In 1559, the Ottoman Sultan Mehemd II sent envoys to the Principality of Wallachia to inquire why the jizya (The Islamic tax on non-believers) had not been paid. Wallachia’s voivode, or prince, Vlad III Dracula (“Dracula” because he was the son of Vlad II Dracul) felt that his rule over Wallachia was sufficiently consolidated, and that he no longer needed the Turks. He knew war would come with the Ottoman Empire if he didn’t pay so in his customarily bloodthirsty manner, Vlad provoked one. He asked the envoys why they didn’t remove their turbans in his presence, and when they replied it was not their custom, he had his guards nail the turbans to their heads.
After ambushing and defeating the army the sultan sent for revenge, Vlad III Dracula invaded Bulgaria. He slaughtered, by his own words, over 25,000 Turks and Bulgars, “…without counting those whom we burned in [their] homes or the Turks whose heads were cut [off] by our soldiers…” In retaliation, Mehmed II sent a massive army of over 130,000 against Vlad to annex Wallachia outright.
Vlad could muster only about 30,000 men against this force, so he needed to reduce the Turkish numbers if he planned to defeat them in battle, or more likely, force them into a siege where the Turks could be weakened then annihilated. Vlad conducted a guerrilla campaign against the Turks with his cavalry, killing and capturing thousands of foragers and stragglers. He also sent diseased people into the Turkish camps in a crude form of biological warfare, and managed to infect part of the sultan’s army with the Bubonic plague and leprosy. Worse still, he conducted a scorched earth policy back across Bulgaria and into Wallachia. He killed or removed the people, poisoned the wells, salted the fields, burned the villages, rerouted rivers to make swamps, and rendered the castles indefensible, even in his own country. The Turks advanced into a wasteland. In mid-June 1462, Mehmed approached Vlad’s capital, the fortress city of Targoviste, where he knew Vlad planned to make a stand. A few days before the Turks invested the city, they paused and made camp to prepare. Vlad, who grew up among the Turks as a hostage but didn’t convert, snuck into the camp to assess his adversaries. He found them weak and disorganized.
On the night of 16-17 June 1462, Vlad III Dracula attacked the Turkish camp in daring torch lit raid for the specific purpose of assassinating the sultan. The charge of about 10,000 horsemen caused great confusion amongst the Ottomans. Vlad himself led the attack directly at the sultan’s tent. However, in the confusion of the assault, Vlad mistook the grand vizier’s opulent tent for the sultan’s. By the time he realized his mistake, the sultan’s Janissaries (elite warriors comprised of Christian boys forcibly converted to Islam then trained as soldiers) led by Vlad’s brother Radu, whom shared his time as a hostage, rallied and protected the sultan. The Wallachians withdrew back into Targoviste, unsuccessful in their mission.
It took the Ottomans several days to reorganize. Once ready, Mehmed advanced again on Targoviste intent on ending the Wallachian resistance once and for all time. He was not prepared for what he found in the fields just outside the city.
Vlad III Dracula was one of the most bloodthirsty men in history, for good reason. Even by the brutal standards of the day, Vlad set himself apart. His favorite form of torture and execution was “impalement”. During impalement, a long thick sharpened pole was inserted into the victim’s anus and the pole was then placed upright into the ground with the victim perched above. Over hours and sometimes days, the victim would slowly slide down the pole until sharpened end pierced out of the torso, or even the throat or mouth if the angle was correct. In an age of gruesome executions, impalement was probably the worst way to die.
On 23 June 1462, Mehmed approached Targoviste and found tens of thousands of his warriors and people impaled. All of the stragglers and any Turkish people Vlad captured, including prisoners from the recent raid, Vlad had impaled in front of Targoviste. An observer noted, “Twenty thousand men, women, and children had been spitted” and “There were infants too affixed to their mothers on the stakes, and birds had made their nests in their entrails…” The sultan called the grisly sight, “The Forest of the Impaled”. It had its intended effect on the Ottoman Army; Mehmed withdrew from Wallachia.
Thereafter Vlad III Dracula would be known as “Vlad Tepes” – Vlad the Impaler.
In 1901, Abdul Aziz ibn Saud and the rest of the Al Saud clan were in penniless exile in Kuwait. With some small support from the Emir of Kuwait, Ibn Saud selected 40 of his best warriors and set out to conqueror Riyahd from the rival Rashidi. Living on ghazu (tribal raiding for food, water, and loot), Ibn Saud gathered a force of about 100 on his journey, and in November stormed into Riyadh. But the Rashidi learned of the attack and fell back to the Al Mismak fort. With no siege weapons and no way to isolate the fort, Ibn Saud retreated back into the desert.
Ibn Saud and his men stayed there for 50 days in order to lull the Rashidi into complacency. Then with 15 of his best warriors, he snuck back into the town on the last night of Ramadan. He seized the Rashidi governor’s mansion, but he wasn’t there. His wives said that he spent his nights at the fort but came back in the morning.
On the morning of 15 January 1902, the governor walked across the plaza back to his mansion and Ibn Saud and his men attacked. The Rashidi governor raced back to the fort but the Saudis grabbed him just as he reached the gate. His men attempted to pull him in as the Saudi’s tried to pull him out. Finally, Ibn Saud pulled his scimitar and chopped off the governor’s extended arm that the defenders were pulling on. The governor died and soon the leaderless Rashidi surrendered the fort.
Arabs flocked to Ibn Saud’s banner, and by the time of World War One, the Saudis would be the most powerful Arab tribe on the peninsula. With the help of British after the Treaty of Darin in 1915, Ibn Saud joined the war against the Ottomans. After the war he set about conquering the other rival tribes of the peninsula and spread his peculiar form of Islam, Wahhabism, which neither the Rashid nor the Ottomans practiced. Wahhabists believe in a strictly literalist Koran (and hence abrogation). In 1932, Ibn Saud united the Kingdoms of Nejd and Hejaz into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia