Dragons are fearsome beasts used throughout history in heroic and frightening stories. Dragons spew fire, eat maidens and children, and fight brave knights. While dragons prove to be nothing more than tall tales by science, how did dragons come to be known throughout the world's most ancient civilization?
Civilizations such as Greece, China, and ancient Scandinavia had myths about dragons and these civilizations have no known communication with each other. Even civilizations like the Aztecs who were cut off from all other civilizations had legends of dragons.
With these dragons being so ancient, one would think that they would adorn even cave paintings. However, this is not the case. Dragons are strangely absent from the cave paintings of ancient man.
So where did the stories of Dragons come from?
Origin of the Dragon
The first known myth about the dragon began in ancient Babylon over 4,000 years ago.
Tiamat of Babylonian Myth
In the bible where God created the universe and the Earth, the Babylonians believed that a fight between the great she-dragon Tiamat and the sun God Marduk created the universe. The story goes that all Babylonian Gods fled before Tiamat, the she-dragon destroyed any God that dared stand up to her until there was only the sun God Marduk left.
Marduk eventually slew the great dragon. From her severed body, Marduk made the heaven and the earth. From the blood of Tiamat, Marduk created mankind.
Leviathan shares a similar story to Tiamat of the Babylonian dragon myth. Though it differs in some key points. Leviathan is a great sea dragon who was created by God on the 5th day, unlike Tiamat who wrecked havoc in the voidless cosmos and had no known origin. Like Tiamat, Leviathan also has a fight to the death with God, however; Leviathans' fight with God does not happen at the beginning of time. It happens at the end. The death of Leviathan is slated at the end of days.
Dragons in Christianity
Since the death of Leviathan is to come at the end of days, Christians began to see Leviathan as the devil. Thus at the end of days, God would slay the devil and bring peace to the world again. Since christianity drew so heavily on Hebrew lore, dragons began to be depicted as evil.
Most often, the devil was depicted as a serpent or a serpent-like man who could be compared to a dragon.
Dragons in Europe
The spread of dragons from the Middle East to Europe most likely happened during the 3rd century in Libya. As the legend goes, a huge dragon was terrorizing a Roman outpost in Libya, they tried to please it by feeding it children. After awhile, a christian soldier named George came along and decided to end this sacrilege and slay the dragon. After he slew it, George dragged the dragon into town and the sight of such a feat converted the whole village to Christianity.
This soldier went on to become Saint George, who was the patron saint of England.
Dragons are particularly popular in China, and still are today in their imagery. They are frequently honored in various festivals and holidays, but why? Dragons were revered in ancient times because they watered the rice fields, which was the cornerstone of Chinese society. Yet they were feared because they also delivered devastating storms. The storms result from the dragons moving between their undersea palaces and the heavens.
While it is unclear where dragons came from, they are honored due to Emperor Lui Pang. Lui Pang had made his way up from common soldier all the way to Emperor. However, his common origins would not be welcome in China, where the Emperor was thought to be the son of Heaven. So thus, Lui Pang claimed that he was descendant of dragons. This raised dragons to the top of the animal hierarchy of China.