Zmeys are dragons in Slavic mythology and one of the representatives of Slavic people. They are mythical creatures that have an unbreakable bond with heavenly fire and are considered to be the personification of the solar deity. The general belief among the people is that Zmey arises from a four hundred years old lunar snake that the human eye never laid eyes upon. The name 'Zmey' and its variations are a masculine form of the Slavic word for snake.
Zmeys reside high in the mountains, either in deep caves or forts and towers. In some cases, they live in lakes and nap next to springs. Zmey is a large winged and horned creature covered in scales with ruby-red eyes and iron claws. He can have more than one head, usually three or in multiples of three. Some have heads that grow back if every single head isn't cut off. Although the color of his scales can vary, he is mostly flaming red and in this wrathful appearance, he is a powerful symbol of war. Zmeys are also gifted with an ability to speak the human language, as well as exceptional sight and sense of smell. Besides breathing fire, one of their greatest abilities is shapeshifting. Their blood is poisonous but every part of their body has magical properties, especially scales, horns and head.
The head of a Zmey holds great magical power. The people believed that if they buried the head in the field, the whole region would enjoy great fertility. In some places where people still practice the occult, workers carry a head of a snake while working the field to replace the dragon head.
Although Slavic Zmey differs from the dragons in other mythologies, he is still not entirely immune to the bling of gold. In most folk songs, his lair is full of treasure that he guards fiercely.
Male zmeys were considered to be great lovers who can take on human form to lay with beautiful young maidens. Their union gives birth to great heroes that inherit some of the abilities of a Zmey. These heroes are called 'Sons of Zmey' and are mentioned in many folk tales and songs. They always carry some kind of mark that testifies of their origin, usually small wings under their arms, a snake mole or a couple of wolf hair (thicker and longer back hair) on their right arm. The Serbian Despot Vuk Grgurević was known as Zmaj-Ognjeni Vuk (Vuk the Fiery-Dragon) because of the viciousness of his reign and victorious battles he waged against the Turks. Sons of Zmey were noble and well respected among the people for killing monsters or banishing invaders. Still, they would hide the truth of their birth to avoid scorn.
Zmeys are brave and intelligent, but also vain and capricious. In South Slavic mythology they are considered to be noble creatures that protect the people and the land they inhabit. The best example of this is the Ljubljana Zmey, who benevolently protects the city of Ljubljana and is pictured in the city's coat of arms. Despite their affection for the people, only the greatest warriors and witches dare approach them.
In Russian and Ukrainian folklore, where Zmeys are not so partial to humans, there is a monstrous dragon called Zmey Gorynych (Dragon, the Son of a Mountain). This Zmey is a western dragon that has up to twelve heads and seven tails and can stand upright on its hind legs. He smells of sulfur and is capable of breathing fire. He is mentioned in many folk songs and tales, always as a chief antagonist.