January 7, 2023

Miniseries Review: "Rise of Empires: Ottoman – Mehmed vs Vlad" (Netflix - 2022)


The second season* of this docudrama about the Ottoman Empire focuses on the rivalry/enmity between Sultan Mehmed II** and Vlad III Dracula (also known as Vlad the Impaler), the Voivode of Wallachia, a vassal state under the Ottomans.

The two leaders had a complicated relationship spanning two decades. In 1442, when Vlad was only 12, he and younger brother Radu were sent to the court of Ottoman Sultan Murad II (Mehmed’s father and predecessor) as collateral to assure the sultan that their father – Vlad II, then Voivode – would support Ottoman policies. It was here that Vlad learned to speak fluent Turkish and studied Ottoman culture, including its military strategies and tactics. It was also the time in which he was exposed to Mehmed, who was just two years his junior.

Vlad was released in 1448 after the assassination of his father and elder brother. Although he was able to replace his father, his reign lasted only two month. It was not until 1452 that he was able to reclaim the voivodate.

At this time, Wallachia was required to pay tribute to the Sultan. In return, the Ottomans stayed out of Wallachia’s internal affairs. It was a beneficial arrangement for both sides – Vlad had a throne, and Wallachia served as a buffer to the Kingdom of Hungary, which Mehmed, who had acceded to the sultanate after the death of Murad II, regarded as a threat.

After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the victorious 21-year old Mehmed set his sights on expanding the Empire further into Europe.

Mehmed continued his conquests in Anatolia with its reunification and in Southeast Europe as far west as Bosnia. During this time, Vlad paid the tribute and remained on the Wallachian throne.

In 1459, Vlad stopped paying the tribute to the Sultan, considering a possible alliance with Hungary. Mehmed sent two envoys to remind Vlad of his obligations and to collect the tribute. Vlad ordered them to be impaled — his preferred method of execution. 

This act of diplomatic perfidy was too much for Mehmed – he mobilized an army of as many as 150,000 troops, including the well-disciplined and highly-trained Janissaries,*** to subdue Wallachia and remove Vlad from the throne.

Without spoiling the outcome of the struggle between Mehmed and Vlad, the conflict reached its zenith during the battle for the Wallachian capital city of Târgoviște in 1462.

After the battle, Vlad left a field filled with thousands of impaled victims as a deterrent to the Ottoman forces. He remains a Romanian folk hero for his fight against the far superior Ottoman forces.

I recommend it, but suggest keeping your internet search engine of choice handy to clarify things that might not be well-known to people who do not have a background in Middle East or Central European history. I needed it as well, since I normally begin my presentations about the Middle East with the defeat of the Ottomans in World War One and the breakup of the empire shortly thereafter.

Watch it on Netflix.


* The first season of this series dealt with Mehmed’s successful conquest of the Eastern Roman Empire capital of Constantinople in 1453, after which it was renamed Istanbul. I reviewed the first season, and highly recommend it.

** Mehmed is the Turkish rendition of Muhammad. His full title was Fatih Sultan Mehmed II (Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror).

*** The Janissary corps was originally manned by Christian youths taken from the Balkan provinces, converted to Islam, and drafted into Ottoman service. Subject to strict rules, including celibacy, the Janissaries were known particularly for their archery, but by the 16th century had also acquired rudimentary firearms.