The Origin of the Dragon

Abstract

In this report The Origin of the Dragon, this research seeks to answer how humanity from the dawn of civilization to the beginning of the modern period believed dragons were not a fantasy but a real animal. The paper will examine what a dragon was according to medieval Europeans, and with this definition seek to find plausibility within certain dragon legends. The report will explore ancient knowledge of dinosaurs as well as European encounters with the last of the ruling reptiles, the archosaurian crocodile. It examines the early scientific understanding of dragons, and how this understanding grew into the modern depiction of dinosaurs. Our study will provide a wealth of material with written primary source evidence from the Ancient Greek period to the mid-19th century with a specific focus on evidence from the Mediterranean to prove the thesis, that dragons were in fact simply a remedial understanding of archosaurians.

This research aims to prove that inspiration for dragons across the world is without doubt the discovery of dinosaur bones and that the European belief in dragons was cemented by encounters with the descendant of dinosaurs, the crocodile. Encounters with these archosaurians perpetually spurred the creation of new legends, some, at least, very likely based on real events. Such encounters made the dragon a very real creature to early Europeans, and if we ourselves considered any large man-eating reptile to be a dragon, then dragons would be very real to us as well. This work on the origin of dragons helps us better understand the human mind, and the zoology and thinking of ancient peoples. The dragon further exemplifies humanity’s need to understand the world around them. Through the ‘dragon’, history witnesses mankind’s first attempts at paleontology and the power of the imagination.

Introduction

To this day, dragons continue to fascinate modern man; to the ancient mind, however, the dragon was a very real creature, and one to be feared. Tales of these creatures — in the West the Lernaean Hydra, Beowulf and the Dragon, Siegfried and Fafnir, and Saint George and the Dragon — are remembered and retold millennia later. These narratives involving dragons may be mythical in nature, but dragons themselves are no legend, nor myth: They are simply a misinterpretation of real creatures that we now refer to as dinosaurs, and Europeans’ belief in these creatures was further spurred by encounters with the dinosaur’s archosaurian cousin, the crocodile.

Despite the logical thesis presented in this paper there are numerous descriptions of dragons that resemble no creature either living or extinct. The subject of dragons is infinitely interpretable. For whatever reason for at least 4,000 years a creature that did not exist was not only considered to exist but was featured prominently in taxonomy. This is where a lesson of mankind is learned, from an origin grows a myth. Truth is turned to fiction and fiction becomes truth. The number of naturalists and historians who describe encounters with dragons pre-eighteenth century is astonishing. Reliable and noted individuals who by in large report truth record witnessing dragons with their own eyes. These are not crocodilian dragons being described, but dinosaur like creatures. Roman senators, Greek aristocrats and renowned scientists all claim to have had eye witness encounters with gigantic dragons, which they effectively describe as living dinosaurs. What drove honest scrupulous men to lie, and why were they driven to lie only when it concerned dragons? Some radical Christian theorists believe this be evidence that dinosaurs and humans co-existed and that their extinction was surprisingly recent. There is however no paleontological evidence to support this theory. What is more probable is that these naturalists were passing off local stories as their own encounters, unaware that they were nothing more than local folklore. This folklore inspired by the surprisingly accurate description of the dinosaur fossils found by the locals. The consequence was that Europe’s best and brightest were stating unequivocally that dragons were a real creature, which only further cemented European belief that great reptilian beasts were still roaming the world.

Man is a species suffering from amnesia, it has forgotten entirely the food chain and that it was not always placed atop it. The dragon represents the vague memory of the innate fear of our ancestors. The mouse fears the cat because it is it’s prey so to were our ancestors once prey when all of humankind faced off against the crocodile for survival. If man was to survive it had to drink water, whether it be from a river, or lake the crocodile waited for him. Man did not know which day would be his last, only that death waited for him, and that on the day of its choosing the writhing terror would swallow him and drag him into the abyss.

The understanding of the human condition in ancient times is imperative to understanding a world in which dragons exist. The Medieval life was one of limited freedom. Most spent their lives confined to their village. Knowing so little led to a gripping fear of what they did not know, it was a life controlled by fear. Practical fears such as Vikings, bandits and plague, but also impractical terrors such as witches and dragons. In a world controlled by fear those bold enough to confront such horror were revered. Hence the mythical super hero status given to knights and warriors who felled dragons. Civilization and the cement fortresses of the west have removed man from nature, but in the time before, when man lived with nature, being eaten alive by beasts was a very real and serious concern. For the carnivore flesh is the essence of life, including human flesh. Death was an ever present reality, that could be realized at any moment. The carnivore must feed on the flesh of others or perish. The realities of such beasts seems monstrous, and indeed are. A dinosaur, lion or crocodile very much fits the imaging of a monster, it is not deemed a monster however, but only because it is not classified as such. Fear, more specifically fear of the unknown drives man to explore and classify. To know something, to classify, to compartmentalize a species removes its unknown and monstrous element. To ancient peoples a dragon was without doubt a monster. A primordial horror that had tremendous psychological impact upon the residents of the ancient world. Some men could spend their whole lives refusing to venture near a mountain, forest or cave a dragon was said to inhabit. As children even in the modern era we naturally fear the dark, the unknown, that a monster might be lurking around the bend. Our fears subside and dissipate as parents and adults assure us no such things exist, and we grow out of these fears through the persuasion of our elders. In ancient times, people lived in an entirely different reality, one in which parents did not dissuade a fear of the dark or of monstrous beings, because the parents themselves had the same fear. This type of fear is exemplified as late as the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries when sailors occasionally still refused to venture into uncharted waters, for fear of dragons.

Imagine you are a builder in ancient times. You’ve been tasked with building a fort. It’s been a long day, and you are only half finished digging the foundation. Your shovel hits something in the ground, something hard, likely a rock, you suspect. Upon further investigation it appears to be a bone. You keep digging trying to unearth the bone; it’s taking far longer than you expected, but finally you’ve unearthed it — a 10-foot long bone. You and the other diggers are astonished. Some great beast died here, but you have no idea how long ago; it could have been as recent as last month. You and the other diggers quickly realize this bone didn’t belong to any creature you’ve ever heard of. What was it? A giant man? A giant beast? You know not, so your imagination fills in the blanks. Ancient people were not aware of fossilization, of carbon dating, the concept of extinction or that the world was billions of years old. The behemothic bones of dinosaurs these people uncovered could be a thousand, a hundred, or even just a few years old. With this limited information it was a logical conclusion therefore that monsters were real and that where a dead monster exists there must be another living one nearby.

The Science of Monsters

A litany of evidence from the Greco-Roman world confirms that dinosaur bones were uncovered, and interpreted as monsters. Greek Historian Solinus writes in 200 A.D., addressing the existence of giants or other gigantic creatures: “In gullies and ravines, people discover bones of immeasurable enormity.”[1] Pliny the Elder writes of the discovery of ancient giant bones of Orion on the island of Crete.[2] The Roman emperor Augustus is noted to have collected gigantic bones and put them on display in the palace of Capri.[3] As ancient peoples stumbled upon the fossilized remains of dinosaurs, they came up with all sorts of explanations, from giants, griffins, and dragons, to great world-ending beasts. Herodotus writes of the discovery of the bones of the giant Palas in Rome and the giant Orestes in Arcadia. Pliny discusses the discovery of ancient giant bones of Orion on the island of Crete.[4] Saint Augustine writes in City of God of his discovery of large bones that he surmises must have belonged to an ancient giant.[5] Virgil writes of colossal giant bones in his work Georgics.[6]

The dragon, however, represents the most anatomically accurate of these understandings. Across the ancient world, dinosaur bones were discovered and deemed to be that of dragons. In 300 B.C., Chinese historian Chan Qu noted in his book the Chronicles of Huayang his discovery of dragon bones in Suchuan .[7] In Austria, an enormous skull long thought to have belonged to a slain dragon was kept on display for many years. The skull was later revealed to be that of a prehistoric rhinoceros.[8] The Wawel Cathedral in Poland holds the bones known as the dragon Smok Waweleski, which are now thought to be prehistoric mammoth bones.[9] In England, the tomb of the Bishop Richard Bell, dating from 1496, has engravings of dragons that are anatomically exact representations of Ankylosaurus and Sauropod dinosaurs.[10] A footprint of a Triassic-Era archosaurian was found and preserved in England, placed in the stonework of Christ’s Church in Cheshire. In Sussex in 1614 dinosaur bones were discovered and referred to as dragon bones, and woodcuts of the dragon’s bones were made.[11] Outside Europe, ancient African cave paintings in Lesotho depict an ornithopod dinosaur, indicating that local tribes had found the creature’s fossils. The dinosaur’s tracks are still preserved in the rock nearby.[12] In Brazil there are numerous dinosaur tracks in the rock in Paraiba. Native carvings and petroglyphs surround the tracks of the great beasts, indicating their discovery and the interest people took in them.[13] That early man was able to determine that some of these bones belonged to large reptiles is remarkable. People thought that some dragons could breathe fire, some could spit venom, some had wings, some didn’t. The human mind conjured answers to then-unanswerable questions about the dinosaurs, and for ancient people one of their answers was dragons.

Previously, it was thought that ancient peoples had no knowledge of dinosaurs, the litany of evidence proves otherwise. The Middle Ages in Western Europe produced possibly the earliest classification of dinosaurs. To the European any great reptilian beast was considered a dragon. But through both beastiaries and pictographs it becomes obvious that Europeans did not deem the Dragon as an individual species, but there own clade, host to numerous different creatures similar to dinosaura. Types of dragons such as tetra-pod dragons (two legs and two wings) match the description of many of the winged beasts of dinosauria. The structure of the wyvern bears similarty to pterodactyls, and the feathered cockatrice resembles many of the primordial bird like dinosaurs or ‘Terror-Birds’. That some dragons had horns, correlates with numerous dinosaur fossil specimens being of the horned variety. One prominent interpretation of the dragon features it with two horns upon its head similar to the ceratopsian dinosaurs. The other variety of horned dragon is pictured with an array of spikes flanking the face and head, a horn pattern known to be on many dinosaurs such as anklyosaurus and the Draco-Rex. This further suggests that dragons were the early documentation of dinosaur fossils, and that pre-modern man did have an understanding of these beasts.

The gargantuan bones from the primordial age had long been one of the great unanswerable questions of the pre-modern world and imagination tended to take flight where knowledge was scarce. Some examples prove surprisingly recent. In 1663 Otto von Guricke assembled to his best ability mammoth bones he had discovered into a two-legged unicorn. In 1840, James Peder assembled the bones of a mammoth into a large tortoise-like creature.[14] Their predicament should be understandable to us. Even with our modern science we still don’t understand fully what the dinosaurs were. To this day, our understandings of the dinosaurs are still evolving. Did these great beasts have scales? Were they feathered? “Dragons” were simply ancient understandings of the fossil records of these once-great beasts we call dinosaurs.

The first modern scientists to discover dinosaur bones and correctly assemble them were baffled by the existence of such enormous creatures. The modern discoverer of dinosaurs, Sir Richard Owen, describes the dinosaur Pterodactyl as a “flying reptile or dragon.”[15] Owen classified his discoveries as Dinosauria in 1841, taking two Greek words to form the name of these creatures, the word essentially meaning a terrible and powerful lizard. Owen’s discoveries kicked off a race for fossils, as scientists across the world began digging into the ground to find more such creatures.[16] His contemporaries also struggled to not think of these great beasts as dragons. Robert Hawkins refers to his paleontological discoveries as dragons in his Book of the Great Sea Dragons, referring to his findings in terms such as “Sternal Remains of a Dragon from Lyme Regis.”[17] The Zoologist William J. Broderip refers to dinosaurs as “downright enormous dragons with bellies as large as tuns.”[18] N.H. Hutchinson best summarizes this phenomena “geology reveals to us that there once lived upon this earth reptiles so great and uncouth that we can think of no other but the time-honoured word ‘dragon’ to convey briefly the idea of their monstrous forms.”[19] The resemblance between the two creatures is still paid homage to this day; the newly discovered raptor-like dinosaur discovered in Wales in 2014 was named by Dr. David M. Martin as Dracoraptor, or dragon robber.[20]

The Last Dragon

The concept of dragons has evolved since medieval times: In modern fantasy the dragon is an enormous, winged, fire-breathing beast. And while that image was certainly included among types of dragons in the Middle Ages, the definition in those times was much broader. Any large reptile, including crocodiles, was considered a dragon, while the Church (which was the scientific community in the Middle Ages) was aware of Crocodiles and made note of them in their beastaries.[21] To the average medieval European, a large man-eating reptile such as the crocodile was a dragon. To conceive it as anything else would have been preposterous. Phillipe de Thaon in his 12th century bestiary even states that crocodiles were often misinterpreted as dragons.[22] John Guillim describes a dragon behavior in his book A Display of Heraldry: “The dragons are naturally so hot that they cannot be cooled by drinking of waters, but still gape for the air to refresh them.”[23] Guillim’s description of the cooling habits of dragons matches perfectly that of the crocodile. The crocodile does not sweat, and therefore must pant like a dog, leaving its mouth open to cool itself by allowing heat to escape its body. Such encounters by Europeans with crocodiles validated their legends of dragons, as well as their scientific understanding of the existence of the dragon. To the medieval European, suggesting that a large man-eating reptile such as the crocodile was not a dragon would be similar to asserting that an owl was not a bird.

The crocodile is a relative of the dinosaurs, the last surviving large carnivorous Archosaurian (ruling reptile). They are one of nature’s most voracious and well-equipped predators. The crocodile, for as long as it lives, never stops growing and will typically not die of old age for a hundred years. The largest crocodiles in modern times average between 18 and 23 feet and can weigh as much as 3,000 pounds.[24] Their thick hide is scaly and armor-like; their bite is the strongest on earth, capable of crushing the bone of elephants with its 5,000-pound bite force.[25] The Nile and salt water crocodiles are earth’s most deadly beasts; cousins of the dinosaurs, they are apex predators and were the bane of man before the era of human domination.

Long the crocodile reigned unquestioned atop the food chain in Africa and Asia. Its armored hide was difficult to pierce by either arrow or blade. Herodotus states that the creature’s scales are impenetrable.[26] Pliny the elder concurs that its hide is “impervious to blows.”[27] Even now in the age of firearms the thickness of the crocodile’s hide can be attested to. It often takes multiple bullets to fell a croc. The creature’s underbelly is the only spot which can be fatally penetrated by spear or blade. The difficulty a man faces to slay a crocodile with primitive weapons is best illustrated by an event in 2015 in the African nation of Uganda, where a man named Mubarak Batakbuze took revenge on a crocodile for swallowing his wife and unborn child. Killing the beast also avenged the six other women eaten by the crocodile. The man used a specially made spear the local blacksmith crafted for him to assault the beast. He stabbed at the croc’s unarmored flanks while his friends threw stones at the animal. The barbed spear had a rope attached so that once the croc’s belly had been impaled, the rope was pulled, and the creature’s belly was ripped open. The killing of this 13-foot, 1,300-pound crocodile took over an hour and a half to accomplish, the lengthy struggle displaying the difficulty of killing a crocodile with primitive weapons.

Today in rural Africa and Asia the crocodile still reigns supreme. Villagers must still draw water from the river, where crocodiles sometimes successfully catch them unawares. It is estimated that thousands are killed by the Nile crocodile in Africa each year.[28] The sad tale is timeless and unchanging: The crocodile lies in wait beneath the murky water, watching its prey from below, waiting for the perfect moment to ascend from the depths and pull its victim into the river. With one bite its victim’s body is broken and useless. The victim’s resistance is futile. Screaming spectators look on, well aware no help can be given. This sad familiar tale has been recounted time and again from the ancient to the present day. Such events would have been dramatically more numerous in ancient times; before wells and plumbing, all persons would have risked life and limb to gather water from the river, greatly increasing the interaction between humans and crocodiles at water’s edge and thus number of deaths inflicted. Crocodiles were scourges wherever they resided. Centuries of culling since gunpowder have wittled down both the species and its typical prey, leading many experts to hypothesize the number of large crocodiles would have been much greater before the age of gunpowder, their maximum size likely being larger as well. The Greek Historian Herodotus wrote in the fifth century B.C. that the larger crocodiles are 17 cubits in length, or 26 feet.[29] Isidore of Seville in the 7th century A.D. believed their size to be thirty feet in length.[30] Guillaume le Clerc also lists the crocodile at 30 feet in length.[31] In a time before people had the means to kills the biggest and deadliest, crocodiles could grow unchecked. Those more numerous, longer-lived specimens must surely have been even more remarkable killing machines than most modern crocodiles are.

A man-eating crocodile’s propensity for terrorizing humanity has persisted into modern times in some parts of the world. One croc, dubbed Gustav, is claimed to have devoured over 300 victims in Burundi and may still be alive to this day. Between 20 and 25 feet in length, he is easily spotted by the three bullet wounds in his body, and local inhabitants still fear encountering him.[32] The remarkable story of Gustav echoes many stories centuries, even millennia, older. In Libya in 300 A.D. a man-eating reptilian creature of great size preyed on the villagers as they drew water from the river. Its reign of terror was not ended until a Roman soldier now venerated as Saint George slew the beast.[33] The animal was called a dragon in Europe, while the description of the creature St. George encountered matches that of the Nile crocodile. It therefore is very likely that Saint George felled an ancient incarnation of Gustav and that the legend of Saint George and the dragon is one that has its origins in an actual event: the slaying of a Nile crocodile. Several more tales of dragon-slaying that resemble crocodile encounters come from ancient Greece. For example, Heracles confronted and defeated a lake-dwelling dragon, the Hydra of Lerna. (The Greek word Hydra means “water serpent.”[34]) Cadmus, founder of Thebes, is said to have slain the Ismenian dragon that had been coming forth from the river and devouring unsuspecting victims. It was said to have been the guardian of the sacred spring of Ares.[35] Here again, this “dragon” is likely to have been a crocodile. In Ethiopia, a land known for crocodiles, the Mycenaean hero Perseus is said to have slain a sea monster or Cetus, the Greek word meaning a reptilian fish-like monster with a long snout.[36] Likewise Troy, located in Anatolia, another region that crocodiles once inhabited, was also plagued by a “Cetus.” According to the Greek legend, Hercules finally ended that creature’s reign of terror. In Rome’s war with Carthage, the Roman legion was attacked by a dragon coming forth from the river, according to Roman Cassius Dio.[37] In Rhodes a Maltese knight slew a dragon that had been residing in a spring near a cave; the beast was slain by stabbing its weak, unarmored belly.[38]

Each of these tales of dragon slayers centers around a hero confronting a dragon that comes forth from the water. Crocodiles may seem a far cry from the Hydra or Cetus of ancient Greek and Roman legend, but the human tendency for exaggeration should not be underestimated. In the 2015 incident discussed earlier, in which a crocodile was killed with a spear by Mubarak Batakbuze, Batakbuze’s slaying of the crocodile turned him into a national hero. This contemporary event shows how quickly a story will spread of the slaying of a man-eating beast, and indeed of how quickly such stories soon stretch the facts. The slain thirteen-foot crocodile grew in size. By the time the story made it to England, the Guardian reported the animal’s length as twenty feet and the Daily Mail as twenty-five. Croc tales, dragon tales, and fish tales all demonstrate a storyteller’s tendency toward embellishment.

The accounts of crocodiles identified as dragons do not end in the ancient era. Marco Polo in his 13th century travels east, mentions seeing dragons in China. He describes them as ferocious beasts, ten paces in length, living in the river.[39] In the following century, Sir John Mandeville, traveling through Arabia, described that country as “full of dragounes and grete serpentes.”[40] In Crete an ancient Minoan tomb sealstone was found depicting two dragons, which appear, in fact, to be crocodiles.[41] In an illuminated manuscript from the 15th century, Saint George is depicted as slaying a crocodile.[42] In a manuscript of “Saint Margaret and the Dragon” from 1480, the beast is also a crocodilian dragon.[43]

A much more recent example turned up in 1776, when a crocodile wandered into the Spanish town of Ciutat de Mallorca and took up residence in the sewers. Its presence stirred fear and panic among the residents. The crocodile was slain by Bartomeu Coch; its body is still preserved in the local museum.[44] At the time, even in the 18th century, the creature was referred to as a dragon, the Drac de Na Coca, or, in English, the Dragon of Mrs. Coch. In similar fashion, the Dragon of Malena once plagued the city of Jaen in Spain. Its body was stuffed and mounted for many years in the Church of San Ildefonso.[45] Likewise the Collegio del Patriarca in Valencia has a preserved crocodile that plagued its city in the Middle Ages. It is still known today as the dragón del Patriarca.[46] In Cáceres, the church of the Ermita del Cristo has the Dragon of Calzadilla[ES3] preserved and on display.[47] Outside of Spain a similar instance occurs in the Czech republic in the city of Brünn. A very large preserved crocodile hangs above a tunnel in the city; it is said to have dwelled in the river Svratka sometime before the 1500’s and to have feasted upon the people of the city. It was known as the Dragon of Brünn.[48] In Sicily, the embalmed body of a 10-foot crocodile still hangs above Palermo. Local lore has it that the croc haunted the Papireto river and preyed on children before finally being slain.[49] Whether these events actually occurred or not is debatable; these crocodiles could just be misremembered trophies brought back from the Orient. Some of these certainly exist. The King of Castile, for example, received the gift of a live crocodile in the thirteenth century from Egyptian emissaries. Its corpse is still on display.[50] Jan Zajic brought back with him a live crocodile as a trophy from the Holy Land to his castle near Prague in 1522. The crocodile lived out its days in the castle moat and was paraded around by Jan on festive occasions, acquiring its name the Dragon of Budyne.[51] Similar legends occurred in Marseilles, Ragusa, Aix, and Lyons.[52]

Despite crocodiles having not naturally existed in Europe for millions of years, it is of course possible that Nile crocodiles did occasionally cross the Mediterranean. It is no secret that the range of crocodiles was once much larger before the proliferation of firearms in Africa. Previously, the range of the Nile crocodile did push up against the Mediterranean Sea.[53] It is therefore possible that the occasional crocodile ventured into Europe during the Middle Ages. Crocodiles were native to Morocco until 1960, that North African country lies only 8.9 miles from the southern tip of Spain.[54] Crocodiles are noted to be able to travel long distances over water, making crossing the Mediterranean Sea quite possible for the species.[55] Anderson in his 1898 zoology of Egypt states that crocodiles had lived in Sicily in the past.[56] Klaas de Smet has gone as far as theorizing that crocodiles spread as far as Italy, Spain, and Southern France.[57] Naturalists Scasso Borello (1798), Rafinesque Schmaltz (1814), Mina Palumbo (1863), and countless others all refer to crocodiles having once resided in Sicily, specifically in the now extinct river of Papireto.[58] Even today the occasional crocodile appears in Italy and Greece and always causes quite the stir. The 2014 appearance of a Nile crocodile on the island of Crete caused an enormous panic for residents and local farmers.[59]

Contrary to popular belief, crocodiles are capable of surviving in Europe. They can and do survive in extremely cold temperatures. The crocodile will submerge in water, place its snout above the freezing ice, and hibernate until temperatures rise. Reptile expert Dr. Ian Stephen believes crocodiles could, in fact, survive even the cold of British waters.[60] Europe’s climate was also much hotter at the time of these reported crocodile encounters. In fact, it was much warmer than it is today during these periods. The Roman warming period lasted until the third century A.D., followed by another warm period between the ninth and thirteenth centuries, the time period that frames many of the European crocodile encounters previously mentioned.[61] But whether these legends are true or not is secondary to the fact that Europeans considered crocodiles to be dragons. Moreover, their encounters with crocodiles made dragons no mere myth to Europeans, but living, breathing, and deadly creatures.

Conclusion

The ruling reptiles both dinosaurs and crocodiles are ultimately the physical embodiement of death, a reshaping of the food chain that strikes man from atop it and places him squarely at the bottom. Man is no match for these primeval beasts. and so his worst fear is an encounter with it. It is telling how the fears of man have changed, today our greatest fear concerning our demise is economic collapse. Our greatest hopes and fears revolve around money, an artificial and unnatural fear imposed from living in an unnatural world. The ancients lived in a natural world and their greatest fear was the dragon, a creature so powerful that should it rise again would end the world of man. Our greatest hopes and fears was our place in the food chain, and so the ancients fear was the dragon, a creature able to end the world of man and usurp our position and threaten us with extinction. Many religions feature dragons such as behemoth and leviathan being the destroyer of our world, these primordial monsters of dinosauria rising once more to claim dominion over man. In the earliest days of man the greatest threat and claimer of lives was the crocodile, now it is automobile accidents. The changing of the hopes and fears of man is no accident, we have evolved past many of our natural fears and unnatural ones have taken their place.

The Homo Sapiens is a species suffering from amnesia, it has forgotten entirely the food chain and that it was not always placed atop it. The dragon represents the vague memory of the innate fear of our ancestors. The mouse fears the cat because it is it’s prey so to were our ancestors once prey when all of humankind faced off against the crocodile for survival. If man was to survive it had to drink water, whether it be from a river, or lake the crocodile waited for him. Man did not know which day would be his last, only that death waited for him, and that on the day of its choosing the writhing terror would swallow him and drag him into the abyss.

The dragon was never merely a mythical creature in the time that people believed in them. They were always an understanding or misunderstanding of dinosaurs or animals we know now to be crocodiles. The dragon as a species was relegated to myth only because the first modern paleontologists created the new genus of dinosauria rather than choosing to reinterpret and update our understanding of the dragon. Even our childhood visions of dinosaurs will become only fantastical imaginings if it is discovered that all dinosaurs in fact were feathered. And if a new name were to be selected for this newer interpretation, then the dinosaur itself would become nothing but a fantasy of our less knowledgeable ancestors, the same treatment the dragon as a “species” received. The inspiration for the concept of dragons across the world is without doubt the discovery of dinosaur bones. It was European encounters with the descendants of dinosaurs, the crocodiles, however, that cemented the Western belief in dragons even further. Encounters with these archosaurians perpetually spurred the creation of new legends, some, at least, very likely based on real events. Such encounters made the dragon a very real creature to early Europeans, and if we ourselves considered any large man-eating reptile to be a dragon, then dragons would be very real to us as well.

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Notes

[1] Gaius Julius Solinus and Alphonse Agnant. Polyhistor. (Paris: Kessinger Publishing, 2010):

[2] Marco Romano and Marco Avanzini. The Skeletons of Cyclops and Lestrigons: Misinterpretation of Quaternary Vertebrates as Remains of Mythological Giants.” Historical Biology: An International Journal of Paleobiology. June 26th, 2017. 4.

[3] Romano. The Skeletons of Cyclops and Lestrigons. 4.

[4] Romano. The Skeletons of Cyclops and Lestrigons.. 3.

[5] Saint Augustine and Marcus Dods. The City of God. (New York: Modern Library): 457–459.

[6] Romano. The Skeletons of Cyclops. 3.

[7] Dong Zhiming. Dinosaurian Faunas of China. Beijing: China Ocean Press, 1992. 24.

[8] Adrienne Mayor. The First Fossil Hunters: Paleontology in Greek and Roman Times. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 2000. 35.

[9] Malgorzata Kitowska-Lysiak, Elzbieta Wolicka. “Place of Envisioned: Studying the Category of Places in the Cultural Space”. Scientific Society of the Catholic University of Lublin (1999): 231.

[10] Darek Isaacs. Dragons Or Dinosaurs?: Creation or Evolution? Alachua: Bridge Logos Foundation, 2010. 41.

[11] Spalding, David A. E., and William A. S. Sarjeant. “Dinosaurs: The Earliest Discoveries.” In The Complete Dinosaur, edited by Brett-Surman M. K., Holtz Thomas R., and Farlow James O., by Walters Bob, 3–23. Indiana University Press, 2012. 7.

[12] Paul Ellenberger, David J. Mossman, Alexander D. Mossman, and Martin G. Lockley. “Bushmen Cave Paintings of Ornithopod Dinosaurs: Paleolithic Trackers Interpret Early Jurassic Footprints. Ichnos 12, no. 3. July 2005: 223.

[13] Spalding, “Dinosaurs: The Earliest Discoveries.” 7.

[14] James L. Hayward, “Fossil Proboscidians and Myths of Giant Men” Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences and Affiliated Societies. (1984): 235.

[15] Richard Owen. Geology and Inhabitants of the Ancient World. (London: Euston Grove Press, 2010): 11

[16] John McGowan-Hartman, “Shadow of the Dragon: The Convergence of Myth and Science in Nineteenth Century Paleontological Imagery.” Journal of Social History 47, no. 1 (September, 2013): 54

[17] Richard Hawkins, The Book of the Great Sea Dragons. (London, W. Pickering, 1840):

[18] William J. Broderip, Zoological Recreations (1847): 327.

[19] N.H Hutchinson. Extinct Monsters and Creatures of Other Days, (London 1910. Xvii.

[20] Will Dunham. “Dragon Thief Dinosaur Thrived after Primordial Calamity.” Scientific American. Retrieved May 1, 2018.

[21] Beastiary, Museum Meermanno, Hague, Netherlands (France: 1450)

[22] Ellen J. Millington. Heraldry in History, Poetry and Romance. London: Chapman and Hall, 1858. 289.

[23] John Guillim et all. A Display of Heraldry. London. T.W. 1724. 96.

[24] Christine Dell’Amore. “Giant Crocodile Breaks Size Record, Suspected in Fatal Attacks” National Geographic News, July 3, 2012. https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/07/120702-biggest-crocodile-lolong-guinness-world-records-animals-science/

[25] Brain Handwerk. “Crocodiles Have Strongest Bite Ever Measured, Hands-On Tests Show.” National Geographic News, March 15, 2012. https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2012/03/120315-crocodiles-bite-force-erickson-science-plos-one-strongest/

[26] Herodotus, et all. The Histories, Book II. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998):

[27] Pliny the Elder, et all. Natural History, Book 8, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996): 37–38.

[28] David G.E. Caldicott, et all. “Crocodile Attack in Australia: An Analysis of Its Incidence and Review of the Pathology and Management of Crocodilian Attacks in General.” Wilderness & Environmental Medicine 16, no. 3 (September 2005): 143–159.

[29] Herodotus, The Histories, book II. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998): 440 B.C.

[30] Isidore of Seville, Etymologies, Book 12 Beast and Birds (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010): 6:19–20. 625 A.D.

[31] Guillaume le Clerc and George Claridge Druce. Beastiary of Guillaume le Clerc. (Kent: Headley Brothers, 1936):

[32] Michael Mcrae, Bobby Model. “Have You Seen This Croc?” National Geographic 7, no. 2 (March 2005):

[33] Jacobus de Voragine, The Golden Legend. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993): 122.

[34] Daniel Ogden. Drakon: Dragon Myth and Serpent Cult in the Greek and Roman Worlds. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. 27.

[35] Edwards, Ruth B., Kadmos the Phoenician: A Study in Greek Legends and the Mycenean Age (Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 1979):

[36] John Boardman. The Greeks in Asia. Thames and Hudson Publishing. 2015.

[37] John of Damascus. On Dragons and Ghosts. 676 a.d.

[38] F.W. Hasluck. “Deidenne de Gozon and the Dragon of Rhodes.” The Annual of the British School at Athens 20. 19113. P. 72.

[39] Marco Polo and R.E. Latham. The Travels of Marco Polo. (Middlesex: Penguin Books, 1958): 2,40.

[40] Louise W. Lippincott. “The Unnatural History of Dragons” Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin 77, no. 334. 1981. 4.

[41] Heleni Palaiologou. “Minoan Dragons on a Sealstone From Mycenae.” Bulletin of the Institute of Classical Studies 63. 1994. 191.

[42] Lippincott. The Unnatural History of Dragons. 4.

[43] Saint Margaret and the Dragon Book of Hours, p. 132 French, c. 1480 Illuminated Manuscript, image 1/ x13/4 (4.13 x 4.45 cm) Phillip S. Collins Collection 45–65–15.

[44] Bartomeau Bestard. Croniques de Palma. Palma: Ajuntament de Palma, 2011. 78.

[45] Juan Eslava Galan and Rafael Ortega y Sagrista. El Lagarto de la Malena y los Mitos del Dragon. Granada: University of Granada, 1991. 7.

[46] Magán, Pascuala Morote. “Las leyendas y su valor didáctico.” In XL Congreso, vol. 400. 2016. 393. (391–403)

[47] Jose Luis Rodriguez Plasencia, “El Lagarto de Calzadilla y otras Historias de Lagartos.” Revista de Folklore 321, 2007. 101.

[48] Old Town Hall of Brno, Brno Tourist Informations. Accessed May 1, 2018, http://www.brnoinfo.com/old-town-hall/

[49] Still Verifying.

[50] Joel Cook. The Mediterranean and its Borderlands. Vol. 1. Philadelphia: John C. Winston Company, 1910. 55.

[51] Still Verifying

[52] Jaqueline Simpson. “Fifty British Dragon Tales: An Analysis.” Folklore 89, no. 1, 84.

[53] Jose C. Brito, et all. “Crocodiles in the Sahara Desert: An Update of Distribution, Habitats and Population Status for Conservation Planning in Mauritania.” Public Library of Science, February 2011.

[54] Klass de Smet. “Status of the Nile Crocodile in the Sahara Desert.” Hydrobiolgia. (January 1998): 84.

[55] Hamish Campbell. “Crocodiles Ride Ocean Currents to Travel the High Seas.” University of Queensland News, June 2010. https://www.uq.edu.au/news/article/2010/06/crocodiles-ride-ocean-currents-travel-high-seas

[56] John Anderson, George Boulenger, and William de Winton. Zoology of Egypt. (London: Quaritch Publishing, 1898):

[57] Klass de Smet. “Status of the Nile Crocodile in the Sahara Desert.” Hydrobiolgia. (January 1998): 84.

[58] Marco Masseti. “In the Gardens of Norman Palermo” Anthropozoologica 44, no. 2. 2009. 16.

[59] Helena Smith. “World’s Greatest Crocodile Hunter Fails to Catch ‘Sifis’ Crete’s Fugitive Reptile.” The Guardian, September 2, 2014. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/02/crocodile-hunter-olivier-behra-fails-catch-sifis-crete-rethymnon

[60] Raziye Akkoc, “Bristol Crocodile could survive British waters, Experts say.”The Telegraph, (June 26, 2014) https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/10928244/Bristol-crocodile-could-survive-British-waters-experts-say.html

[61] J Luterbacher, et al.“European Summer Temperatures since Roman Times.” Environmental Research Letters 11, no. 2. (2016): 5.

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History student at UNG Military College. Specialist in European history and Mythology. Footnotes and Bibliography always provided. Only scholarly sources used.

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Tristan Erwin

Tristan Erwin

History student at UNG Military College. Specialist in European history and Mythology. Footnotes and Bibliography always provided. Only scholarly sources used.