-an article by Andrei Dorian Gheorghe & Alastair McBeath,

first published in The Dragon Chronicle,

Number 12, April 1998-


(ADG’s Note 2007: This variant does not include

the figures initially published.)



In an earlier issue of The Dragon Chronicle we examined the Romanian Sky Myth,

and the major part played in it by the great Dragon Balaurul

(McBeath & Gheorghe 1997).

We mentioned then that we would attempt to date the myth in a future article,

and although that can only be done approximately and partially,

we make the effort here.

However, in doing so, we broach other matters of larger significance,

including the possibility that the Dacian dragon battle-standard was imported

into the British Isles in the 2nd century CE,

and then remained prominent as an emblem of leadership until 1066.


Looking at the Romanian Sky Myth, we find that the constellations

involved all either run along the Milky Way or are off to the Draco side of

that faint band of light, in a region which appears in modern times

in the northern hemisphere’s spring evening sky.

These star-patterns also adjoin one another, forming a continuous area across

the night sky, and, away from the Milky Way, all are north of the ecliptic,

the Sun’s apparent path through the sky, except Leo, the Lion.

Leo lies on the ecliptic, but as the Angry Horse in the myth, it was forced to run

far away by the Little Dog. In the sky, only part of the dim zodiacal constellation

of Cancer, the Crab separates the Little Dog (Canis Minor) from Leo.


The other exceptions to this continuity which are excluded from the myth are

Cassiopeia, Aquila and parts of Gemini and Saggitarius.

In (McBeath & Gheorghe 1997), we found that these were almost certainly

left out deliberately due to their connections with the Christian God or the Romans,

and it is this aspect, together with the strong Christian symbolism in the myth,

which give us a clue as to the myth’s possible date of origin in this form.

First, however, we must look at some of the history behind Dacia and Romania.


The Dacians were the northern branch of the Thracians,

who lived north of the River Danube.

They were called the Getae by the Greeks, and Dacians by the Romans.

Archaeological discoveries of knives and spear-heads in Romania suggest

they may have been the continuation of a civilization in this part of the Balkans

from the Paleolithic period (prior to 6000 BCE).

Remains from several important East European Neolithic cultures have been found

in Romania too, including those of the Cris (c.5300 BCE), Hamangia (c.4100 BCE)

and Cucuteni (c.3700-2800 BCE), through into the Thracian Bronze Age

(c.2200 BCE; for all of these cultures, see for instance (Sandars 1985)).

Considered by Herodotus (iv, 93) “the noblest as well as the most just of

all the Thracian tribes”, the Geto-Dacians are known especially from Greek sources,

because their own culture was primarily an oral one.

Their geographical position was on an important route for pre-Christian migrations

and trade, thus the Geto-Dacian culture was enriched by elements of Hellenic,

Scythian, Persian, Bastarnian, Celtic and Sarmatian cultures from the 7th (Hellenic)

to 3rd (Celtic and Sarmatian) centuries BCE.

The Sarmatians were allies of the Dacians during their wars with Rome in the 1st

and 2nd centuries CE, along with the Bastarnians (of Germanic stock) and the

Roxolani (of Sarmatian-Scythian origins).


The Dacians were great warriors, especially in defending their homelands.

In 513 BCE, they defeated a Persian invasion across the Danube led by Darius I,

and later successfully held out against the advancing Celts,

spreading out from their La Tene homelands from the 3rd century BCE onwards.

In particular, led by their king Burebista, they defeated a Celtic invasion

in the 1st century BCE.


By the 1st-2nd centuries CE, Dacia comprised what we modernly call Transylvania,

Wallachia and Banat (partly in Serbia) in Romania, but Dacian tribes also lived

in the remainder of modern Romania too, Dobrogea and Moldavia.

Probably because of intermixing due to their location, the Dacians enjoyed a

culture greatly in advance of that of any other European “barbarians” by the

late 1st century CE, with towns developing around earlier defended strongholds,

including their capital at Sarmizegetusa (which lies in the heart of the

Transylvanian Alps around 30 km east of Hunedoara in western Romania.

The modern town called Sarmizegetusa, which lies some 25 km south-west of Hunedoara,

was built and named by the Romans after their conquest of Dacia).

Trade- and high-quality goods were also produced by the Dacians, including gold

from the Transylvanian Alps, and it was chiefly this which led to increased

Roman interest in the region in the 1st and early 2nd centuries CE.

The Dacians used sheep to extract gold from the rivers, since the gold

remained trapped in the wool when the sheep were brought out again.

This may be connected with the Greek myths of the magical flying ram

with a golden fleece, whose dragon-guarded fleece later became the object of the

Argonauts’ voyage to Colchis at the eastern end of the Black Sea.

Sarmizegetusa also possessed a notable sanctuary-calendar and solar disc of andesite,

still to be seen today, despite being damaged by the Romans, suggesting the

Geto-Dacians took a strong interest in astronomy.

Other Geto-Dacian natural sanctuaries are also known.

Their supreme god was Zamolxe or Zamolxis, who seems to have been a

living prophet and teacher before being deified after his death.

He is referred to as having been a slave of Pythagoras in Samos by the Greeks,

but several Romanian historians consider this to be an invention to support

general Greek superiority.

It is more probable that Zamolxe lived before Pythagoras.

He was believed to have been responsible for culturally enlightening the

Dacian people, and to have included astronomy in his teachings.

As a deity, he was the lightning and storm god, to whom human sacrifices

were made, again according to the Greeks.

Roman artwork concerning Dacia also suggests such sacrifices

may have occurred, however (for instance, Trajan’s Column in Rome).

Part of the reason for the Geto-Dacian’s fighting abilities was thought to be

their belief in their own immortality, and that when they died, especially if in battle,

they went straight to Zamolxe.


In 85 CE, the Dacians, led either by their king Duras Diurpaneus or his grandson Decebal,

raided into neighbouring Moesia, which was part of the Roman Empire.

The Dacians harried the Roman defences, and killed the province’s Governor

in a series of skirmishes.

The Emperor Domitian cleared the Dacians from Moesia, but an

attempted Roman invasion of Dacia in 86-87 CE under Cornelius Fuscus was

roundly defeated by the newly-crowned King Decebal,

Dacia’s greatest unifier after Burebista.

In 88 CE, a Roman “victory” actually resulted in the Romans paying

tribute and hostages to the Dacians!

These included Roman craftsmen and engineers, who helped further strengthen

the Dacian defences and forces with their skill and training.

In 89 CE, a local Roman success led to a compromise peace, in which Decebal

became a client king, still receiving annual monies and gifts from Rome,

but also having to allow Roman armies to pass unhindered through Dacian territory.


During 101-102 CE, the new Emperor, Trajan (ruled 98-117 CE),

attempted another invasion of Dacia with a huge army, probably more than

100,000 men strong, including at least 13 legions.

This force represented almost half the total number of legions in service and around

¼ of the entire Roman armed manpower in Trajan’s day.

A naval Danube crossing up- and down-stream of the great Iron Gate gorge

resulted in an inconclusive battle.

Boat bridges were thrown across the river, one of which was replaced by a

masterpiece of Roman engineering, a permanent wood and stone bridge

designed by Apollodorus of Damascus.

A 19km roadway was also cut into the, in places, sheer rock of the

southern Danube bank, to improve communications.

A winter of skirmishing on both sides of the Danube followed, including a

Dacian-Sarmatian counterattack in Dobrogea, where Trajan was later to build a

great complex of monuments to his victory, the Tropaeum Traiani at Adamklissi.






An important element in the Dacian army was the heavy Sarmatian cavalry

of their allies, where both horse and rider were almost completely protected

by armour made of leather scales.

These were particularly deadly troops, the “cataphracti”,

which the Romans adopted themselves soon after the Dacian wars.

The draconic appearance of the horses and men, seemingly covered in scales,

is something worthy of especial note here. (cf. Barker 1981; Rossi 1971).




In 102 CE, the Romans attacked Sarmizegetusa.

After attempts to parley failed, a major battle ensued,

in which Decebal finally surrendered.


The Dacians were still not permanently defeated.

By 105 CE, they had re-armed, and seized the Roman garrison commander

at Sarmizegetusa, but he killed himself.

The Dacians then fell on the Roman bridgehead by the Iron Gate gorge,

and it was only with a huge effort that the Romans maintained their position.

Once more, the Romans assaulted Sarmizegethusa in the spring of 106 CE,

attacking from both east and west through the Alpine passes, and after a siege,

part of the Dacian nobles committed suicide, but Decebal and several others fled

and continued to resist.

The Roman pursuit was ruthless, however, and eventually Decebal was surrounded,

but killed himself before being captured.

This time, the Dacians were finally conquered, and much of Dacia annexed

as a Roman province.


References for the above include: (Barker 1981; Bratianu 1988; Dragan 1976;

Georgescu 1992; Herodotus; Iorga 1993; Kernbach 1983;

Kinder & Hilgemann 1977; Panaitescu 1990; Rossi 1971;

Treharne & Fullard 1963; World States Encyclopaedia 1981).

Many of the Romans who invaded Dacia in 105-106 CE were Christians.

In Dacia they found a favourable place where they could practice their religion

without suffering the victimization they often faced elsewhere.

The local population of Dacians/proto-Romanians too seem to have readily

accepted the new religion.

This suggests that the 2nd century CE was the likely period during which

the version of the Romanian Sky Myth we have presented was first constructed,

and many of the constellations were re-allocated Christianised designations.

Indeed (Ottescu 1907) makes it clear that as time passed, 13 of the 39

main Romanian star-patterns developed Christian associations,

including Ophiuchus and Serpens, Auriga and Orion’s Belt stars,

of those which actually feature in the myth itself.

However, there are aspects to the myth which clearly pre-date a

Christian interpretation, or which indicate non-Christian beliefs as well,

not least of which is the large list of agricultural workers and implements to be

found in the Romanian sky.


Trajan, one of the truly great Roman Emperors (the Empire attained its greatest

extent under his leadership), was surprisingly eagerly accepted as a heroic figure

in Dacia.

He also became a divine hero for the Sarmatians and Scythians,

and still features in Slavic myths today.

Dante too extolled Trajan’s virtues as a just leader, placing him high in the

celestial eagle’s glory, in the sixth heaven:

“Of the five who make the arch of my eyebrow,/

The one who stands nearest to my beak/”

(Dante 1993; Paradiso XX, 43-44; see also Purgatorio X, 73- 93 and note on p.593).


Trajan too clearly relished his victory over Decebal especially,

having a 35m tall column erected in Rome showing his achievements

in the conquest of Dacia carved in bas-reliefs spiralling up it.

A superb full-scale plaster casting of this can be viewed at the Victoria and

Albert Museum in London, England, for instance, which is said to give a

better representation than the more eroded original still in Rome.

A complete set of photos of the column, with a detailed commentary is in (Rossi 1971).

Other monuments and inscriptions were set up,

and many coins struck in commemoration too.


On the Dacian side, this appreciation took the form of the creation of a myth

(perhaps more probably the adaptation of a pre-existing earlier version),

“Trajan and Dochia”,






Dochia was King Decebal’s daughter.

After Dacia was conquered by Emperor Trajan in 106 CE,

Decebal committed suicide.

Then Trajan fell in love with Dochia, but she rejected him, and ran far away to

Mount Ceahlau [in modern Moldavia; 1907m high,

but seeming higher from its peak because the nearby mountains are relatively squat.

From the top one generally feels as if one is master of the world!].

Here, Trajan caught up with her, but Dochia cried on the help of the

supreme god Zamolxe to save her from Trajan’s advances.

In a flash, the lightning god transformed her into a stone,

still called Dochia’s Stone today.

In desperation, the Emperor Trajan put his crown upon the stone’s top,

once Dochia’s head now vitrified, but to no avail.

Afterwards, it was said that Dochia’s crying gave birth to the rain,

and her sighing to the thunder, and that

“Dochia lights over clouds/Like a star for shepherds”

(Adaptation from an old myth expressed in lyrics by Gheorghe Asachi in 1836).


There are hints of draconic overtones here,

as thunderstorms and rain have a long association with dragons,

and a stone created because of a lightning strike, or one resulting from a meteorite fall

(which can be similar in many respects to a lightning strike),

may well be the source of origin of the precious draconite stone

to be legendarily found in the head of a defeated dragon.




and the conversion of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor

into the Emperor Trajan’s Chariots in which he transported

his captured slaves back to Rome from Dacia.

Perhaps most tellingly, they began calling the Milky Way “Trajan’s Way”

(sometimes given as “Troian’s”) or the Slaves’ Road.

This was perceived as the road along which Trajan came to Dacia and along which

he later returned with defeated Dacian slaves, and as such links

in with the many other royal or saintly road myths found across Europe

with respect to the Milky Way (cf. Drayton 1995).

However, there is also a curious element of cosmological cyclicity in this,

since the road is also seen as that along which the escaped Dacian slaves returned

from Rome to Dacia (Olinici 1994; Ottescu 1907; Scurtu 1986).

Thus we have the birth of the Romanian people in something of a fusion between

the Dacians and the Romans.

Modernly, Decebal is viewed in Romania much as King Arthur is in Britain,

as someone who welded together the nation, setting new standards of culture

and civilization, and resisting invaders until his final tragic defeat.


This Decebal/Arthur link can be taken further.

The Dacian battle standard was a dragon, made up of a metallic wolf’s head with

a serpentine cloth body, a little like an aerodrome windsock, and through which

the wind would hiss and howl, making a particularly terrifying impact

on any enemies.

Similar standards were used by the Indians, Parthians, Persians and Scythians,

but where the original idea came from is unknown, perhaps from contact with peoples

of China and Mesopotamia, where flying dragons were

long-established mythical creatures.

Such dragon standards appear both in archaeological evidence,

including Trajan’s Column, and also in written material of Roman origin.


The Romans fought major conflicts against both the Dacians and Parthians

under Trajan’s rule, both of whom used this dragon as a battle-flag, but it is clear

from what we have seen already that Trajan’s most major efforts were made against,

and his most important victory was over, the Dacians.

However, we do not definitely know whether it was these conflicts, or the recruitment

of auxiliary troops from Dacia, Sarmatia or Parthia, or indeed a combination of all,

which finally brought about the general adoption of the draco standard of

this animal-head-and-cloth-cone type as the emblem of the cohorts throughout

the entire Roman army during the 2nd century CE.


There is some evidence to suggest the Germanic tribes also used dragon standards

of similar types, although whether these were adopted after contact with the

Roman versions is less clear.

Certainly the Continental Saxons of the post-Roman period

seem to have used such battle emblems, but their origins are difficult to

ascertain in the absence of written records.

They do at least appear to have been used at a later period than those of the

Dacians/Parthians/Sarmatians and their Roman masters

(cf. Heath 1980; Lofmark 1995).

This is not to say that the dragon was unknown to these people, and others,

both at this time and much earlier, since there is strong evidence to support dragons

as symbols used on coins, armour and jewellery, amongst other things,

from a far earlier time than that of the Roman cohort dragon standards

(Lofmark 1995) contains a good, brief introduction to this broad subject.


The widespread use of the dragon standard in the Roman army

would have brought it to Britain in a short time, and as it was only in 407 CE that

the last Roman troops were withdrawn from Britain, for around 200 years,

the British population would have been used to being guarded

by forces led by dragon emblems.

After the Romans departed, it would probably have seemed quite natural to the

Romano-British people to retain the dragon standard for their own troops,

and written evidence from the late 6th century (as well as less reliable earlier sources)

indicates the term “dragon” was widely used to signify a leader.

Thus although Geoffrey of Monmouth may indeed have almost

single-handedly “invented” Arthur in the form

so successfully taken up and perpetuated by

later medieval writers (such as Thomas Malory), enough historical evidence

is available to suggest that a leader of “Decebalian” stature did indeed exist

in Britain, and that he would have been associated with the dragon standard,

as well as very probably being called something like “pen-dragon” or chief dragon

(Ashe 1990; Lofmark 1995; Nicolle 1984).

Consequently, we have the fascinating prospect that the

“Romanian Arthur” King Decebal may have helped create the British Arthur,

and more likely helped transfer the battle-flag dragon across Europe to Britain

in the early centuries CE.

One further point is that as British auxiliary troops served with the Romans in the

Dacian campaigns, and Dacian auxiliaries later served with the Roman army

in Britain, such a transfer of the dragon-standard might have seemed

even more natural.

Other auxiliaries came from all over the Empire, and either this,

or the Dacian’s Germanic allies the Bastarnae might have helped spread

the standard to the Saxons, as well as Roman influence.


After the Arthurian period, the dragon remained in use as a British standard

for warriors, or at least their leaders, until 1066, with frequent battles

throughout this period between the dragons of Britain and those attempting

to invade from overseas - e.g. the Danes and Saxons.

The Bayeux Tapestry shows one of the last representations of the British battle dragon

in its earlier form, where two are depicted, one already fallen with its bearer beside

the famous figure with an arrow in his eye,

who may or may not be meant to represent King Harold himself

(e.g. Stenton 1965, especially plate 71 and pp.187-188).

The two standards certainly seem to imply the last stand of the King’s

household troops, and it is even possible that the fallen dragon standard itself

may be intended to show Harold’s death, rather than the figure

with the arrow impaled in him.


The invading Normans, although they clearly made use of coiling serpentine dragons

as designs on their shields, do not appear to have used dragon standards at all,

and it is not until Richard I used one in 1190 at Messina that we find a Norman king

in association with a dragon battle standard (Lofmark 1995).

As we know, dragons refuse to go away permanently, and although

various monarchs since have used or ignored the dragon standard in Britain

at their whim (or as political necessity dictated), the dragon still persists as an

important symbol at many different levels in modern Britain.




Asachi, Gheorghe. 1836. Poems. (In Romanian)

Ashe, Geoffrey. 1990. Mythology of the British Isles. London, England: Methuen.

Barker, Phil. 1981. The Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome (Fourth Edition). England:

Wargames Research Group.

Bratianu, Gheorghe. 1988 (republished). The Black Sea. Bucharest, Romania:

Meridiane Publishing House. (In Romanian)

Calinescu, George. 1941. History of Romanian Literature. Romania:

The Royal Foundations Publishing House (republished 1982; Romania: Minerva

Publishing House). (In Romanian)

Dante Alighieri. 1993. The Divine Comedy (translated by Sisson, C. H., introduction

and notes by Higgins, David H.). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press

(The World’s Classics series).

Dragan, Iosif Constantin. 1976. Us, The Thracians. Craiova, Romania:

Romanian Write Publishing House. (In Romanian)

Drayton, Penny. 1995. ‘In Heaven as on Earth’: Royal Roads and Milky Ways.

Mercian Mysteries No.23: pp.25-27.

Georgescu, Vlad. 1992 (republished). The Romanians’ History. Bucharest,

Romania: Humanitas Publishing House. (In Romanian)

Heath, Ian. 1980. Armies of the Dark Ages, 600-1066 (2nd Edition). England:

Wargames Research Group.

Herodotus. Histories (translated by Rawlinson, George, 1858). Ware, England:

Wordsworth Editions Ltd. (published 1996, based on the 1910 Everyman revision).

Book iv, 93-96: pp.337-339.

Iorga, Nicolae. 1993 (republished). The Romanians’ History. Bucharest,

Romania: Minerva Publishing House. (In Romanian)

Kernbach, Victor. 1983. Dictionary of General Mythology. Bucharest, Romania:

Albatross Publishing House. (In Romanian)

Kinder, Hermann & Hilgemann, Werner. 1977. The Penguin Atlas of World History Volume I

(Revised edition: translated by Menze, Ernest A.). Harmondsworth,

England: Penguin Books Ltd.

Lofmark, Carl. 1995. A History of the Red Dragon. Llanrwst, Wales:

Gwasg Carreg Gwalch.

McBeath, Alastair. 1997. Living Sky Serpents - Astronomical Phenomena.

The Dragon Chronicle No.10: pp.21-24.

McBeath, Alastair & Gheorghe, Andrei Dorian. 1997. The Great Romanian

Sky Dragon. The Dragon Chronicle No.11: pp.11-14.

Nicolle, David. 1984. Arthur and the Anglo-Saxon Wars. London, England:

Osprey Publishing Ltd.

Olinici, Dimitrie. 1994. Constellations, Oracles, Signs of the Zodiac. Iasi, Romania:

Bucovina’s Voice Publishing House. (In Romanian).

Ottescu, Ion. 1907. Romanian Peasants’ Beliefs in Stars and Sky. Bucharest,

Romania: Romanian Academy Annals. (In Romanian)

Panaitescu, Petre P. 1981 (republished). The Romanians’ History. Bucharest,

Romania: Didactical and Pedagogical Publishing House. (In Romanian)

Rossi, Lino. 1971. Trajan’s Column and the Dacian Wars (English translation revised

by Toynbee, J. M. C.). London, England: Thames & Hudson Ltd.

Sandars, Nancy K. 1985. Prehistoric Art in Europe (Second edition). New Haven,

USA: Yale University Press.

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Publishing House. (In Romanian)

Simkins, Michael. 1979. The Roman Army from Hadrian to Constantine. London, England:

Osprey Publishing Ltd.

Stenton, Sir Frank (General Editor). 1965. The Bayeux Tapestry:

A Comprehensive Study (2nd Edition). London, England: Phaidon Press.

Treharne, R. F. & Fullard, Harold (editors). 1963. Muir’s Historical Atlas, Ancient

and Classical (6th Edition). London, England: George Philip & Son Ltd.

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Encyclopaedic Publishing House. (In Romanian)





-by Dan Mitrut-


Historical sources affirm that the Dacians’ young warriors were educated in a

cult of the wolf.

The archaeological discovery of an idol that has the semblance of a wolf,

from the Cucuteni culture (dated to the 3rd millenium BCE in Romania),

suggests this cult may have very ancient roots.

At this same early date in the Balkan Peninsula, there existed a mysterious people,

the Pelasgians (forgotten by history, but very respected by the ancient Greeks;

see (Graves 1992)), who had a serpent-cult.

They usually walked around carrying a snake upon their shoulders.

Contact with these people would have made it easy for the Dacians to adopt

and use a standard with a wolf’s head and a serpent’s body, seeming like

a fusion between the two important cults known to them.


The most famous Dacian who used, and is closely associated with,

this kind of standard, was King Decebal, whose name is composed of

two elements: Dece + bal.

The Romanian language preserves very few words from its Geto-Dacian past,

but Dacian = Dac in Romanian, which would become Dece in Geto-Dacian.

At the same time, bolle means “snake” or “serpent” in Albanian,

an Illyrian language

(the Illyrians were neighbours and kin to the Thracians, living along the

Balkan shore of the Adriatic Sea).

It is thus highly plausible that the Dacian name for “serpent” should be bal,

as the Dacians are the northern branch of the Thracian people.

So Decebal translates as “The Dacian Serpent”.


Continuing this thread, the name of the Romanian dragon “balaur”,

derives from bal (serpent) + aur (gold, from the Latin “aurum”).

So “balaur” translates as “the golden serpent”, confirmed by the fact that

some Romanian ballads and chants call it “the balaur with the golden scales”.

The logical conclusion is that the name “Decebal” could be seen as a

shortened form of “The Dacian Golden Serpent”,

not all that far removed from the British title “Pendragon” or “chief dragon”!




Graves, Robert. 1992 The Greek Myths (Complete Edition. London, England:

Penguin Books; pp.27-28, especially p.28, note 1.

Lovinescu, Vasile. 1996 (republished). Hyperborean Dacia. (In Romanian)

Parvan, Vasile. 1926. Getica. (In Romanian)