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European dragons

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Red Eurpean Dragon

A prime example of a European Dragon.

European dragons are legendary creatures in folklore and mythology among the overlapping cultures of Europe.

In European folklore, a dragon is a serpentine legendary creature with two pairs of lizard-type legs and bat-type wings growing from its back. A dragon-like creature with no front legs is known as a wyvern.

In Western folklore, dragons are usually portrayed as evil, with the exceptions mainly in Welsh folklore and modern fiction. This is in contrast to Asian dragons, who are traditionally depicted as more benevolent creatures. In the modern period, the European dragon is typically depicted as a huge fire-breathing, scaly and horned lizard-like creature, with (leathery, bat-like) wings, with four legs and a long muscular tail. It is sometimes shown with feathered wings, crests, fiery manes, ivory spikes running down its spine and various exotic colorations. Dragon's blood often has magical properties: for example in the opera Siegfried it let Siegfried understand the language of the Forest Bird. The typical dragon protects a cavern or castle filled with gold and treasure and is often associated with a great hero who tries to slay it. Though a winged creature, the dragon is generally to be found in its underground lair, a cave that identifies it as an ancient creature of earth. Possibly, the dragons of European and Mid Eastern mythology stem from the cult of snakes found in religions throughout the world.


TerminologyEdit

The Latin word draco, as in constellation Draco, comes directly from Greek δράκων, (drákōn, gazer). The word for dragon in Germanic mythology and its descendants is worm (Old English: wyrm, Old High German: wurm, Old Norse: ormr), meaning snake or serpent. In Old English wyrm means "serpent", draca means "dragon". Finnish lohikäärme directly translated means "salmon-snake", but the word lohi- was originally louhi- meaning crags or rocks, a "mountain snake". The word lohi- in lohikäärme is also thought to derive from the ancient Norse word lógi, meaning 'fire', as in Finnish mythology there are also references to "tulikäärme" meaning firesnake, or fireserpent.

Classical antiquityEdit

The Dacian Draco.Roman dragons evolved from serpentine Greek ones, combined with the dragons of the Near East, in the mix that characterized the hybrid Greek/Eastern Hellenistic culture. From Babylon, the muš-ḫuššu was a classic representation of a Near Eastern dragon. John's Book of Revelation—Greek literature, not Roman—describes Satan as "a great dragon, flaming red, with seven heads and ten horns". Much of John's literary inspiration is late Hebrew and Greek, but John's dragon is more likely to have come originally through the Near East. Perhaps the distinctions between dragons of western origin and dragons Asian dragons are arbitrary, since the later Roman dragon was certainly of Iranian origin: in the Roman Empire, where each military cohort had a [1][2]The Dacian Draco.particular identifying signum, (military standard), after the Parthian and Dacian Wars of Trajan in the east, the Dacian Draco military standard entered the Legion with the Cohors Sarmatarum and Cohors Dacorum (Sarmatian and Dacian cohorts)—a large dragon fixed to the end of a lance, with large gaping jaws of silver and with the rest of the body formed of colored silk. With the jaws facing into the wind, the silken body inflated and rippled, resembling a windsock. This signum is described in the surviving epitome of Vegetius De Re Militari 379 CE—"The first sign of the entire legion is the eagle, which the eagle-bearer carries. In addition, dragons are carried into battle by each cohort, by the 'dragoneers'"—and in Ammianus Marcellinus, xvi. 10, 7. Parthia lies athwart the Silk Road, the cultural thread between East and West, allowing for possible connections between this Romanized Parthian dragon and distant Chinese origins.

Several vague incarnations of evil in the Old Testament were given the translation draco in Jerome's Vulgate, to undergo changes in meaning and become broad embodiments of evil.


Celtic EuropeEdit

The Welsh flag, showing a red dragon passant. Though Somerset has traditionally had a red dragon as an emblem, the red dragon is more commonly associated with Wales, as its national flag features a red dragon (Y Ddraig Goch). This may originate in Arthurian Legend where Myrddin, employed by Gwrtheyrn, had a vision of the red dragon (representing the Britons) and the white dragon (representing the invading Saxons) fighting beneath Dinas Emrys. This particular legend also features in the Mabinogion in the story of Lludd and Llefelys. The legendary house of Pendragon and Celtic Britain in general have become associated with the Welsh dragon standard after the fact.

Slavic dragonEdit

Dragons of Slavic mythology hold mixed temperaments towards humans. For example, dragons (дракон, змей, ламя, (х)ала) 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 sister and brother, 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 Bulgarian, Russian, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Bosnian, Serbian lore, a dragon, or "змей" (Bulgarian: Змей), zmey (Russian: Змей), smok (Belarusian: Цмок), zmiy (Ukrainian: Змій),(Bosnian zmaj),(Serbian: Змај) is generally an evil, four-legged beast with few if any redeeming qualities. Zmeys are intelligent, but not very highly so; they often demand tribute from villages or small towns, in the form of 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. In Bulgarian mythology these dragons are sometimes good, opposing the evil Lamya /ламя/, a beast that shares a likeness with the zmey. Duchy of Czersk (Poland) coat of armsThe most famous Polish dragon (Polish: Smok) is the Wawel Dragon or Smok Wawelski, the Dragon of Wawel Hill. It supposedly terrorized ancient Kraków and lived in caves on the Vistula river bank below the Wawel 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. Dragon is the coat of arms of the Polish princes - Piasts of Czersk.

Other dragon-like creatures in Polish folklore include the basilisk, living in cellars of Warsaw, and the Snake King from folk legends.

Iberian peninsulaEdit

Dragon in a granite Relief (14th century). San Anton Museum (A Coruña, Galicia (Spain)).The Cuélebre, or Culebre, is a giant winged serpent in the mythology of Asturias and Cantabria, in the north of Spain. It usually lives in a cave, guards treasures and keeps nymph-like beings called xanas or anjanas as prisoners. They are immortal, but grow old. They can be tricked in particular ways, especially on certain days.

There is a legend that a dragon dwelled in the Peña Uruel mountain near Jaca. It says that it could mesmerize people with his glance, so the young man who decided to kill the beast equipped himself with a shiny shield, so that the dragon's glance would be reflected. When the young man arrived at the cave where the dragon lived, he could kill it easily because the dragon mesmerized itself. This legend is very similar to the Greek myth of Medusa.


Herensuge is the name given to the dragon in Basque mythology, meaning apparently the "last serpent". The best known legend has St. Michael descending from Heaven to kill it but only once God agreed to accompany him in person. Sugaar, the Basque male god, is often associated with the serpent or dragon but able to take other forms as well. His name can be read as "male serpent".


Dragons are well known in Catalan myths and legends, in no small part because St. George (Catalan Sant Jordi) is the patron saint of Catalonia. Like most dragons, the Catalan dragon (Catalan drac) is an enormous serpent with two legs, or, rarely, four, and sometimes a pair of wings. As in many other parts of the world, the dragon's face may be like that of some other animal, such as a lion or bull. As is common elsewhere, Catalan dragons are fire-breathers, and the dragon-fire is all-consuming. Catalan dragons also can emit a fetid odor, which can rot away anything it touches. The Catalans also distinguish a víbria or vibra (cognate with English viper and Species wyvern), a female dragon with two prominent breasts, two claws and an eagle's beak.

In Portuguese mythology, coca is a female dragon that battles Saint George on the Corpus Christi holiday. The fighting has a symbolic meaning: when the coca defeats Saint George the crops will be bad and there will be famine and death. When Saint George defeats the coca he cuts off her tongue and ears; the crops will have a good year and it announces prosperity. Still, she is called "saint" coca just like George is called saint and the people cheer for her. Another dragon called drago is also represented in Portuguese mythology and used to take part in celebrations during the Middle Ages.

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