Tomb of Dracula?


Well, no, it isn’t.

UPDATE 4 – a helpful commenter has pointed out a coat of arms on coins of Vlad III. It doesn’t have a dragon in it.

UPDATE 3 (2020!) – I’ve since realised that Vlad III is almost certainly not buried at Snagov either. See this article.

UPDATE 2 – This article received a lot of online media attention, but somehow I didn’t receive a pingback from Discovery News. Their coverage can be found here.

UPDATE 1 – Not long after I posted this, another sceptic weighed in and managed to spot that the tomb in question is indeed well-known – unsurprisingly given the context, it’s one of the Ferrillo family, Matteo Ferrillo, Count of Muro. There’s absolutely no doubt about it, and anyone from the church in question, or any Italian medieval scholar, could have told the ‘researchers’ this. Unbelievable nonsense that once again, the press fail to fact-check in any way.

It’s been a while, but this one’s brought me out of First World War-related work to comment. The Daily Mail (sigh) is reporting that the grave of Vlad III – the historical Dracula – may have been found. There’s little to go on, though a full view of the tomb in question can be seen here. The tomb was noted by a university student, but the connection is being made by one Raffaello Glinni. He’s the claimant here, and you’ve not heard the last of him…

There are basic errors with the piece – Vlad was not a ‘Count’ like his fictional namesake, he was a voivode (prince). The ‘Carpathians’ were not a Transylvanian family as the 4th image in the Mail gallery implies, they are a mountain range! I can’t wait to see the reality TV show ‘Keeping Up With the Carpathians’. Dracula did not ‘disappear’ in battle, but was likely decapitated and buried at Snagov monastery (though there is some question over this). But these are incidental. The claim itself is built on a premise that is by no means certain, namely that Vlad III had a daughter who supposedly decamped to Italy as a child, at some point ransomed Vlad (by all accounts quite dead by this point) back, and had him buried in a church in Naples. This in itself is an extraordinary claim, as it’s far from clear that Vlad even had a daughter – see this tree of the House of Basarab, of which the Draculesti were a subset. No Maria, no daughter. The historical status quo is that Vlad had only sons.

This site repeats the claim and expands upon it, suggesting that the mysterious daughter was adopted by the widow of Vlad’s contemporary and fellow resistor of Ottoman rule, George Skanderbeg, and given refuge at the court of King Ferdinand I of Naples, where she changed her name to sort-of-but-not-quite conceal her heritage. ‘Maria Balsa’ supposedly means ‘Daughter of the Dragon’ in ‘Old Romanian’. As far as I can tell, whilst balaur is Romanian for ‘dragon’, ‘Bal’ certainly isn’t. Why this supposed daughter would need to conceal her identity, and if she did, why she’d choose a Romanian-derived name, are anyone’s guesses. It’s claimed that both men were members of the Order of the Dragon, but I can’t confirm that either, and I’m pretty sure it’s not true. Elsewhere Alfonso D’Aragona is instead claimed as Maria Balsa’s Dragon Order benefactor. He really was part of the Order, but so what? Lots of European nobility joined the order – it’s a bit like the Freemasonry trope of later on; just because a politician was a Freemason doesn’t mean he’s neck-deep in whatever paranoid historical conspiracy one might dream up.

The Maria Balsa story is several years old, dating to 2012. It was featured in season 6, episode 9 of Italian TV series ‘Mistero’ in 2012, entitled ‘La Figlia Segreta di Dracula’ i.e. ‘The Secret Daughter of Dracula’. From what I’ve seen of the series online, it’s very much ‘Ancient Aliens’ territory; ghosts, alien abduction, and so on. The original claim relates not to the church mentioned in the Mail article (Santa Maria La Nova), but to a different structure; Acerenza cathedral. Guess who made it, and also appears in the ‘documentary’? Yep, Raffaello Glinni. At the time, he claimed that Vlad was buried under the cathedral; clearly he’s revised his hypothesis since then. There’s another madcap suggestion regarding Acerenza, which is that a statue of a monster biting the neck of a woman is also relevant, and supposedly relates to the story of Lilith and the pop-culture suggestions that she might be a progenitor of vampires. The historical Vlad III has absolutely no connection to vampires, folkloric or fictional, beyond the limited connection made by Bram Stoker, so this is a total red herring. The statue itself doesn’t even appear to be that of a dragon, but rather a lion. Glinni also claims that a carved head in Acerenza cathedral with a beard and pointy teeth must also be Vlad, despite no resemblance and the fact that pointy teeth are a feature of the 19th century literary vampire. Bram Stoker took only Dracula’s name and status as a medieval antagonist of the Turks from real history. We would not expect an historical depiction of Vlad III to have vampire teeth!


Note also the entirely co-incidental saint with serpent/dragon – nothing to do with Dracula or the Dragon Order

Billed as a ‘medieval history scholar’ in the new article, Glinni is actually a lawyer by profession. His name took me to his site, which is sparse but getting there in terms of BS History Bingo. Knights Templar? Check. Freemasonry? Check. Da Vinci? You bet. Gibberings about non-specific magical vortices? Not looking too good. In fact it’s looking like the use of ‘secret history’ to support speculative archaeology. There is an historical document from 1531 indirectly referenced here, which is apparently cited in a 1958 book by D’Elia and Gelao. There’s even a page reference of p.289/290. The only D’Elia/Gelao book I can find is this from 1999, where Maria Balsa is indeed referenced. There’s no doubt that an historical figure of that name existed (wife of Giacomo Alfonso Ferrillo, Count of Muro and Acerenza), and she was apparently Slavic. But if this 1531 chronicle that supports not just this claim but the new tomb suggestion exists, I can find no reference to it. If any Italian speakers can unearth it, please comment below.

So the underpinnings of this story are pretty questionable. What of the new evidence? Do we have anything else to go on? Well, like the Acerenza carving, the effigy on the Santa Maria La Nova tomb also looks absolutely nothing like the surviving depictions of Vlad;


Which leaves…what? Well, supposedly, the big revelation is in the carved stone dragon on this tomb:

‘Medieval history scholar Raffaello Glinni said the 16th century tomb is covered in images and symbols of the House of the Transylvanian “Carpathians,” and not the tomb of an Italian nobleman. “When you look at the bas-relief sculptures, the symbolism is obvious. The dragon means Dracula and the two opposing sphinxes represent the city of Thebes, also known as Tepes. In these symbols, the very name of the count Dracula Tepes is written,” Glinni told reporters.’

A dragon was certainly the main element in the badge of the Order of the Dragon to which Vlad III’s father belonged. We don’t actually know what Vlad III’s personal coat of arms was, but he may have used the same emblem. But this was a dragon curled around on itself with its own tail wrapped around its neck. The badge varied, but none of the extant Order dragon depictions resemble this Italian carving. The Thebes/Tepes connection seems to be entirely spurious; I can find nothing on it. The sphinxes are simply artistic convention in European art. Thebes itself is a Greek placename, Tepes a Turkish Romanian (thanks Michael!) word for ‘impaler’. Where’s the connection? And why would anyone bother to ‘encode’ a vague reference to a member of the Dracul family. Either they wanted people to know he was buried there, in which case make it clear, or they wanted him forgotten, in which case don’t slap a dragon on his tomb. For that matter, it would be pretty tricky to build a huge monumental tomb, complete with effigy, for someone you’re keeping anonymous. But if Vlad’s daughter was amongst friends in Naples, with the Dragon Order connection, why would they use a generic dragon and not their proper symbol? Is the tomb even anonymous? I find it hard to believe that a splendid monumental tomb like that isn’t recorded as being that of a known Italian noble.

I’m afraid the whole thing is ‘Da Vinci Code’ level conspiracy, not real history. No-one would be more excited than me to discover that Vlad’s final resting place had been discovered, but this ‘news’ is a long way from that. Glinni and co have requested permission to open the tomb, which is something we’ve seen in other outlandish claims about the dead. It’s rare that permission is ever granted, which means the claimants get to a) keep making their claims and b) blame the authorities for suppressing secret knowledge. It’s win-win for this kind of nonsense.


31 thoughts on “Tomb of Dracula?

  1. Italian online newspapers (e.g. ) report the tomb actually is the resting place of some member of Ferrillo Neapolitan family (possibly Giacomo Alfonso as suggested here). A partial correspondence of the known Ferrillo’s coat of arms in Italian rolls of arms with the one in the picture may be found here . Notwithstanding this correspondence, the uncommon form of the escutcheon and the four tassels (a symbol of Judaism and later of Christianity, e.g. in Numbers 15:38) suggest there is more to investigate. Particularly, sparse tassels are in fact a symbol of “defensio fidei” (while ordered tassels largely appear in ecclesiastic heraldry) which might suggest a possible connection with the Order of the Dragon.

    On the other hand Thebes/Tepes connection appears to be entirely spurious as pointed out: Tepes is a misspelling of ˈt͡sepeʃ (as reported even by Wikipedia, which is (to the best of my knowledge) a Romanian nickname derived from Romanian țeapă (pole, spike) and a translation of Vlad III’s Turkish nickname Kazığlu Bey (Lord Impaler, although Bey is a difficult term to translate) (compare modern Turkish kazık, spike or pole and kazığa oturtmak, to transfix).
    The modern Italian word for Thebes (both the Boeotian and the Egyptian city) is Tebe (directly from Ancient Greek Θῆβαι) and there is no reported modification to Tebes or Tebeʃ in any Italian dialect.
    As for the Ancient Egyptian city, I cannot find any record of the city being called Tepes in Ancient Egyptian (as reported by Italian newspapers), while the known names sound nothing alike (see,_Egypt). Even Arabic name Ṭībah is unrelated to Tepes.

    In conclusion, until further developments (which are unlikely to take place), speculations are easily left to ‘Mistero’ and other TV series of the sort.

    1. Very interesting – thank you for commenting; but see Jason’s post linked in my update at the top of this article.

  2. I’m not going to argue about your various criticisms of this supoosed discovery, some of them are pretty sound.

    But I’m more interested about this particular claim of yours “Tepes a Turkish word for ‘impaler’.” I’m a turkish speaker and there’s no word “tepes” in turkish. There are phonetically similar words such as “tepe” which means “hill” but there’s no word similar to what you claim.

    Turkish speakers call Vlad Tepes as “Kazıklı Voyvoda” which means Spiked Voivode. “Kazık” mean “spike” and voivode is an old slavic word meaning warlord in english.

    I’m curious regarding this tepes word as it does not exist, and would like to find out more about the etymological connections.

    1. Totally correct Efe, as Michael notes above. My error – and one I should have known better than to miss in my hasty writing of this post. The word has a Turkish origin, but is actually the Romanian translation of the Vlad’s ‘impaler’ nickname. Romanians were content to admit that he did impale Turks, and saw (still see) him as a national hero.

  3. A minor linguistic note – the Turkish word for “impaler” is ‘kazıklı’ and it was indeed used by the Ottomans to describe Vlad. ‘Tepes’ or more properly ‘Țepeș’ (pronounced [tse:pesh]) is not Turkish but Romanian for “impaler” (‘țeapă’ is Romanian for “spike” or “thorn”).

    1. Gah, do you know, I knew it was Romanian and not Turkish (though I didn’t know the actual Turkish). Lazy of me – thanks for catching it.

  4. It does strike me that Glinni’s claims are rather insulting to the descendants of the tombs occupant.

    Also dragons = vampires? There is a dragon on the Welsh flag. Was Owian Glendower the original Dracula? He was never captured and his body never turned up. Bears all the hallmarks of an immortal. Also in William Blakes picture ( of him he looks a bit sinister to me and I’m sure he has long teeth. I think we should be told.

  5. Balsa i.e. Balša was a Serbian Medieval royal name. If Maria Balsa was of Slavic origin, she was probably a descendant of the Balšić family.

  6. “We don’t actually know what Vlad III’s personal coat of arms was”
    There are coins minted during Vlad III’s reign, and I think that heraldic pattern can be considered his coat of arms?(basically a crescent moon, a star, and stripes)…

    “despite no resemblance and the fact that pointy teeth are a feature of the 19th century literary vampire.”
    Old Romanian lore tells of the strigoi mort. Or do you think Bram Stoker got the most striking characteristic about “count” Vlad out of his mind? Of course not. There surely were stories running around since 1470’s. Also — check how some people do have oddly longer canines. It is creepy.

    1. Coat of arms – yes, you’re right, thank you. I’m surprised I didn’t find that originally. I’ll add an update. This of course helps my case, since there’s no dragon involved. As to the vampiric aspect, I’m afraid you’ve misunderstood. There are no pointed or elongated teeth *anywhere* in Slavic folklore. If you can cite an example, I would be very interested. The trope was created by Stoker, who deliberately conflated the werewolf with the vampire.

  7. No no, I wasn’t claiming that Romanian/Slavic folklore has a creature with long canines.
    Let’s think of the strigoi mort. It was a dead person who lived a life of sin (among other items). They would come back from the grave to go after their relatives (specially children, I read), and they fed on their blood night after night, making them weak. Like which animal?
    A bat.
    Bat come night after night to suck the necks of horses, or other domestic animals. Even people (toes, ankle).
    The strigoi mort is not described as a hematophagous bat in folklore, but the strigoi sounds like a silent creature coming for blood. A hematophagous bat in real life.
    So it is easy to understand whereof came the canine thing.
    The claim that Stoker did not mention Vlad Dragwlea in his writer’s notes — therefore Vlad was not Stoker ‘s source —- only gives me the certainity that the main character came from a bulky oral source, and quite ready-to-go: the artist only added some fantasy here and there. Then it would be understandable that Stoker had to omit the proof that he was not that creative lol

    1. I understand the logic, but we have to work with evidence. The vampire bat, the ONLY bat species to suck blood from animals, was only documented in the Americas in the 1840s, so there is no connection to the original 17th-18th century folklore and neither Polidori’s vampire nor ‘Varney the Vampire’ are described or shown with long teeth. We can assume that the teeth were sharp, but not that they were long or pointed.

      I did make a mistake of my own however, in my reply to you. Stoker was not the first to depict vampires with fangs, even if he did draw heavily from Sabine Baring-Gould’s ‘The Book of Werewolves’ and would of course have known of the bat species. The earliest appearance of vampire fangs is, I believe, Le Fanu’s ‘Carmilla’ in 1872. No doubt Le Fanu was mainly thinking of the vampire bat by this time. The influence of Carmilla upon Stoker is very clear, so he didn’t just lift from werewolf folklore; he likely was also thinking of Carmilla.

  8. That’s a big surprise — no hematophagous bats in Europe, only in Americas… Well, we must have good blood lol
    Anyway, I am really not into vampire theme, specially novels. So that was another huge surprise to know about those pre-Bram authors! So Bram wasn’t original… But then who was original back in the XIX’s?
    Then I admit that my Mediaeval bat theory has gone null. And the werewolf link is clearer.
    But in one thing I insist (just saw one person today in video with that condition): there are people who have visible longer canines — not like dogs of course, but they come inches longer. Check Luke Evans, actor (by chance plays Dracula in that awful movie). That’s what I mean. Of course it is a theory, and the main element is lacking, maybe forever: his dental arch. But the idea of Vlad III having an abnormal canine, for me, is very exciting.

    1. Sure, some people have longer canines, but the link in folklore is almost non-existent. Nor was there any period claim that Vlad III was in any way evil or supernatural. That was entirely Stoker’s invention. So no-one thought Vlad was a vampire until centuries after his death, and even then, only people who couldn’t distinguish fiction from reality.

  9. “Nor was there any period claim that Vlad III was in any way evil or supernatural. That was entirely Stoker’s invention”.
    Ahhh? Excuse me, but how did you come to this conclusion? What about the chronicles? Try some Slavic/Russian History sites, one can always translate using Google Translator. I do that myself. Western Europe/US articles are prone to fantasy, yes. But Russians are practical, pragmatic people; they dont have years and years of Hollywood or 19th century gothic novels on their back. There you may find Vlad III’s letters as well. Interesting mindset, Vlad’s… Very ironical, cynical even. A dangerous mind indeed.
    Also, as much as I can infer, he was into some sort of black magic practice — maybe that’d account for the ‘conversion into Christianism’ record that one (?) Chronicler has pointed out as one of the conditions for Corvinus to set him free and let him go back to Sibiu (uh, capital city of Transylvania).
    I do not want to be rude, but if you think that pining a nail in other people’s skull is okay, and not evil, then I dont know nothing anymore.

    1. I was unwise to use the word ‘evil’, since I’m sure at least some of his enemies claimed in league with the devil and de facto evil, although. What I was trying to get across was that he was never claimed to have actual supernatural powers as depicted in Dracula or any other vampire stories. There is not a single claim about Vlad that matches anything to do with vampirism. No, not even the supposed dipping bread in blood. The actual source accuses him of washing his hands in blood, not eating or drinking it. You’re looking for a connection that doesn’t exist. The idea that Vlad III was historically identified as a vampire or with Count Dracula specifically is an invention of McNally and Florescu. See these articles;

      Click to access jds_v4_2002_miller.pdf

      To summarise, Stoker found mentions of Vlad II and III in a book, conflated them, added other origin elements that don’t fit with either, and called it a day. Until late in the writing process he was Count Wampyr from Styria. Stoker just wanted some historical flavour.

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