A statue of Vlad the Impaler shown next a letter written by him in 1457. Scientists think traces of proteins found on the letter point to the ruler having had a condition that could mean he shed tears of blood.
David Greedy/Getty Images; Pittalà MGG. et al, Analytical Chemistry, 2023, DOI: 10.1021/acs.analchem.3c01461/Insider.
Scientists have analyzed letters written by Vlad the Impaler in the 15th century.
Traces of protein on the letters suggest he suffered from hemolacria, which causes blood to be present in tears.
The condition would likely have added to the ruler’s fearsome reputation.
Vlad the Impaler, the fearsome Romanian ruler that inspired the story of Dracula, may have cried actual tears of blood, a new study suggests.
Traces of proteins found on letters he wrote in 1457 and 1475 suggest he suffered from respiratory and skin diseases and could have had a condition known as hemolacria, which is when blood gets mixed in with tears.
The findings add one more facet to the ruler’s spine-chilling reputation.
Vlad III, also known as Vlad Drăculea “the Son of the Dragon,” has been linked to the deaths of more than 80,000 people, many by impaling.
He’s widely thought to be the source of bloody European legends that were later connected to the folklore of “vampirism” to create the myth of the blood-sucking ghouls.
It’s possible that the condition would have added to the ruler’s fearsome reputation.
A picture of the 1475 letter shows where the traces of protein were collected on the manuscript.
Pittalá et al. Analytical Chemistry, 2023, DOI: 10.1021/acs.analchem.3c01461
The analysis — published in a peer-reviewed study by chemists Maria Gaetana Giovanna Pittalà and Vincenzo Cunsolo of the University of Catania, Italy, and colleagues — was able to uncover fragments of 16 proteins that were old enough to have been left behind by the Impaler.
These suggested he could have suffered from respiratory and skin diseases, as well as a condition called “hemolacria,” which is when blood gets mixed in with tears.
A portrait of Vlad the Impaler.
Alexandreea Alexandru/Press Association Images
“Although proteomics data cannot be considered exhaustive alone, altogether, these identifications might indicate that Dracula ‘cried tears of blood,’ i.e., he suffered from the condition of hemolacria, as reported by some stories,” the authors said in the study.
There is no evidence to suggest he was ever thought to be a “vampire” by his contemporaries. The myth of “Dracula” as a vampire was only introduced in 1897 by Irish writer Bram Stoker in his gothic horror book “Dracula.”
But European folklore around the 15th to 17th century did have a concept of “vampirism,” which was often associated with death and disease. Stoker was the first to popularise this concept by making the Impaler a blood-sucking monster.
It’s not clear what could have caused the hemolacria.
There are a wide variety of disorders that can cause blood tears, ranging from blood clotting issues to unusual menstruation. Analysis of the proteins found traces of a bacteria that causes plague, but this disease is not linked to blood tears.
The scientists noted that it’s possible the proteins could have been left behind by others who have touched the paper around that time, though they believe this is unlikely.
Still, the analysis provides unprecedented insight into this mysterious figure, more than 500 years after his death, the authors said.
“To our reckoning, this is the first time such research has been carried out and has helped to bring to the limelight the health status of Vlad Dracula the Impaler,” the authors said in the study.