Described in its most significant details by Dimitrie Cantemir and defined by contemporary researchers as a “hermetic and mysterious” dance, Căluşul is, above all, a ritual of healing and protection against sickness and evil spirits. The dancers (whose group is called “ceată”) observe isolation rules and any violation of such rules entails divine sanction.

The name Căluș (from the Romanian word cal for “horse”) can be associated with a horse deity consistently represented in Celtic mythology, a symbol of power, energy, regeneration, and healing. In traditional medicine, the plant called common horsetail has many medicinal uses.

The dancers’ movements imitate the way in which both the horse and the riders move.

A historical dilemma: is Călușul a Roman or a Thracian dance? The Călușari dance is — according to insufficiently contextualized documentation, in our opinion – of Roman origin and presumably it was the ritual of an old military guard unit established by Numa Pompilius (753-673 BC), the second legendary king of Rome. The unit had been set up to guard 12 shields (the ancilia), one of which was that of Mars, the symbol of Roman military power. Salii Palatini (“Palatine Jumpers”, after the Palatine Hill, where the sanctuary was located) were priests of Mars. Every year, on the first of March, they roamed the city, jumping and dancing and praising the gods, especially Mars (borrowed from the Greeks and the Thracian world).


A coin with Mars on the reverse, from Philippopolis, Thrace,  in Antoninus Pius’s time (138 AD).

„Although Ares’ name shows his origins as Mycenaean, his reputation for savagery was thought by some to reflect his likely origins as a Thracian deity. Some cities in Greece and several in Asia Minor held annual festivals to bind and detain him as their protector. In parts of Asia Minor he was an oracular deity. Still further away from Greece, the Scythians were said to ritually kill one in a hundred prisoners of war as an offering to their equivalent of Ares. The later belief that ancient Spartans had offered human sacrifice to Ares may owe more to mythical prehistory, misunderstandings and reputation than to reality.” (Wikipedia)

Or maybe it was the same ritual of sending a messenger to the gods performed by the Dacians at critical times in their history (from the same historical Greek sources).

The information is correct, but if we corroborate it with other historical data, it actually leads to other conclusions. In „Anabasis Kyrou” (the story of Greek mercenaries from the Black Sea coast trying to reach the gates of Babylon), the well-known Greek historian Xenophon (427 BC – 355 BC) tells us about the „Sword Dance”, a Thracian dance, which was strikingly similar to the current Căluș :„ In the end, one of them defeated the other, and we all thought he had been killed: but he had fallen with great art. as if dead: in fact, he had not suffered at all.


Therefore, going beyond the subjective idea that this wild dance is identified with the ancestral dimension of the Romanian space, rather than with the adaptation to an “imported” dance, and also beyond the objective aspect that in today’s Italy there is no dance that evokes the “Palatine Jumpers” (so there is no continuity of the dance, which is at least unusual), we can advance the hypothesis that the leaps of the Salii Palatini were the Romanized form of a Thracian dance. In fact, the very history of Rome should be reconsidered if we take into account the Thracian origin of Lupa Capitolina, the symbol of the origin of the most powerful and longest-lived empire of the world. Its origin is sought, through the Etruscans, in the Getic mythology of the Indo-European origin population migrating from the Anatolian area.

At the same time, we should also mention  Lupercalia, a festival taken over by the same sources, and held at  the end of February, symbolizing a blood sacrifice and the beginning of the rebirth of nature, in spring. It will be transformed into the famous Venetian Carnival, over the millennia.

The first medieval records were kept by the Hungarians; the oldest medieval story of the Căluşari is, paradoxically, mention by a Hungarian poet, Balassi Bálint (1554 – 1594), who had the opportunity to learn this dance, he being also a fluent speaker of Romanian. At the celebration of the coronation of Rudolf II (September 25, 1572), the poet showed the guests several movements of the dance of the Călușari , gaining theirs admiration.

About 300 years later, the Szekler writer Dozsa Daniel (1821 – 1889), in his historical work „Kornis Illona II” (Cuma, 1859) speaks about the old dance Căluș, recounting a celebration given by Sigismund Bathori on October 19, 1599 , in honor of Mihai Viteazul’s eldest daughter, a celebration attended by Lady Stanca, together with her two daughters, Beatrice and Florica, as well as Nicolae Pătrașcu, Mihai’s son. It took place under the ruins of Piatra Caprei, somewhere between Cricău and Alba Iulia Citadel.

Baba Novac, the „showmaker”


Mihai Viteazu’s soldiers also took part in that celebration – reports Dozsa Daniel. The horsemen, led by Vornic Baba Novac, performed the dance in the following way:

„In a wider circle were placed 12 pillars on top of which were boards of a square were arranged in a wide circle.

A dancer was seated on each pillar. Inside the pillars there was very strong oriental fabric, of which 12 strings were stretched by the 12 players. One hundred horsemen, leaning, according to the local custom, with their hands and heads on their silver-rimmed sticks, were lined up around the pillars.

They wore with knee length shirts fastened at the waist with a leather belt (snake), wich was loaded with rounded bells. The “opinci” were tied with red laces, according to the Romanian tradition, around the calf and up to the knees, and had silver rattles, in contrast to the white cloth crows.


Traditional Romanian shoes, „opinci”

Vătaful was a Muntenian named Florian, the most famous horseman of the time. Once the Prince and the Lady of Muntenia had arrived, at a signal from Florian, the music started and the hundred or so horsemen around the pillars started to play, reciting the verses of the dance „.


The fact that Baba Novac led the Călușarilor dance suggests that Mihai Viteazu’s loyal captain was not a Serb (Călușarii is not a Slavic dance) but a Wallachian from the Timoc Valley, a  connoisseur of Romanian customs.

Protection against the Iele dance

The Căluș is the most complex and archaic of the Romanian ritual choreographic forms. It is a boy’s dance, performed during the week of Pentecost (Rusaliile) and spread throughout the territory inhabited by the Daco-Romanians (also in the Balkan Peninsula). The boys who wanted to join the Căluşarilor crowd gathered a week before Pentecost, outside the village, on the shores of a water where they took, with their hand on the flag, an oath by which they bound themselves to observe the rules of the group, the conditions of ritual purity during Pentecost. and behavior appropriate to the ethical conduct of the traditional community). For a whole week they lived intensely in a sacred time.

The group of dancers, consisting of 9-11 members and organized hierarchically, is led by a „vătaf”, to which everyone obeys. Another important character of the group is ”the dumb”. He wears a mask, and punishes those who make mistakes during the dances,   making all sorts of comic gestures, some obscene. During the Pentecost week, the Căluşarii wear a specific costume and „opinci”, with whips on their feet, and hold a stick in their hand. The ceremony includes magical practices and formulas, ritual dances and acts performed  by each dancer according to their role in the hierarchically organised group; the Dumb, the Vătaf, the Vătaf”s helper, the Flag-Bearer (Stegar), and ordinary the rest of group, Căluşari.

The euphoria and the mystical cohesion between the participants are reached by performing the sacred dances until physical and mental exhaustion, on tunes played by fiddlers or pipers. At the end of the sacred period of Pentecost, the Căluşari returned to the place where they had taken the oath, decorated the flag and buried it in a secret place. Then they spread in different directions.

The odd number of dancers is, like in most ritual acts, related to the belief in the existence and presence on earth of the iele, very aggressive supernatural beings, dangerous both for humans and animals. They do not act individually, but together — hence the group and the hierarchy of the dancers, who are inseparable throughout the Pentecost week.



The Călușari were supposed to protect the people from the iele (forest or water divinities, similar to creatures in Celtic mythology and the Greek nymphs), so that they would not get sick and, at the same time, to heal them if they were removed from the Călușari because they had worked during the Pentecost week.

Since 2005, UNESCO has proclaimed the Căluș ritual as a “masterpiece of humanity’s intangible cultural heritage.”

Versiunea în limba română: Romanian version

Photo & Thanks to: Anda from

Thanks for the translation expertise of Antuza Genescu.


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