Vlad the Impaler may have cried tears of blood, study finds

Vlad the Impaler, the notorious medieval ruler of Wallachia, has many myths and legends associated with him – including being the inspiration for Count Dracula. A new study is only going to add to his mystique, as it suggests that Vlad probably had skin and respiratory conditions that could have left him crying tears of blood.

A team of Italian, Romanian and Israeli researchers have just published their findings in the journal Analytical Chemistry. They examined three letters written by Vlad to the rulers of the city of Sibiu, one from 1457 and two from 1475. One of these letters is even personally signed by Vlad, who was Voivode of Wallachia on three occasions: for a couple of months in 1448, from 1456 to 1462, and from 1475 until his death at the end of 1476 or early 1477.

This letter written by Vlad the Impaler in 1475 contains proteins that suggest he suffered from respiratory problems and bloodied tears. Image courtesy Analytical Chemistry

The researchers even translated one of the letters from 1475:

We, Vladislav Dracul, voivode of the Transalpine regions, publicly notify and recognize/by the present witnesses, who are all responsible, that the illustrious master Thomas/Altemberger, master of the people of the town of Sibiu, for himself and the other people of/said town and of the town of Braşov, in order to pay the twentieth-part [tax] as by written/command of our gracious lord and king, effectively gave and allotted to us two hundred/Hungarian florins. About those two hundred florins, we free the said master and the consuls of the/aforementioned towns, making them unencumbered and entirely released by the power and/testimony of this document. Written in Bălcaciu, in the day of St. Coloman martyr, in the year of the lord/1475.

The two letters from 1475 have been kept in Sibiu’s city archive for over 500 years, apparently in ideal conditions. This allowed the researchers to make detailed scientific tests on them, as they did with the letter from 1457.


To uncover the letters’ secrets, the researchers used a specialized plastic film called EVA, or ethylene-vinyl acetate, to extract any proteins or small molecules from the paper without damaging it. These extracts were then analyzed with mass spectrometry, allowing researchers to characterize thousands of different peptides. Of these, the team focused on those with the most advanced deamidation, a form of protein degradation that occurs with age. The most degraded proteins were likely the oldest, and therefore, they are the most likely to be from Vlad compared to newer, less-degraded proteins that could have originated from other people handling the letters more recently.

A total of 16 proteins were of human origin, relating to skin, breathing and blood. The researchers say that the data they acquired, although not exhaustive, suggest that Vlad could have suffered from respiratory issues, and potentially even a condition called hemolacria, which would have caused him to cry tears of blood — quite fitting for such a spooky character. Other proteins identified by the team indicate that he could have been exposed to certain, plague-related bacteria or even pesky fruit flies. In all, the researchers say that this work helps shed light on some important documents of the past, as well as the people who may have written them.

The article, “Count Dracula Resurrected: Proteomic Analysis of Vlad III the Impaler’s Documents by EVA Technology and Mass Spectrometry,” by Maria Gaetana Giovanna Pittalà, Antonella Di Francesco, Annamaria Cucina, Rosaria Saletti, Gleb Zilberstein, Svetlana Zilberstein, Tudor Arhire, Pier Giorgio Righetti, and Vincenzo Cunsolo, appears in Analytical Chemistry. Click here to read it.

See also: The Life of Vlad the Impaler: A Timeline (1429-1476)