History of lions in Europe

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Lion sculpture, 4th century BC, Koropi, Greece

Lions inhabited southern Europe until historic times. European lions could possibly have been the last remnants of the cave lion (Panthera leo spelaea). However, this is considered unlikely because historic depictions of European lions show animals with prominent manes, whereas cave lions are always depicted maneless in prehistoric cave art. It is therefore assumed that modern maned lions spread during the Holocene from Africa to Eurasia. It is not clear if the modern lion replaced the cave lion or occupied Europe after the cave lions already had vanished.[1]

Description[edit]

Lion 4th century BC, Greece
Heracles and the Nemean Lion, ca. 540 BC, Boeotia, Greece

European lions are considered to be similar to the Asiatic lion (Panthera leo persica). However, there were also some differences; lions from southeastern Europe and Asia minor usually lacked abdominal and lateral manes.[2]

The European Lion was similar in size to the African Lion, standing about 4 feet (1.2 m) at the shoulder. Males ranged in weight between 180 kilograms (400 lb) and 200 kilograms (440 lb),[3] while females were smaller.

Distribution[edit]

Fossil record[edit]

In the earliest Holocene the lion was still present in northern Spain. Until around 5500 to 3000 B.C. the lion is confirmed via fossils from Hungary and from the Pontic Region of Ukraine.[4]

Lions in ancient Greece[edit]

Marble lion from Greece, mid 4th century BC

Lions feature heavily in Ancient Greek mythology and writings, including the myth of the Nemean Lion, which was believed to be a supernatural lion that occupied the sacred town of Nemea in the Peloponnese.

Lions are reported by Herodotus to have inhabited northern Greece in historic times.[5]

Aristotle and Herodotus wrote that lions were found in the Balkans in the middle of the first millennium BC. When Xerxes advanced through Macedon in 480 BC, he encountered several lions.[6][7] But while lions presumably still existed in the area between the rivers Aliakmon and Nestus in Macedonia in Herodotus' time, in the first century AD Dio Chrysostom wrote that they were already extinct in Europe.[8]

Lions in the Caucasus[edit]

Lions were present in Transcaucasia until the 10th century. The peak of its historic range covered all of the plains and foothills of eastern Transcaucasia westward almost to Tblisi. Northwards, its range extended through the eastern Caucasus, from the Apsheron Peninsula to the mouth of the Samur River in the actual Azerbaijan-Russia border, extending to Araks. From there, the boundary of its range narrowly turned east to Yerevan, with its northern boundary then extending westward to Turkey.[2]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Yamaguchi, Nobuyuki; Cooper, Alan; Werdelin, Lars; MacDonald, David W. (2004). "Evolution of the mane and group-living in the lion (Panthera leo): a review". Journal of Zoology 263 (4): 329. doi:10.1017/S0952836904005242. 
  2. ^ a b Heptner, V. G. and Sludskii, A. A. (1992): Mammals of the Soviet Union Vol. II, Part 2 Carnivora (Hyaenas and Cats). Leiden, New York. ISBN 90-04-08876-8 (pp. 274 ff.)
  3. ^ European Lion – About.com Prehistoric Mammals. Dinosaurs.about.com (2012-04-17). Retrieved on 2012-12-31.
  4. ^ Sommer, R. S. and Benecke, N. (2006). "Late Pleistocene and Holocene development of the felid fauna (Felidae) of Europe: A review". Journal of Zoology 269: 7. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7998.2005.00040.x. 
  5. ^ Sallares, R. (1991) The ecology of the ancient Greek world, Cornell University Press, p. 401 ISBN 0801426154.
  6. ^ 2001 Past and present distribution of the lion in North Africa and Southwest Asia. Asiatic Lion Information Centre.
  7. ^ Guggisberg, C.A.W. (1961). Simba: the life of the lion. Cape Town: Howard Timmins. 
  8. ^ Cohen, A. (2010) Art in the era of Alexander the Great: Paradigms of manhood and their cultural traditions, Cambridge University Press, pp. 68–69 ISBN 9780521769044.