Background Information

Origin: Persian Mythology, Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings
Dragons Slain: One who refused to announce his name

Background: In an attempt to ruin King Kavus's Kingdom, a demon disguised as a musician tricked the king into believing he could defeat demons. [1] So, Kavus lead his forces against the Kingdom of Mazanderan, a known stronghold of monsters and demons. [2] The powers of the White Demon crushed his forces and blinded every soldier with him. [3] Ashamed and defeated, King Kavus sent a lone warrior as a messenger to Zavolestan, where Zal and the mighty warrior Rostam lived, to plead for aid. [3]

Zal warned the king about attacking Mazanderan, but he still ached to hear of such a tragedy befalling the Persian Army. He ordered Rostem to saddle Rakhsh, his mighty steed, and seek vengeance on both the King of Mazanderan and the White Demon, without another soldier or the thought of sleep. [4] Rostam did not know how to travel to Mazanderan with no help, and Zal explained that there are two roads there. The King took the first. The second way, the way Rostam must travel, is the shorter and winds through the mountains, which were full of monstrous beasts and other dangers. [4]

On his way to help the King and to defeat the White Demon, Rostam and Rakhsh faced seven trials. The third trial was combat with a dragon. [5]

Rostam and Rakhsh slay the dragon

Figure 1. Shahnameh: The Persian Book of Kings: The Third Trial. Rostam and Rakhsh slay the dragon.
Click the image to see the larger, full-page version. This image has been provided by British Library Images.

Rostam and Rakhsh, the Dragon Slayers

One night, a lion attacked Rostam and Rakhsh as the hero slept, and the mighty steed Rakhsh fought it off rather than wake Rostam. [5] Rostam, seeing his friend and steed so injured, instructed him not to fight with anything at night anymore. [5] Instead, Rakhsh should wake him up.

The next night as Rostam slept, a dragon approached, and Rakhsh spotted the beast. The dragon 'from which no elephant had ever escaped' [5] had its lair nearby, and so powerful was the dragon that even demons refrained from passing by the area. [5] The dragon was particularly curious as to who, or what, would dare sleep in its own resting place, given that no lion, elephant, or demon risked doing so. [5] Yet here a person and his mount lay, a sure diner.

Rakhsh, as instructed, woke Rostam, who sprang up to fight. The night clogged his eyes, and the dragon's stealth eluded him. Rostam could not see what Rakhsh had woken him for at all, so he furiously told Rakhsh not to wake him unless danger came near. [5] Rostam returned to sleep, but Rakhsh remained vigilant. The dragon slithered out of the darkness, so again Rakhsh woke Rostam, who again could see no danger, the dragon having slipped away from his sight. All the more angry, Rostam told his horse that if it happened again, he would cut off Rakhsh's legs with his sword and go on foot the rest of the way. Then he went back to sleep. [5]

As the dragon reappeared, it roared. It seemed as if its breath held licks of flame. Rakhsh, now afraid of both the dragon and Rostam, ran around trying to scare the dragon off before returning to Rostam's side to wake him. Rostam awoke, furious with his horse, but God produced a light in which the dragon could not hide so that his eyes were no longer clogged. Rostam finally saw the beast, and drew his sword to engage the dragon in conflict. [5]

Rostam asked the dragon what his name was, as it would be wrong to kill a dragon without knowing its name. The dragon refused to give his name, but then asked for Rostam's lineage, claiming that his mother shall weep for his death. [6]

Rakhsh saw the enormity of the dragon and wanted to defend Rostam. When the dragon leapt at Rostam, the mighty steed sunk his teeth into its shoulder blade, tearing its flesh. The battle ended when Rostam finally decapitated the dragon. [6]

Blood streamed from the monster's neck, full of poison. [6] Even Rostam, who had battled the monster and many before it, remained horrified at the sight of the dragon's dead body and the petrified earth all around it covered with poison and blood. In his horror, he went to a nearby steam and bathed, praying to God for safety. With his prayer complete, he saddled Rakhsh and continued on his journey. [6]

Quick Facts

  • Rostam was sent to revenge King Kavus and the Persian Army's defeat by the White Demon and the King of Mazanderan. [4]
  • The only way to travel alone to Mazanderan was a shortcut through the mountains, which were filled with monstrous dangers. [4]
  • The dragon was the third of the seven trials Rostam and Rakhsh faced on their journey to Mazanderan. [5]
  • Rakhsh remained vigilant at night as Rostam slept, so he noticed the dragon's approach first. The first two times he woke the hero, the dragon hide from his sight, and Rostam became furious with his steed for waking him needlessly. [5]
  • On the third awakening, God shined a light so Rostam could see the dangerous dragon, and he engaged it in battle. [5]
  • The dragon was so severe, so powerful, that lions, elephants, and even demons avoided its haunts. Its breath held licks of flame. [5]
  • The dragon refused to tell Rostam its name. [6]
  • After Rostam decapitated the dragon, its poisonous blood petrified the land, the sight of which horrified even Rostam, a hero who had slain many a monster. He bathed himself and prayed for protection. [6]


  1. Firdowsi [Shahnameh Trans. Davis] 142
  2. Firdowsi [Shahnameh Trans. Davis] 144
  3. Firdowsi [Shahnameh Trans. Davis] 149
  4. Firdowsi [Shahnameh Trans. Davis] 150
  5. Firdowsi [Shahnameh Trans. Davis] 154
  6. Firdowsi [Shahnameh Trans. Davis] 155

For more information on footnotes and references, please see the bibliography.