarian Muslims impaled, dead and dying and circled by clouds of vultures. The stench and plaintive moaning disgusted Mehmed, who turned with his army and left, never to return. Vlad had run out of money to pay the mercenaries in his army. He appealed to an old Hungarian friend, who promptly imprisoned him, probably out of fear for the safety of the entire country. While in prison, he relished impaling all the rats he could find. Vlad was released about 1474 and immediately attempted to start a new war. But he was assassinated on a road from Giurgiu to Bucharest, in late December or early January 1476-77. How he died is not known, but he is sure to have gone down swinging. He was beheaded before or after death, and his body was buried in a monastery. The total number of people he killed has been estimated at anywhere from 40,000 to 100,000, most of whom he impaled for his enjoyment. He is a national hero in Romania.’