Dragons and dragon-like creatures appear in almost every mythos in the world, each with unique traits and lore befitting the culture from which they sprang, and the Romanian balaur is no exception.
Appearance: Dragon-like creatures covered in serpentine scales, the balauri possessed wings, fins, and legs making them adept predators in a variety of terrains. Most stories describe them with multiple heads, ranging in number from three to twelve, but some tales depict them with a single head or one head in front and one at the end of their tails. Often, the balaur was depicted as a creature of epic proportions, one that “plant[ed] its footsteps on the mountain and touch[ed] the violet skies with its lofty crest.” (1)
Unique qualities and traits: While the balauri resemble dragons in many ways, weavers of Romanian lore point out that they have several distinct traits. In many tales, they’re actually snakes transformed during long periods of isolation underground. The snake turned balaur grows one head for each year of isolation. Some legends accredit them with the common dragon ability of fire-breathing, but others ascribe to them the ability to influence weather and cause thunder, lightning, and hail. Even more unusual was the purported formation of precious stones from the saliva of a balaur (a risky way to gain treasure). Almost universally, the balauri represented evil, being strong, wicked, and cruel. Though they acted according to their beast-like nature, in many accounts they also possessed human-like voices and ability to speak and reason.
- When scientists discovered the remains of a new type of dinosaur in Romania, they dubbed it balaur bondoc, after the mythic creatures of old. While relatively small, the dinosaur balaur was a powerful and destructive beast.
- Like many dragon creatures of lore, balauri often guarded great treasure.
- Some legends held that whoever managed to kill a balaur would be forgiven a sin.
Sources from myth and legend: While legends of dragons appear in many cultures, the balauri are distinct to Romanian folklore. As such, early accounts were primarily passed down through oral tradition. It wasn’t until later years that these tales began to make their way into print. Mythology collections by Petre Ispirescu in the 19th century captured many of the Romanian myths, including that of the balauri, and others followed in Ispirescu’s footsteps, creating books of various Romanian lore.
Most of the tales deal with the conflict between the balauri and their enemy, Fàt Frumos, the Romanian equivalent of Prince Charming–a heroic, handsome figure of good. The balauri and Fàt Frumos appeared in many different tales, but the various renditions followed similar themes, with the balaur a danger to the land and Fàt Fromos a defender of the people. Fàt Frumos most often acted to defend the beautiful maiden who would become his bride and usually defeated the balaur in question.
Overview: Creatures of great strength and evil, the balauri were formidable foes. Though their opponents often defeated them in the end, they still managed to terrorize many citizens of lore, using their strength and abilities to bring destruction.
Your opinions: The scientists’ choice to name dinosaur after a mythic dragon-like beast highlights the possible connection between the dinosaurs that once walked the earth and the dragons of lore. What do you think of the link between the two?
Also, do you have a favorite mythic creature or one you would particularly like to see featured here? Please share!
(1) The Book of Literature: A Comprehensive Anthology of the Best Literature, Ancient, Mediæval and Modern, with Biographical and Explanatory Notes, Volumes 29-30, accessed online at https://bit.ly/4127FBr.