Dragons in history

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    Many unusual and different animals have been described, glamorized and romanticized down through history, but dragons would probably come out on top as far as popularity and recognition go. Additionally, most areas of the world have dragon stories and tales.
    My position here is that probably most animals which were labeled "dragons" in history were not fictitious, but real. Secondly, I am grouping dragons into the "dinosaur" category, since a creature matching the characteristics of a dragon would certainly be strange and reptilian enough to warrant the classification.
    We must be careful, though, to not use today's definition of dragon and interpret creatures down through history as the same thing. Hollywood portrays them as huge, reptilian monsters which have wings and can fly, as well as always breathing fire. Perhaps some had wings and could breathe fire - perhaps not. Maybe some could and some couldn't. We may even be speaking of different species of animal altogether. We should understand that historically, dragons were those animals which were uncommon, unusual, frightening and dangerous (oftentimes). They usually did not fit into any normal classification of animal; they occupied a unique niche all their own.

    I have already listed on my "Dinosaurs" page what is probably a dragon in the Bible. I will now elaborate on other possible dragon appearances and descriptions down through history (and these are by no means comprehensive - only highlights).

[Captioned above - The head of a dragon, the symbol of Marduk, sculpted in bronze and dating from c. 300-600 B.C., was found in Mesopotamia and is now in the Louvre Museum, Paris - dragon image and dragons-bar (top) taken from "Dragons: A Natural History" by Dr. Karl Shuker]


    While digging for the ruins of the ancient empire of Babylon in modern-day Iraq, archaeologists in 1899 uncovered a gateway with relief carvings portrayed upon it. There were three animals carved upon the stone wall - a lion, a wild ox and a.....what? An unknown and unrecognizable creature presented itself. Babylonians called this creature a sirrush, a servant of the pagan god Marduk. Since the other two animals on the gate represented real animals, there is no reason to believe that the sirrush was not real as well, especially since they all appear side by side. No doubt many animals have become extinct down through history, and probably more often than not with no one to record their existence (and in a general age of illiteracy in ancient times, to make matters worse). It isn't so incredible that a dragon-like animal could have existed in the day of the ancient Babylonians.


    The city of Nerluc in France was renamed in honor of the killing of a "dragon" there. This animal was bigger than an ox and had long, sharp, pointed horns on its head. There were a number of different horned dinosaurs. The Triceratops is one example.

[Information and image taken from "The Great Dinosaur Mystery" by Paul Taylor, p.40]


    When it comes to dragon stories, few images are as interesting as St. George and the dragon. There are many famous paintings immortalizing the dramati moment when St. Geroge drove his spear into the fierce but doomed dragon.
    But what is the story of St. George? When did he live and what events led up to the famous event?
    The story begins approximately between the years 250 AD and 300 AD. It seems there was living in a great lake a terrible dragon with breath so bad it poisoned the countryside around the lake. The local people were forced to feed this beast two sheep a day to keep it content. Pretty soon they ran out of sheep and, so the story goes, began feeding it their sons and daughters. Well, they rean out of those,, too. In desperation, they took the king's daughter and tied her to a stake in the field to wait for the dragon to come and eat her.

    It was her lucky day because St. George just happened to be passing by. He saw the king's daughter tied up and crying, so he went to investigate. She warned him to run for his life since there was no point in both of them being eaten. Well, St. George, being a brave man, met the dragon head on and drove his lance through the dragon's evil heart. Because St. George gave the glory to Christ for the victory, the princess and then the entire population were baptized as Christians.
    This is one of those legends that probably has a lot of truth in it. We know St. George was a real man who lived during that time period, and unfortunately we have the record of his martyrdom (put to death because of his faith) on April 23, 303.
    The "dragon" in this illustration is the meat-eating Baryonyx, a dinosaur whose fossil remains were discovered in Great Briton in 1983.

    Dragon legends are quite common in China. Stories and tales of dragons there go back thousands of years, and it is said that Chinese kings used captured dragons to even pull their chariots! Many old Chinese books tell of people raising baby dragons. This preponderance of evidence further strengthens the case for the existence of dragons in times past.

[Image taken from "The Great Dinosaur Mystery" by Paul Taylor, p. 42]

[Image and info (below) taken from "Dragons: A Natural History" by Dr. Karl Shuker, p. 69]

       North American legends contain many monsters, among them dragons such as these, which were attacked by 20 men from the ship Caroline near New Orleans, Louisiana.

The Story of the Piasa Dragon

    In 1673, seven explorers set out by canoe from the french colonies in Canada to search for a waterway to the Pacific Ocean. They did not discover a passage to the western sea, but they did find an account of a bizarre and very unusual creature or dragon.
    The expedition encountered the mystery on the east side of the Mississippi River a short distance upstream from present-day Alton, Illinois. There, on a limestone cliff above the east bank of the river, the explorers found images of a strange creature painted in red, yellow, green, and black. A record kept during their journey described the paintings as follows:

They are as large as a calf, with head and horns like a deer or goat; their eyes red; beard like a tiger; and a face somewhat like a man. Their bodies are covered with scales. Their tails are so long that they pass over their heads and between their forelegs, under their belly, and ending like a fish tail.

      A picture of these images in a book published in 1854 also showed wings and claws on one of them. Although the explorers recognized the remarkable nature of the cliff paintings, they did not appear to know their meaning.
 

Various interpretations of the paintings have been offered since the expedition of 1673. One of them suggests the mysterious images can be explained by a legend about a large, bird-like creature called Piasa. According to the legend, Piasa lived in a cave in the cliff above the Mississippi. Whenever it hungered, it swooped down, attacked, and devoured its prey. Some of its victims were human. Eventually, inhabitants of the area destroyed the monster and painted its likeness on the cliff to commemorate their victory.

 
The carving of the Piasa can be seen on the cliff face. This depiction is based on a description given by Catholic priest Jacques Marquette in the early 19th century.
The reconstructed image of the Piasa which is currently upon the Illinois cliff today, based on the recorded descriptions.

    Many have written about the Piasa of Illinois, and probably the most enduring and fascinating story is told by John Russell in 1836. Click here to read it.

[Much of this information taken from PiasaNet]
 
 

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