Want to find out more about Romanian mythical monsters, besides the ever-present Dracula? This article is about to introduce you to the heroes and villains of Romanian folklore! They are very similar to the beasts in the rest of the European mythologies, and ever popular in Romania. Some of the most beautiful fairy tales and legends have been translated into English. The translations are excellent reads for your children when traveling to Romania.
What’s Behind the Dracula Story?
Vampire movies fans should know that stories about dead people, who haunt the live ones and suck their blood, were part of the Romanian folklore long before Bram Stoker’s Dracula became famous. As a matter of fact, the author of this incredibly popular novel never traveled to Romania in his life. Nonetheless, Romanian history inspired him to come up with the name Count Dracula for the main character of the book.
The founding father of vampire literature, Bram Stoker, introduced the cruelest Wallachian ruler of XVth century Romania to the world. In turn, Radu Florescu, a Romanian-born history professor, was the one to establish the connection between Dracula and Vlad Țepeș, in his 1972 book In Search of Dracula. Despite the popularity of the vampire mythology, Romania holds her own myths and legends. Dragons, wolves, and hybrid animals populate the most appreciated stories. It goes without saying, human heroes with supernatural powers are always there to save the day.
Romanian Mythical Monsters: Five Villains and A Hero
Every story has a beginning, and our tale of the five most beloved Romanian villains starts with the Dacian Draco. The Dacians were the ancestors of Romanians, and they used a fabricated dragon flag as a protection symbol during battles against the Romans. Sure enough, the sculptures on Emperor Trajan’s Column in Rome are there to attest it.
But what is a Dacian Draco? Well, the representation of the symbolic animal is a fusion between a wolf and a dragon, sometimes depicted as a serpent. While the name Draco comes from the Greek term Drakon, which signifies “to guard with a sharp eye,” it also means serpent or dragon. In the Romanian folklore, the wolf appears more often, since the Carpathian people have had many encounters with these animals. Likewise, the wolf is still present as a symbol in Romanian culture. Not surprisingly, one Romanian business even adopted it in the shape of its logo. However, the dragon wolf mythology does not end here. There is more on dragon-like creatures in the Romanian mythology in what follows.
Here we are, arriving at the ubiquitous Zmeu (pronounced ʐɱəʊː). He is an outlandish beast that has a female version in some stories. Different from balaur or vârcolac, the Zmeu has human features. It has physical traits such as legs or arms and the ability to create weapons. A strong desire to kidnap and marry young girls animates him. By taking the shape of a dragon, appearing in the sky and spitting fire, the Zmeu belongs to a particular category of villains. He is smart and hard-to-defeat. Sometimes it is described wearing a shiny magical stone on its head, making it more difficult for Făt-Frumos, the Romanian Prince Charming, to crush it. Zmeu also refers to kite in Romanian. Kites are a favorite way of entertaining both children and adults on the Romanian Black Sea beaches, where the wind is mighty.
A Căpcăun is something similar to an ogre in the Romanian folklore. It too kidnaps young ladies, with an individual preference for princesses, but also children who are eventually rescued by knights and princes. Ugly and evil, this creature feeds on human flesh and looks like a giant dog-headed beast. People’s folkloric imaginary produced other monstrous depictions such as a double dog-headed human with four eyes, standing on four feet. With Halloween coming up this year, the Căpcăun seems to be an unconventional choice for an impersonation. You might want to try it.
Dare we assume Balaur sound familiar? Of course. That’s because the Romanian mythical monster with seven heads shares its name with a recently discovered species of dinosaurs. Belonging to the Cretaceous period the Theropod dinosaur is one of the “dwarf dinosaur” species that lived in what is now Romania. In 2010 the archeologist who put together the skeleton named it Balaur Bondoc, which means “stocky dragon.” This way, the traditional fairy tale character of the dragon-like-serpent-headed monster gets to live on. The balaur appears in most love stories as an evil character. However, there is one Romanian tale of a storm in the shape of a balaur that saves two young lovers from the wrath of a jealous aristocrat.
Another fascinating occurring villain is the Vasilisc. Long considered a venomous monstrosity, the Basilisk surfaced as a folkloric character in Europe in the Middle Ages. The Romanian folklore shares some similar fantastic cast of monsters and the Vasilisc is just an example. Believed to look like a mix between a snake and a reptile, the Vasilisc had a killer gaze and poisonous breath. Anyone who would have wanted to kill it had to bring a mirror in front of it so that its gaze could be reflected. So, the Romanian Vasilisc is just like the Basilisk from Harry Potter? It remains to be seen.
Făt-Frumos the Hero of All Stories
Finally, Făt-Frumos practically means “handsome son.” He is the Romanian superhero who gets to slay all the mythical monsters we listed above. Once, in an old anonymous folk tale, Făt-Frumos even goes on a quest to gain immortality. If you are curious about his adventures on this quest, you can read the story in English. Love and death play crucial roles in Romanian mythology, as well as the fight between evil and good, in which Făt-Frumos represents the good.
With stories being passed down from one generation to another, the Romanian folklore was always rich with magical or scary tales. It is essential to preserve these creations together with the act of telling stories and fables. Occasionally they help children find answers to moral questions in life. We hope you liked our selection of Romanian mythical monsters. However, Romanian mythology is full of characters, and you can read more about them here or in future articles.