How Dragons Conquered The World

By | August 23, 2019

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Smaug from The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. Source: (

Unlike creatures such as the Minotaur and the Hydra which are rarely seen outside of Greek mythology, dragons have endured across many cultures and range from fire-breathing, treasure-hoarding monsters to peaceful, childhood companions. They are a fixture of high fantasy as well as an important symbol in Chinese culture and continue to appear in film and television as well as in books and video games. But no one really knows where or when dragon folklore originated.

What historians do know is that dragon lore existed at least as early as ancient Greece, during which time they were depicted as flying serpents. One of the twelve labors of Heracles was to steal the golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides. These apples were guarded by a dragon named Ladon. The serpentine appearance of the Greek dragon was likely carried over from Asia, particularly the Chinese dragon which looked like a snake with four taloned legs.

While the dragons of ancient Greece ranged from protective to dangerous, Chinese dragons represented strength and good fortune and were considered to be wise creatures. Dragons became the symbol of many Chinese emperors, including Liu Bang who founded the Han dynasty and reigned from 202 to 195 B.C.

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Chinese Dragon. Source: (

Dragons of the ancient world were not limited to Europe and Asia. Across the ocean in South and Central America, feathered serpents were worshipped as deities. As early as 900 B.C., the Olmec people of Mexico depicted such a creature rising up behind a shaman conducting a ritual. The Aztecs and the Mayans also worshipped dragon-like creatures around the first century B.C. By the medieval period, the serpent deity had spread across Mesoamerica. The Incans worshiped a double-headed serpent called Amaru and the feathered serpent of the Aztecs, Quetzalcoatl, had the Great Pyramid of Cholula dedicated to it.