History of lions in Europe
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.
The lion is reported by Herodotus to have inhabited northern Greece in historic times. 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.
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.
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), while females were smaller.
Because of their remote extinction, little is known about these subspecies of lion. 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.
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. 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. 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 already wrote that they were extinct in Europe.
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