Believe it or not, the word “dragon” first appeared in English around AD 790. The word entered Old English as “draca” and came from the Greek word “drakon” meaning serpent or monster. From those humble beginnings, dragons have now become one of the most loved mythical creatures in history. In this article we will explore everything you ever wanted to know about Dragons – where they came from, their various incarnations throughout history, their role throughout literature and how much of that is actually based on real-life events and creatures.
Who Or What Are Dragons?
If we start off with a definition of what a dragon really is, it would be best if we looked at how the word has been used in the past. Dragons are large, reptile-like creatures that appear in many cultures around the world. Although there are many types of dragon, the most famous are large, serpent-like creatures with wings and the ability to breathe fire. Dragons have appeared in many cultures, especially those of East Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East. In Western cultures, dragons are typically depicted as flying, fire-breathing reptiles; a misconception dating back to the mistranslation of the word "drakon" as "serpent" in the Book of Job.
The Evolution of the Dragon Through History
The earliest references to dragons as real-life creatures actually date back 7,000 years ago to the Ancient Chinese. It’s thought that the Chinese were the first civilization to record any kind of dragon imagery. They lived in a time before writing and so the Chinese used symbols to keep track of their history. Chinese dragons were seen as benevolent and the emperors were seen as the sons of the dragon. However, Chinese mythology also tells us that dragons were a ferocious and dangerous species. It was believed that they were capable of flooding the rivers and destroying entire villages. Dragons were a fixture in Ancient Chinese culture as well as across the rest of Asia. They appear in Hindu and Buddhist religions, as well as in Japan where they are known as “ryuu”.
Where Do These Creatures Come From?
It’s likely that the first images of dragons were drawn by the people of the ancient world purely because they had seen them. The word “dragon” comes from the Greek word “drakon” meaning serpent or monster. As time moved on, definitions of what a dragon was changed. They became more of a symbolic creature rather than an actual, physical, reptilian being. Dragons were a symbol of power, strength and protection. They were used to depict the emperor’s strength and power in Asia, as well as the strength of the gods in Ancient Egypt. Last but not least, dragons were also seen as guardians of treasure and riches.
The Legends of Ancient Civilizations: China, India and Japan
The first recorded myths of dragons come from China where they were depicted as a benevolent, wise and powerful force for good. It was believed that the emperor was the son of the dragon and that dragons guarded treasure and weapons. China’s depiction of the dragon remained relatively consistent throughout the years. They remained as a wise, strong and powerful being, although they did occasionally take on a more sinister role. In Hindu and Buddhist myth, dragons were known as “nagas” and were believed to live in water. If a person was bitten by a naga and survived, they would gain supernatural powers. Japanese dragons were known as “ryu”. They were depicted as a beast that was associated with weather phenomenon such as thunder and lightning. Japan’s first emperor is believed to be descended from a dragon after his mother found a dragon inside an egg.
Rome’s Real Life Dragon: The Drachen
While we still don’t know if any of these ancient civilizations had ever actually seen a dragon, there was one dragon that was real. Draco was the name of a real-life dragon. His name is Latin for “dragon” so he was definitely a real life example of one. He was the guardian of the Temple of Augustus in the 1st century BC in Rome. Draco was a giant snake that lived in a temple built to honour Emperor Augustus’s victory over his arch rival, Marcus Antonius. He was likely a python or an Asian rock python. The temple was built on a hill called the “Capitoline” and the Temple of Augustus was near the top of the hill. Possibly out of fear, the Romans would throw victims to the dragon to appease him and the gods.
A Century of Confusion: 400-1100 AD
Dragons continued to feature heavily in literature and local folklore during the Middle Ages. There are many stories of kings and knights battling dragons during this time, but they were all purely symbolic. Dragons were again used to illustrate the power and strength of kings, princes and rulers. They were also used to instil fear in the local population as a warning to behave or suffer the same fate as the poor victims that were sacrificed. There were also a number of accounts of giant serpents being spotted in the rivers and lochs of Europe. Perhaps there were even still surviving pythons from the Roman era that were now roaming the countryside. The only difference between these stories and the dragon legends is the lack of wings.
Medieval Times - Europe Discovers the Dragon Again
In the 11th century, Europe rediscovered the dragon as a real-life creature. They found examples of enormous serpents in their lakes and rivers. Some of these serpents were even large enough to eat cows, sheep and other livestock. They called these serpents “drachen” which is the German word for dragon. It seems that the German people had begun to notice that there was a lot of confusion between the two words. The serpents were too big to be called snakes so they decided to call them “drachen” or dragons. These dragons were likely a form of giant snake or python.
14th Century to the Renaissance: Dragons in the Dark Ages
In the 14th century, the Black Death plague swept across Europe wiping out a third of the population. The plague caused a lot of paranoia and fear among the people. The dragon was again used as a symbol of strength and power to warn the people of their ruler. The dragon was used to illustrate the power and strength of the king. It was used to instill fear in the local population as a warning to behave or suffer the same fate as the poor victims that were sacrificed. The dragon was used as an image of power and strength during the renaissance. It was often used on the kings’ shields and on the shields of knights.
Dragon in the 20th Century and Beyond
The 20th century saw the dragon reinvented again. They became the good guys for the first time in centuries. The Chinese and Japanese had long used the dragon as a symbol of good luck. Dragons were used in the 20th century to illustrate the power and strength of the Asian people. Their strength and power had been severely undercut after being conquered by Europeans for centuries. Dragons were seen as heroic and good luck symbols for the Chinese and Japanese. They were also looked at as symbols of freedom and independence.
Conclusion of Dragons Existing
Dragons have been a part of our culture, history and literature for centuries. They have represented many different things over the years. They have been used to illustrate the strength and power of kings, they have been used to instil fear in the local population and they have been used to show the strength and power of Asian cultures. There are so many different variations of dragons that it would be hard to believe that they ever existed as real-life creatures. The only thing that remains true about dragons is that they are extremely powerful and have a tendency to steal treasure, and our hearts!
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Stay safe out there💋❤️.
- The Wicked Tender Team