History of lions in Europe
Lions inhabited parts of Europe during the Holocene and even historic times and formed a subspecies called Panthera leo europaea. They lived in ancient Rome, ancient Greece, southern Russia, coastal parts of Saudi Arabia, and western Asia including: Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It is also suggested by historical and fossil evidence, that they lived in Portugal, Spain, southern parts of France, Italy, and the Balkans beyond Greece. Their diet included aurochs, red deer, tarpan, wild boar, and other herbivores. 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.
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. In contrast Asiatic lion males show abdominal manes when living in a relatively cool climate. This can be seen in Asiatic lions at European zoos or ancient depictions of lions from Persia.
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.
Lions in ancient Greece
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 BCE. When Xerxes advanced through Macedon in 480 BCE, 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 1st century CE Dio Chrysostom wrote that they were already extinct in Europe.
Lions in the Caucasus
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 current 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.
- American lion
- Asiatic lion
- Barbary lion
- Cave lion
- Early Middle Pleistocene European cave lion
- Lions in heraldry
- Panthera toscana
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