Hundreds of years before Christ, the Dacians (called "Agathyrsoi" by Herodotus in the fourth volume of his Histories) were the first recorded people to live in Transylvania. They tattooed their faces, arms, and legs according to their rank in society, and dyed their hair dark blue.
Herodotus wrote of several Dacian legends and rituals, such as the priests of Zalmoxis who kept the secret of incantations that could make human beings immortal, and the ritual practice of wrapping a young man who wished to become a warrior in the skin of a wolf (some men were said to be able to change themselves each year for several days into the form of a wolf). Modern historians have theorized that hallucinogenic mushrooms were used in the wolf-pelt ceremony, allowing the men to experience a complete psychological transformation into wolves.
By the 10th Century, Romania consisted of three principalities: Transylvania, the central part of the country, bounded by the sprawling mountain range that Jonathan Harker refers to as "the horseshoe of the Carpathians" in his first journal entry in the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker; Moldavia to the east; and Wallachia to the south. All three princedoms were dominated by the kingdom of Hungary. This state of affairs still prevailed in the time of Prince Vlad Dracula (Vlad the Impaler).
The ruling classes, or boyars, of Romania at the time of Prince Dracula were Magyars, who were of Hungarian extraction, and Szekelys, who believed themselves to be descended from the Huns. Bram Stoker has Count Dracula claim Szekely heritage, and his descent from Attila the Hun, to Jonathan Harker in Chapter III:
We Szekelys have a right to be proud, for in our veins flows the blood of many brave races who fought as the lion fights, for lordship. . . . What devil or what witch was ever so great as Attila, whose blood is in these veins?
The Szekelys may be said to be the only true Transylvanians, having guarded the land's borders long before the Magyar invasion and Hungarian rule. Their allegiance was only to the sacred soil of Transylvania, no matter who held temporary political dominion over them at any given time. Among their descendants are Prince Charles of England and his sons Princes William and Harry.
The only portrait of Prince Dracula, copied innumerable times on posters and paintings and statues throughout Romania, hangs in Castle Ambras in Innsbruck, Austria, in Europe's first "museum," the Kunst und Wunderkammer—the Arts and Wonders Room, also known as the Gallery of Monsters. Even this portrait, painted in the late 16th Century more than 100 years after Dracula's death by an anonymous German artist (the Germans despised Dracula, who had impaled thousands of their Saxon relatives in Sibiu and Brasov), is only a copy of another portrait lost in the ash heap of history. So, no one really knows if this sinister, angular visage with the Jay Leno chin is really that of Vlad the Impaler, especially when compared with the rounded, almost serene face in the only known—and contemporaneous—portrait of Vlad's father, a fragmented fresco recently discovered above the bedroom where Dracula was born in Sighişoara.