Mythic Creature: The Balaur

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. The Romanian balaur is an intriguing example.

Name: Balaur

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.”

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.

Quick facts:

  • Scientists recently discovered remains of a new type of dinosaur in Romania and 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. Whether intended or not, there are some interesting Christian parallels present in the legends of the balauri with the evil serpent, the valiant hero, and the chosen bride, as well as parallels to tales that exist across various parts of the world.

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 a newly-discovered 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!

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14 Responses to Mythic Creature: The Balaur

  1. Kessie says:

    The long, serpentine necks and tails bring to mind the apatosaurs and diplodocus dinosaurs (the long necked ones). They would look like enormous snakes with legs, and a whole herd of them would resemble a hydra-creature. And of course, slaying one of these obviously evil creatures, even if it was busy eating leaves, would gain the dragonslayer instant renown.

    It makes me so sad, that the human race exterminated these rare and wonderful creatures out of fear and ignorance.

    Same deal with the cockatrice. If you look up an oviraptor and imagine it with feathers, it would look like a demented rooster with a snake tail. Again, obviously evil.

    Thanks for the myth, I didn’t know about the balaur. 🙂

    • Sarah Sawyer says:

      Oh, I just looked up the oviraptor and you’re right–definitely cockatrice material. Ever since I read The Book of the Dun Cow, the cockatrice (the villain of the story) has been especially creepy to me. Yet as you said, in reality many of the dinosaurs were not hunters of humans, and it is grievous to think that fear played a role in the extinction of many magnificent creatures, past and present.

  2. Mary says:

    I had never heard of the balaur either. I love all these fantastic creatures you post about Sarah. I’ve actually started keeping a file of your posts on them, in case I ever need a mythical creature in a story. 🙂
    I found this post particularly interesting. I love basing different fantasy cultures off of real-world cultures that are new and different to me; I’ve never done one based on an eastern Europe-type culture like Romania, but after reading this I just might start looking into it. I found it interesting that some believed a person who killed a balaur was forgiven a sin. That’s definitely story material right there.
    Again, thanks for this great post. I really enjoyed it!

    • Sarah Sawyer says:

      I’m so glad these posts have been inspirational! Eastern European cultures are intriguing. While I’ve never pulled from it to use in a story, Romanian lore in particular has been fascinating to me since I took two different trips to Romania as a teen. The focus was missions work, but we managed to see a few of the sights, including the castle of Vlad Dracul (Dracula). What amazed me was how folklore and superstition still permeated the culture of the rural areas, right alongside the remnant churches that managed to survive the oppression of communist regime. All that to say, there’s some fascinating story material in their culture and lore. 🙂

  3. 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? I think dragons were real. My idea is, the “serpent” — the most beautiful creature of the world — that Satan inhabited was a dragon. The curse after the fall that fell on the serpent was that it would crawl on its belly. How about if all the dinosaurs were of the serpent family and the answer to what happened to them is that they fell under God’s curse and became small crawling beings instead of grand, magnificent creatures?

    That’s my theory — for today, anyway. 😉

    I don’t really have a favorite mythic being. For evil creatures, I would choose the Black Riders in Lord of the Rings.

    Becky

    • Sarah Sawyer says:

      I certainly believe dragons could have existed. Apart from some of the supernatural attributes folklore has given them, they’re really not any stranger than dinosaurs (indeed they share many of the same traits), so it seems plausible to me.

      Certainly the thought that the serpent inhabited by Satan was a dragon fits with the way he is referred to as a dragon elsewhere in Scripture. It’s an interesting theory.

      It’s also interesting to me that the balauri of legend had human voices and the ability to converse–just like the serpent in Genesis. One more element of myth that has a reflection in reality, perhaps.

      And yes, the Black Riders were grim and frightening creatures. Tolkien knew how to create villainous beings. 🙂

  4. I think dragons and dinosaurs are one and the same. Did legend make them larger than life? or did the curse steal their grandness and seal their doom? I believe we may one day know the truth of it, but for now I’m content with my imaginings. I suspect man and the great reptiles coexisted at one time and they are etched in our histories, but now believed to be made-up creatures of fairy-tale.

    I have a few mythic creatures who frequently inhabit my imaginations and these post of yours (I went to your mythic list and read your post on unicorns- one of my favorites) has inspired me to do some research of my own. Research I should do anyway because similar creatures are in my own stories.

    • Sarah Sawyer says:

      Patrick, you’ve offered the second vote in support of the one-time existence of dragons, and I must say I tend to agree. It’s a fascinating thought that the curse might have stripped them of their grand powers and reduced them to a shadow of their original selves.

      I’ve also always been curious about the fact that Eve didn’t seem surprised when the serpent/dragon spoke. While nothing in the Bible directly says it, I’ve wondered if some animals possessed the ability to speak, which they lost after the fall. Again, as you said, one day we will know the truth–and until then, it’s enjoyable to exercise the imagination.

  5. Mary says:

    Answers in Genesis has an excellent book on Dragons; I think it’s just called “Dragons”. It’s definitely worth checking out for the information it has, and the book itself is just gorgeous.

  6. Pingback: Balaur : The Romanian Dragon | nineisawesome

  7. Lali Rose says:

    Is there any specific case where this Dragon wasn’t represented as evil?

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