There are two distinct cultural traditions of dragons: the European dragon, derived from European folk traditions and ultimately related to Greek and Middle Eastern mythologies, and the Chinese dragon, with counterparts in Japan (namely the Japanese dragon), Korea and other East Asian countries.
The two traditions may have evolved separately, but have influenced each other to a certain extent, particularly with the cross-cultural contact of recent centuries. The English word dragon derives from Greek "dragon, serpent of huge size, water-snake".
The word dragon entered the English language in the early 13th century from Old French dragon, which in turn comes from Latindraconem (nominative draco) meaning "huge serpent, dragon", from the Greek word δράκων, drakon (genitive drakontos, δράκοντος) "serpent, giant seafish". The Greek and Latin term referred to any great serpent, not necessarily mythological, and this usage was also current in English up to the 18th century
Main article: Dragons in Greek mythology
In Ancient Greece the first mention of a "dragon" is derived from the Iliad where Agamemnon is described as having a blue dragon motif on his sword belt and an emblem of a three-headed dragon on his breast plate. However, the Greek word used could also mean "snake".
European dragons exist in folklore and mythology among the overlapping cultures of Europe. Dragons are generally depicted as living in rivers or having an underground lair or cave. They are commonly described as having hard or armoured hide, and are rarely described as flying, despite often being depicted with wings.
"Dragon Family" in Varna, Bulgaria
Main article: Slavic dragon
In Slavic mythology, the words "zmey", "zmiy" or "zmaj" are used to describe dragons. These words are masculine forms of the Slavic word for "snake", which are normally feminine (like Russian zmeya). In Romania, there is a similar figure, derived from the Slavic dragon and named zmeu. Exclusively in Polish and Belarusian folklore, as well as in the other Slavic folklores, a dragon is also called (variously)смок, цмок, or smok. In South Slavic folklores, the same thing is also called lamya (ламйа, ламjа, lamja). Although quite similar to otherEuropean dragons, Slavic dragons have their peculiarities.
15th-century Persian miniature ofRostam slaying a dragon
Aži Dahāka is the source of the modern Persian word azhdahā or ezhdehā اژدها(Middle Persian azdahāg) meaning "dragon", often used of a dragon depicted upon a banner of war. The Persians believed that the baby of a dragon will be the same color as the mother's eyes. In Middle Persianhe is called Dahāg or Bēvar-Asp, the latter meaning "[he who has] 10,000 horses." Several other dragons and dragon-like creatures, all of them malevolent, are mentioned in Zoroastrian scripture. (See Zahhāk).
There is a widespread belief that earlier cartographers used the Latin phrase hic sunt dracones, i.e., "the dragons are here", or "here be dragons", to denote dangerous or unexplored territories, in imitation of the infrequent medieval practice of putting sea serpents and other mythological creatures in the blank areas of maps. However, the only known use of this exact phrase is in the Latin form "HC SVNT DRACONES" on the Lenox Globe (ca. 1503–07).
Another map that contains dragons is the one of Bishop Olaus Magnus's. The Carta Marina map of Scandinavia (1539) has many monsters in the northern sea, as well as a winged, bipedal, predatory land animal resembling a dragon in northern Lapland.