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    In Slavic mythology, the word “zmey” or “змей” and its cognates zmiy (Ukrainian: Змій), zmaj (Serbian: змај), (Macedonian: змеј), zmej (Russian: змей, Bosnian: zmaj) and żmij are used to describe a dragon. Most of these words are masculine forms of the Slavic word for "snake", which is normally feminine (like Russian zmeya). In Romania, there is a similar figure, derived from the Slavic dragon and named zmeu. In Polish and Belarusian folklore a dragon is also called smok (Belarusian: Цмок, Polish: Smok). Although quite similar to other European dragons, Slavic dragons have their peculiarities.

    [size=10pt][size=10pt]East Slavic[/size][/size]

    In Ukraine and Russia, a particular dragon-like creature, Zmey Gorynych (Ukrainian: “змій Горинич” or Russian: “змей Горыныч” ), has three heads, is green, walks on two back paws, has small front paws, and spits fire. According to one bylina, Zmey Gorynych was killed by Dobrynya Nikitich.

    Other Russian dragons (such as Tugarin Zmeyevich) have Turkic names, probably symbolizing the Mongols and other steppe peoples. Accordingly, St George (symbolizing Christianity) killing the Dragon (symbolizing Satan) is represented on the coat of arms of Moscow. Some prehistoric structures, notably the Serpent's Wall near Kiev, have been associated with dragons as symbols of foreign peoples.

    Russian dragons usually have heads in multiples of three. Some have heads that grow back if every single head isn't cut off.

    [size=10pt][size=10pt]South Slavic[/size][/size]

    In Bulgaria, Macedonia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, there is a division between two types of dragon-like creatures: zmaj and Aždaja.


    In Slovenia, a dragon is called zmaj, although an archaic word of unclear origins, pozoj, is sometimes used as well. Dragons in Slovenia are generally negative in nature, and usually appear in relation with St. George. Other, presumably pre-Christian folk tales relate stories of dragons defeated similarly as the Polish Wawel Dragon, by feeding them with sulphur stuffed sheep. However, the dragon is not always harmful to man. The best example of this is the Ljubljana Dragon, who benevolently protects the city of Ljubljana and is pictured in the city's coat of arms.

    A dragon is called zmaj, zmej (змей,змеј) or lamja (ламя,ламја). It is considered as "extremely intelligent, wise and knowledgeable" creature of "superhuman" strength and proficiency in magic, very rich (usually described as having castles of enormous riches hidden in distant lands) and often lustful for women, with whom it is capable of making offspring. It often breathes fire and is generally accepted as a highly respected being, and while not always being benevolent, never as an entirely evil creature. Legends were spread about many historical and mythical heroes that they were conceived by a dragon.

    Some famous national heroes were considered to be dragons in the respective national folklore. One of the best examples for this claim is Vlad III Dracula, who was a member of the Order of the Dragon. Another example would be Husein-Kapetan Gradaščević, a successful Bosniak general who fought for Greater Bosnian independence from the Ottoman Empire. He is often referred to as "Zmaj od Bosne", meaning "The Dragon of Bosnia". The Serbian Despot Vuk Grgurević was also known as 'Zmaj-Ognjeni Vuk' (Vuk the Fiery-Dragon) because of the viciousness of his reign and victorious battles he waged against the Turks. There is also an ancient type of dog in Serbia sometimes referred to as the "Zmaj" by its keepers, but it bears no relation to the mythical reptiles apart from being immortalized in Sylvanian folklore as the protector of man against "dragons" and other evils.


    Aždaja or aždaha, sometimes ala or hala is generally considered to be a creature separate from dragons and a polar opposite to them in its nature. It is a being of pure evil, a dragon-like beast and dreadful monster with no reason, that usually lives in dark and hostile places, or guards unreachable locations in fairy-tales. It is often multi-headed (with 3, 7 or 9 heads) and breathes fire. In Christian mythology and iconography, the famous St. George icon is described as 'slaying the aždaja/aždaha', and not a zmaj.



    The Slavic Dragons and the ethnic dispute
    by Marisa E. Martínez Pérsico


    Zmey, zmiy or zmaj are the names of the European Slavic dragon. Zmey is similar to the traditional dragon, but it is equipped with multiple heads. While it flies, breathes fire.

    In Slavic countries, the dragons symbolize evil. One of them is called Turkic (or Zilant) and was used to represent the political-racial conflict that existed through many years between Slavs and Turks.

    In the mythology of this region, the dragons acquire particular characteristics. These fantastic creatures are known by many names: In Russia and Bulgaria they are known as zmey; in the Old Slavic Church as zmiy; in Serb as zmaj; and in Poland as żmij. All these words are variant from a Slav word that means “serpent”.

    In Russia and Ukraine, it was believed in the existence of a dragon called Zmey Gorynych, equipped with three heads that were able to spit fire simultaneously. The body was green, had two back legs and a pair of small front legs.

    Other Russian dragons (per example, Tugarin Zmeevich) have names with Turkish origin, probably as a way to associate evil with Mongols and other inhabitants from the steppes.

    This is why Saint George – which represents Christianity – gets to kill a Dragon – which represents Satan.  killing to the Dragon. This symbol is represented on Moscow’s city flag.

    In Slovenia, the dragons are represented as animals of harmful nature, and they are linked to the Saint George’s legends. Nevertheless, the dragon does not always represent danger. The best example is the Ljubljana Dragon, who protects Ljubljana City with authentic benevolence; the city flag presents the figure of this dragon.

    In Croatia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Montenegro, the dragon zmaj, zmei or lamja are represented like a monster of 3, 7 or 9 heads that spit fire.



    Dragons in Slavic mythology

    Dragons of Slavic mythology hold mixed temperaments towards humans. For example, dragons in Bulgarian mythology are either male or female, each gender having a different view of mankind. The female dragon and male dragon, often seen as brother and sister, represent different forces of agriculture. The female dragon represents harsh weather and is the destroyer of crops, the hater of mankind, and is locked in a never ending battle with her brother. The male dragon protects the humans' crops from destruction and is generally loving to humanity. Fire and water play major roles in Bulgarian dragon lore; the female has water characteristics, whilst the male is usually a fiery creature. In Bulgarian legend, dragons are three headed, winged beings with snake's bodies.

    In Russian, Belarusian, and Ukrainian lore, a dragon, or zmey (Russian), smok (Belarussian) zmiy (Ukrainian), is generally an evil, four-legged beast with few if any redeeming qualities. Zmeys are intelligent, but not very highly so; they often place tribute on villages or small towns, demanding maidens for food, or gold. Their number of heads ranges from one to seven or sometimes even more, with three- and seven-headed dragons being most common. The heads also regrow if cut off, unless the neck is "treated" with fire (similar to the hydra in Greek mythology). Dragon blood is so poisonous that Earth itself will refuse to absorb it.

    The most famous Polish dragon is the Wawel Dragon or smok wawelski. It supposedly terrorized ancient Kraków and lived in caves on the Vistula river bank below the Vawel castle. According to lore based on the Book of Daniel, it was killed by a boy who offered it a sheepskin filled with sulphur and tar. After devouring it, the dragon became so thirsty that it finally exploded after drinking too much water. A metal sculpture of the Wawel Dragon is a well-known tourist sight in Kraków. It is very stylised but, to the amusement of children, noisily breathes fire every few minutes. The Wawel dragon also features on many items of Kraków tourist merchandise.



    Wawel dragon

    Ljubljana dragon



    These are treads we need BIG rep for you Krstjanin image !



    Very interesting thread!

    One note: in Polish, "żmija" can mean a small poisonous snake, such as an asp or a viper.



    These are treads we need BIG rep for you Krstjanin !

    Thanks  ;) And that smiley claps like crazy :D

    Very interesting thread!

    Thanks to you too. ;)

    One note: in Polish, "żmija" can mean a small poisonous snake, such as an asp or a viper.

    The word "zmija" here is just translation of the word snake. It is used to mark all kinds and sizes of snakes even though all of them have specific names. Viper is "poskok" ( I mean)  but still is zmija. I guess the term is equivalent with yours. ;)



    Interesting thread! Rep from me too.



    Thank you werewolf. :D ;)



    Does anyone know of books in English which tell of these stories/ legends.


    In Slavic mythology, the word “zmey” or “змей” and its cognates zmiy (Ukrainian: Змій), zmaj (Serbian: змај), (Macedonian: змеј), zmej (Russian: змей, Bosnian: zmaj) and żmij are used to describe a dragon. Most of these words are masculine forms of the Slavic word for "snake", which is normally feminine (like Russian zmeya). In Romania, there is a similar figure, derived from the Slavic dragon and named zmeu.

    This is very interesting for me, cause I didn't know that in most of slavic countries the name for this legendary dragon is similar with Romanian "zmeu". Here is the description of Romanian zmeu and I will be very thankful, if, in case that any of you will see more similarities with any slavic dragon, to let me now; this is important for my research and I would be thankful:

    The Zmeu (plural: zmei, feminine: zmeoaică/zmeoaice) is a fantastic creature of Romanian folklore and Romanian mythology. Sometimes compared to other fantastic creatures, such as the balaur or the vârcolac, the zmeu is nevertheless distinct, because it usually has clear anthropomorphic traits: it is humanoid and has legs, arms, the ability to create and use artifacts such as weapons, or the desire to marry young girls. In some stories, Zmeu appears in the sky and spits fire. In other stories, it has a magical precious stone on its head that shines like the sun. It likes beautiful young girls, whom it kidnaps, usually for the purpose of marrying them. It is almost always defeated by a daring prince or knight-errant. Its natural form is that of a dragon or balaur.


    Most scholars agree that Zmeu's name and appearance is derived from the Slavic Zmey. However, the linguist Sorin Paliga challenges the notion that the Romanian word Zmeu is of Slavic origin, and hypothesizes that the pan-Slavic forms were an early Slavic loan from the Dacian language. The relation with Romanian zmeură ("raspberry") has been deemed to be possible, but rather unlikely, by Alexandru Ciorănescu.

    The word also refers to the kites that children fly, as well as the word for dragon in German, Russian, Bulgarian, Norwegian, Swedish and Scottish English.

    Role and functions

    The "zmeu" figures prominently in many Romanian folk tales as the manifestation of the destructive forces of greed and selfishness. Often, the zmeu steals something of great value, which only Făt-Frumos (the Romanian "Prince Charming"; literally: "handsome youth") can retrieve through his great, selfless bravery. For example, in the ballad of the knight Greuceanu, the zmeu steals the sun and the moon from the sky, thereby enshrouding all humanity in darkness. In the story of Prâslea the Brave and the Golden Apples, the zmeu robs the king of the precious "golden apples"; a parallel can be drawn to the German fairy tale The Golden Bird, the Russian Tsarevitch Ivan, the Fire Bird and the Gray Wolf, and the Bulgarian The Nine Peahens and the Golden Apples — although in all these other cases, the thief was a bird (nevertheless, in some versions of the Romanian story, the zmeu does transform into a bird to steal the golden apples). Usually, the zmeu resides in the "other world" (celǎlalt tǎrâm) and sometimes Făt-Frumos has to descend into his dark kingdom, implying that the zmeu lives underground.

    The zmeu has a plethora of magical, destructive powers at his disposal. He can fly, shapeshift, and has tremendous supernatural strength. Ultimately, the abilities of the zmeu are of no avail, as Făt-Frumos defeats him through martial skill and daring.

    Some English translations refer to the "zmeu" as the ogre or giant from western European mythologies. Like the ogre, the zmeu likes to kidnap a maiden to be his wife in his otherworldly realm. After Făt-Frumos slays the zmeu, he takes the maiden as his bride-to-be. Similarly, like the giant in the popular British stories of Jack and the Beanstalk, the zmeu returns home to his fortress from his raids into human lands sensing that a human (Făt-Frumos) is lying in ambush somewhere nearby. A Zmeu is also sometimes pictured as a flame who goes in the room of a young girl or widow and once inside, becomes a man and seduces her.


    In Romania, we have also so-called Balaur, which is very similar with Zmeu (or may be even the same, with different name):

    A balaur is a creature in Romanian folklore, similar to a European dragon. A bălaur is quite large, has fins, feet, and is polycephalous (it usually has three, sometimes seven, or even twelve serpent heads). As a traditional character which is found in most Romanian fairy tales, it represents Evil and must be defeated by Făt-Frumos in order to release the princess (see also Zmey). It is also believed, in Wallachia that the saliva of a balaur can form precious stones.

    Balaur seems to derive from either the Proto-Indo-European root *bel-, "strong", or *bhel-, "to swell". It is considered to be a pre-Roman conquest word from the Romanian substratum (see also List of Romanian words of possible Dacian origin). It could also be from the Albanian word bole, which means "giant serpent" or buldr, which means "sea-serpent".

    Souce: Wikipedia

    The Polish legend of Wawel's castle legend reminds me quite well of typical romanian fairy tale. A hero (in Romania Fat-Frumos) needs to defeat the dragon ( zmeu or balaur), to save the princess who is the prisoner of this creature and the kingdom of the father of this princess (in other version, if Fat-Frumos is a prince, than he need to save his own kingdon; but in every version he will find also a princess to save) . In the end of every fairy the hero marries the princess (the marriage with her is the recompense for killing the dragon).


    Does anyone know of books in English which tell of these stories/ legends.

    Prelja made a great job with english version of polish legends: http://www.slavorum.com/index.php/topic,804.0.html
    There you can find also few stories about dragons.

    According to my last note about connection with Polish Dragon: this refers to popular version of the legend, which Prelja and Wilkolak has translated in subject of polish Legends. Also similar one You can find it on English Wikipedia.



    East Euro draons aren't uniformly demonised like the western 'species', and its easier to see their origins as fertility spirits like nagas, Chinese dragons etc.

    Since eastern Europe was Christian too, that religion can't be responsible alone for the shift in western Euro attitudes to dragons.

    I might be going a bit off topic here, but any ideas?

    A clue might come from the Apatani in the Himalayas, their dragons called buru are similar to the oldest dragon images in Asia but their images became euhemerised and Apatani oral traditions speak of their ancestors hunting them out to extinction so they could create an innovative irrigation system. It makes you wonder if parallel changes in medieval attitudes towards water supplies in western but not eastern Europe led to a similar attitude of people conquering and overcoming the spirits of the natural waters.

    Yea I do know there are destructive dragons in the Slav world but it seems to me Slavic lore is far more 'dragon/serpent positive' on the whole, especially the South Slavs.



    That is a good point and aspect about Western vs Eastern mythology of dragons… I would be curious about more information about this and if needed, another thread started to keep everything properly organized.


    Yea I do know there are destructive dragons in the Slav world but it seems to me Slavic lore is far more 'dragon/serpent positive' on the whole, especially the South Slavs.

    As you noted, our attitude is neutral. Character of dragon could be positive or negative, depending of folk tale/story. Sometimes they are even decipted as helping siants (of course in folklore). Powerfull hero could be called dragon. Vuk Grguević Branković, serbian lord in Service of Hungarians for example (Вук Гргуревић Бранковић, Змај огњени Вук. Fiery Dragon Wolf). 

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