A brief history of dragons

Bodium CastleThe history of dragons is not an easy subject.

Frankly, dragons appear in earliest recorded history. Nobody ever thought about where they came from, just as few people research where frogs come from. They just are.

However, there are few current stories about dragons, unless you include the Loch Ness Monster.

It’s sad that so many people think that dragons are just legends and fairy tales.

Until the early 20th century, people took dragons very seriously.

The earliest written tale of dragons may be the Sumerian/Babylonian/Mesopotamian creation legend, Enuma Elish, in which Mummu-Tiamat is sometimes represented as a dragon/goddess of the ocean or waters.

This story corresponds to the Bible account in Genesis 1:12 (NRSV) which mentions “sea monsters.” Dragons appear throughout the Bible, first as literal beasts in the Old Testament, and then as symbols of evil forces in the New Testament.

Dragons are mentioned steadily throughout written history, through the 20th century. In AD 67, Roman historian Octavus Livy described a battle that he had witnessed, involving a “leviathan” or dragon. Pliny the Elder mentioned dragons in his histories, too.

In the Dark Ages, generally prior to the 12th century, a dragon tormented Drachenfels, Germany and another was seen at Isle St. Marguerite in France. The latter dragon reportedly killed over 3000 people. He may be the same dragon as Drac, who lived in a cave near Beaucaire, France on the Rhone River.

The leading tale claims that St. Patrick banished both snakes and dragons from Ireland.

However, in the 11th century, Tristan reportedly killed a dragon to win the hand of Isolde in marriage, perhaps for his uncle Mark. During that same time, yet another dragon terrorized Kiev, Russia.

In 1222, two years after Henry III’s coronation, dragons were seen over London, England. At the time, the dragons were blamed for ravaging thunderstorms and the flooding which resulted. That is the same year that St. George’s Day became a National Holiday in England, named for the famous dragonslayer.

(Although St. George probably lived in the third and fourth centuries, his dragon tales were popularized far later, in 14th century England. According to a leading legend, he killed a dragon in Pagan Libya, and the entire town immediately converted to Christianity.)

We can find many dragons as we casually browse history:

  • Two dragons fought near Canterbury, England, with many witnesses in 1449.
  • A dragon was killed on Vatican Hill in Rome in 1669.
  • In 1942, the German U-boat Reichland reported a dragon-like sea serpent.

These accounts continue, far more than could be catalogued here. However, these tales follow one after another in steady succession, many with credible witnesses.

The most recent dragon lore may be the 1966 story of a British military unit practicing survival techniques in the Atlantic Ocean. According to this story–which may be urban legend–paratrooper John Ridgeway saw a huge, dragon-like sea serpent rise about him from the ocean.

However, this account may borrow from a more documented story from the VietNam war, involving an exchange between a soldier named Ridgeway and a helicopter called “Dragon.”

Regardless of the accuracy of individual dragon stories, the preponderance of evidence is surprising and almost overwhelming.

In the face of so much history, the bigger question is: Why don’t we believe in dragons today?

Learn more about dragons in my next article, Kinds of dragons

14 thoughts on “A brief history of dragons”

  1. Fiona, I have to say I completely believe that dragons are real, if they weren’t how would they’re stories live on and how is it that so many civilizations were aware of them, I see it as maybe people don’t believe in them because we weren’t able to see them they didn’t have any better proof but then books for their time you know. By the way I’m amazed and hooked on your site, truly marvelous work.

    1. Vivian, thank you! Like you, I believe in dragons, if only because they’re reported so consistently by so many cultures that had no contact with each other. There absolutely must be some explanation for the uniformity of the stories.

  2. Have you ever heard of dragons being catagorized with fairie? Because I have, but I just haven’t done that much research into it.

    1. Joseph,

      That’s a great question! I’ll probably write an article about it, later.

      Until then, here’s a quick answer:

      The rules (of physics and perhaps other areas) in the fae world seem to be different from ours.

      They also seem to change at times. I’m not sure if there are different rules in different parts of the faerie world, or if they change from time to time.

      So, it’s possible that the faerie world can have two moons. My experiences have involved just one, full moon, but I’m rarely there after dark. It’s possible that the nights I’ve been there, one moon was full and the other was between phases, and dark.

      Thanks for asking such an interesting question!


  3. Thank you for the answer.
    I know you didn’t ask why I needed to know but I’d like to tell you anyways, its a long story though.
    Namely it was a dream I had, where there was a world with two sides. both were almost identical, except they were opposites of each other. In this dream I was called the dragon lord. I was a man who, as a kid, lost his mother to a house fire. Eventually I grew up and started exploring some mountains where I caused an avalanche near to a dragon’s nest, having blamed dragons for the house fire. however the avalanche was stopped by an elder dragon and I helped rescue all of the eggs, except the elder began to gave in and there were two left, of which I could only save one. I did anddo to this clan’s rules, which stated every dragon was to have a sibling to which it is attached for life. Its not a mating thing, its like a sibling thing. every dragon is mentally connect to one other so taht they can learn together. In any case I had to become attached to the last egg I saved or else it would never be born, as the egg that got smashed was supposed to be its partner.
    Ultimately I accepted and gaine longevity and control over fire. I also had to go back to my people, who saw my dragon companion and began calling me the dragon lord,( in a language which I have forgotten.)
    In this dream, right before a war with the other side I remember standing on a cliff and watching the night sky as two full moons, a rare occasion I remember, passed over head. the next day in the war my dragon companion was killed and I, in grief, let go of my control and wiped everyone out except the leader of the other side who took my life.
    I am just curious if this was the faerie world or some other world altogether.

  4. It’s come to my attention that there seems to be either more than one faery world, or one world with such loose laws of being that it’s interprated a different way by each person who encounters it. Maybe both. One world in one of my faerie dreams had two suns.

    1. Laura,

      I’m sure there are different faerie worlds. My favorite is the one where you climb into a rowboat and — when you row — the world moves past you while the boat actually stays still.

      I’ve heard of the faerie world with two suns. It’s supposed to be lovely!


  5. Hi,
    i am in love with learning about the fae and dragons etc. Can you add a article on the subject draconic magick pls
    From Harmony ;)

  6. I’m on the fence about dragons. I think they are awesome, but I’m not sure I believe they are/were real. Although that being said if any of the ‘mythical’ beasts could be real, it would be the dragon. Some have suggested that dragons were actually dinosaurs, either fossils or bones, or perhaps some living leftovers from prehistoric times(there are reports nowadays of dinosaur or dinosaur like creatures). Do you think dragons are flesh and blood creatures, or something ethereal? Do you believe they are benevolent or dangerous(like a tiger would be dangerous but not ‘evil’) or perhaps even malevolent?

  7. I believe that dragons are real I also believe in other worlds the faire worlds are truly something that make you think if dragons and fairies are real what other Spices of legend are real I believe elves live among us but they hide there true form with a simple spell because if people saw them the government would throw them in a lab along with another magical being. sorry I talk a lot piece out :)

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