Slavic dragon

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For other uses, see Zmaj (disambiguation).
A typical 3-headed obese Zmey Gorynych.

In Slavic mythology, the word “zmey” (Bulgarian and Russian: змей, Macedonian: змеj) and its cognates zmiy (Polish: żmij, Ukrainian: змій) and zmaj (Serbian: змај, Bosnian, Croatian, Slovene: zmaj), are used to describe a dragon. These words are masculine forms of the Slavic word for "snake", which are 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, as well as in the other Slavic folklore, a dragon is also called smok (смок, цмок, smok).

In South Slavic folklore, the female variation is also called lamya (derived from lamia). Although quite similar to other European dragons, Slavic dragons have their peculiarities.

East Slavic[edit]

Zmey Gorynych, by Viktor Vasnetsov
Coat of arms of Moscow

In Russia and Ukraine, a particular dragon-like creature, Zmey Gorynych (Russian: “Змей Горыныч” or Ukrainian: “Змій Горинич”), has three heads, is green, walks on two back paws, has small front paws, and spits fire. According to one bylina, Zmey Gorynych was the dragon 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 or the headless neck isn't covered immediately in ash or burnt.

South Slavic[edit]

In Bulgaria, Macedonia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Montenegro, there is a division between two types of dragon-like creatures: zmaj/zmej and aždaja/hala. In Bulgaria, as well as Macedonia, there is a third type of a dragon-like creature called lamya. For instance, a Bulgarian legend tells how a hero called Mavrud cut off the heads of a hydra-like monster called Lamya. The story seems to symbolise the pruning of grape vines, and there is a popular Bulgarian grape variety named Mavrud.


Coats of arms of Ljubljana

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.

In all the South Slavic folklore, a dragon is called zmaj, żmij, zmej (змей, змеј). It can also be called a zmajček/zmajić, which is an endearing diminutive form of the word zmaj. 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 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 (from Persian), 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.

See also[edit]