For centuries, people have told dragon legends, myths and folk stories as morality tales, entertaining yarns, or warnings from history.
And these legends pass from generation to generation, ensuring that they survive wars, economic disaster, political revolutions and huge cultural shifts.
The way that dragon legends are told changes with each passing era. If we go back a few thousand years we see dragons depicted in ancient Japanese art, we see dragons appear in The Bible and we hear of the Great Race of the dragon and the Chinese Zodiac.
Moving through history into the era of mass communication, people started to write books about dragons. Then dragon movies and TV. The ancient Japanese art turned into dragon anime. And from the 1980s onwards, developers, artists and storytellers combined to turn many dragon legends into dragon games.
Now, in the early part of the 21st century, we’re in the digital age and we have an unprecedented opportunity to record and preserve these dragon legends online forever. Some would call it our duty.
So here, we’re doing to do our best to curate and collate all of the dragon legends we can find. From all around the world. With some, like the story of St George and the Dragon, we’ve written more in-depth guides to the legend. You’ll find links throughout to read these guides.
Did we miss any? Have you got a legend you’d like to share with us? If so, head on over to Facebook and let us know!
Dragon Legends in Greek Mythology
Let’s start our dive into dragon legends way back in Greek mythology. The Greek mythologies are a set of stories originally told for hundred of years, originating in around 900 BC. They were told in an attempt to make sense of the world, centuries before scientists and modern religion shaped the world as we see it today.
So in the Greek mythologies, you will read tales concerning the origin of the world, about nature and ecology and mostly about heroes, Gods, adventures and mythological creatures. You’ve probably already heard of Odysseus and his antics, including crossing such creatures as the Cyclops. But what you may not know is that Greek mythology is absolutely full of dragons.
The Colchian Dragon
From the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece, the Colchian dragon is said never to sleep, nor rest, nor even lose concentration. The dragon, a terrifying sight with its three tongues, guarded the Golden Fleece that Jason was trying to retrieve.
Fortunately the offspring of Echinda and Typhon was put to sleep by the powerful witch, Medea (who later used dragons to pull her chariots), and Jason was able to complete his task.
In one of the earliest examples of a dragon crossing with the zodiac, the Giantomachian dragon is said to live on through the constellation known as Draco (the “Draco” part of Draco Malfoy’s name is just one of many references to dragons in Harry Potter).
During the Gigantomachy, an epic, divine battle between the giants and the Gods, a dragon was hurled at Athena, the goddess of wisdom and warfare. Reacting quickly, Athena caught the dragon and threw it high into the sky. Landing in space, the Giantomachian dragon lives on in a constellation that can be seen in the far northern sky.
Remember Medea? She was the witch who managed to finally enchant the Colchian dragon to sleep and relax his guard over the Golden Fleece. Well, Medea was the granddaughter of Helios, who was the Sun God.
Helios had a chariot that was pulled by winged dragons, and so devoted was he to his grandchild that he gifted that chariot to Medea.
The Ismenian Dragon
Ares, the Greek God of war, and the direct offspring of Zeus, was responsible for the Ismenian dragon. While often described as more of a serpent than a dragon as we would know it, the dragon lived in the Ismene spring in Thebes.
Cadmus, one of the very earliest Greek heroes, and the founder of Thebes, slayed the dragon. This angered Ares so much that he turned Cadmus into a serpent in revenge.
We know that dragons love gold. So far, we’ve already seen a dragon refusing sleep so that it can guard a golden fleece. And now we have Ladon. This serpent-like dragon lived in the Garden of Hesperides and snaked himself around a tree that was heavy with golden apples.
The dragon with a hundred heads fought an almighty battle with Heracles in which he was apparently slain. However, years later, the Argonauts passed through the garden where they came across the dragon, twitching and close to death.
A hydra dragon, living in a swamp near Lerna, the Lernaean is truly horrifying dragon legend. While seven heads are bad enough, chopping one of those heads causes two to grow back in its place!
The terrible dragon terrorized the people of nearby towns, with its fangs and venomous breath. Thought to be impossible to kill, it was eventually slain by Heracles and Iolaus, who had the idea of cauterizing each stump after lopping off a head to prevent another growing back in its place.
As the name suggests, its also sometimes known simply as ‘Python’, this is the infamous dragon snake of Greek mythology. It’s unknown whether Pytho was a male or female dragon as it’s been depicted as both in stories, sculptures and vases.
As the mortal enemy of Apollo, the Greek god of archery, the story was never going to end well for Pytho. There are various versions of the snake dragon’s death, but what is known is that once done, Apollo took the dragon’s home as his own.
Like the girl in Dragon Half, in the eponymous dragon anime series, the Scythian Dracaena was half woman, half dragon. A woman from the waist up, with a serpent style bottom half, she made the mistake of stealing some sheep from Heracles.
That’s right, the same Heracles that fought Ladon and slayed the Lernaean dragon. So this can’t end well for Scythian Dracaena, can it?
In fact, she is the one dragon who got the better of Heracles. The great warrior arrived to retrieve his sheep, only to be told by Scythian Dracaena that he would only get them back if he mated with her. And he did, with their offspring becoming the next Scythian king.
We’ve already seen Typhon in this section of dragon legends, as the father of the Colchian dragon. And that isn’t surprising, as Typhon is known in Greek mythology as the father of some of the most fearsome monsters.
As probably the deadliest and most feared dragon of all, Typhon has been described as an outlaw, with a hundred snake heads on his shoulders. The dragon’s anatomy is interesting, with huge wings, many heads, and a size so large that it was said that his head brushed the stars.
Ultimately, Typhon grew so powerful that he decided to challenge Zeus, the God of Gods, for control of the universe. The battle commenced and Zeus eventually prevailed, sending Typhon crashing back to earth.
It was said that the mighty dragon was buried beneath Mount Etna, creating the volcano that we know today.
Ancient Dragon Legends
Beyond the ancient Greeks, there are a wealth of legends from ancient times, from all over the world.
We start our journey in England.
Beowulf is an old English legend dating back to the year 700. Now considered one of the most important works of English literature, the author of the epic tale remains unknown.
The story begins in Scandinavia, where our hero comes to the rescue of Hrothgar, the King of the Danes. Hrothgar has a mead hall that has come under attack from a monster called Grendel. Beowulf is victorious, but then must defeat Grendel’s mother who also attacks the hall.
Five decades later, a now aging Beowulf is king of his people. Peace in his kingdom is disrupted when a slave steals a golden cup from a dragon who then rampages. Beowulf, abandoned by all but one of his men, eventually kills the dragon but is himself mortally wounded.
So important is this tale in England that it has been retold in many ways and in many formats. The most recent was the 2007 animated movie directed by Back to the Future’s Robert Zemeckis.
St George and the Dragon
Perhaps the most famous dragon legend of all, the story of St George and the Dragon is only 200 years or so younger than Beowulf.
In a story that’s been told almost as long as stories of dragons have been told, a village in Libya is under constant threat and attack from a malevolent dragon.
When the ritual sheep sacrifices no longer sate the dragon, a Hunger Games style lottery is performed to choose girls to gift to the dragon.
When the King’s daughter is chosen, he decides to take action. At the same time, St. George is riding through the village and is convinced to battle the dragon.
Does he prevail? Of course he does! And in doing so becomes one of the most famous dragon slayers in history.
You can read a more in-depth guide to St George and the Dragon here.
Dragons in The Bible
Did you know that dragons are mentioned in The Bible more than 20 times? And that’s just in the Old Testament.
That’s something you don’t learn in Church!
There are various theories as to whether the references are to giant snakes, whales, other reptiles or even dinosaurs. There are also various verses where it’s clear that the scripture is referring to Satan as a dragon.
However you interpret the text, or whichever translation you choose, there’s no doubt that it is a compelling thought to have dragons interwoven with Christianity.
Want to know more? You can read our in-depth guide to dragons in The Bible here.
The Legend of Tiamat
You may know Tiamat better from the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon, or from the game of the same name. The five headed beast is to be avoided at all costs (although the gang in the cartoon come across in the very first episode!)
In fact, Tiamat is one of the most important symbols of the religion of ancient Babylon. Her mythology in fact ties in with the theory of evolution.
See, Tiamat had the appearance of a dragon and was the goddess of the salt sea. She mated with Abzu, the god of fresh water, to produce offspring. These offspring emerged from the primordial sea as the first generation of gods.
The gods then gave rise to humanity and the Babylonian religion.
Tiamat herself was a very powerful dragon, first going into battle to take revenge on her husband’s murderers. Before she was killed, she bore more offspring, but this time it was a generation of dragons, with poison for blood.
The Bride of the Lindorm King
This dragon legend is actually more of a dragon fairytale. But that’s not to say that it isn’t captivating.
Centuries ago, the Queen of Sweden fell pregnant with twins. She had longed for children for many years, so she was delighted to have been blessed. Upon giving birth, however, the Queen was horrified to discover that her first born was a male. A male dragon. Shrieking she picked up the newborn and hurled him through the window into a dense forest.
Exhausted, she sank back and gave birth to her second twin, a human baby boy.
Years later, the human prince is searching for a bride when he is accosted by his brother, the lindorm dragon. The dragon tells him that he will never be able to find a bride until the lindorm himself has found true love.
Many women are tried, but all fail. At last, a maiden comes to the lindorm wearing many layers of dresses. They make a deal; the maiden will take off a dress for every layer of skin the lindorm sheds.
Eventually they have one layer each. The maiden removes her dress, and the lindorm sheds his last layer of skin. As he does, a fine mist envelopes him. When the mist disperses, the terrible dragon has been replaced by a handsome prince.
Certainly an odd story, but still most entertaining.
Cuelebre is a giant dragon of Asturian mythology and its origins go back hundreds of years.
A fair maiden was brushing her hair over a calm lake in the middle of spring. Her mother and grandmother warn her not to do so, as falling hair could disrupt the water and anger the nymph.
She ignored the advice and hair fell into the water. The nymph rose from the water and asked of the maiden whether she had been told not to ruffle the water. The maiden’s vain and haughty reply was met with a curse.
The maiden at once turned into the cuelebre where she will stay until she finds a knight who is unafraid of her. The wait goes on.
Tannin and the Prophet Daniel
Daniel was a young man, and powerful prophet in ancient Babylon. So trusted was he by the king that he was often invited to dinner to advise the king.
There was one area in which they disagreed and that was who the Babylonians chose to worship. They worshipped statues and idols, but worst of all in Daniel’s eyes was the fact that they worshipped a dragon.
The king would not believe that the dragon wasn’t immortal, so to prove him wrong, Daniel poisoned the poor dragon and watched it die.
Although he was proved correct, the king would not speak to Daniel again.
Yorimasa the Dragon-Slayer
The emperor of Japan couldn’t sleep. Each night a giant dark cloud would float in from the east before settling over the emperor’s palace.
When the cloud started emitting a loud and scary sound, it became clear to all that it was no cloud, but a huge black dragon.
As time passed, and the emperor still could not sleep, it became obvious that he would soon die if nobody took on the dragon.
Enter Yorimasa, the Japanese Saint George! This brave warrior slayed the dragon and the emperor slept soundly for the first time in a long time.
Modern Dragon Legends
Not all legends date back thousand of years. The dragon has been an iconic figure in stories in more modern times too.
Let’s take a look.
The Cooper and the two Dragons
Over to Switzerland now where we find the tale of the cooper and the two dragons.
If we’re honest, this is possibly the least, well, anything of all of the dragon legends on this list. You see, the cooper makes his way into the forest one day to find wood. He sleeps and falls into a deep ravine where he discovers two slumbering dragons.
And that’s pretty much it as the cooper spends the whole winter in the ravine. Eventually the dragons wake and fly away, with the cooper grabbing a ride on a dragon’s tail.
The Dragon Prince
In France, the greatest poetry tournament in all of the land was held at the Court of Elanor of Aquitaine. Troubadours gathered from all over the country to battle it out with their words.
One year, the winner was a handsome stranger who refused even to give his name. The talented and eligible bachelor caught the eye of a Lord’s daughter. A marriage was arranged, but only on the troubadour’s condition that she never try to see him unless he chose.
Marriage was happy for the pair until one day, the maiden peeked at her husband when he was alone in his room. She was shocked to see his true form, that of a scaly green dragon!
The Gypsy and the Dragon
A tribe of Russian gypsies, led by the wily Yuri, travelled the land. One day, while visiting a village, Yuri found the whole place abandoned apart from one old man.
The old man warned Yuri to flee as a ferocious dragon had killed or chased away everybody who lived in the village.
Yuri stayed to meet the dragon, but instead of using his strength, or trying to slay the dragon, he used his cunning, his charm and his intelligence to eventually cause the dragon to flee.
A Stay at the Waters Kingdom
Drac, an evil and vicious dragon, trapped humans to devour their flesh. He thought nothing of killing men, women or children.
At the edge of the water, above his kingdom, Drac would lay his trap and await his prey.
Once, Drac happened to trap a young, pregnant female. Realizing that once the lady had given birth, she would produce milk, Drac chose not to kill her but instead to use her milk to nourish his offspring.
For seven long years the woman was trapped in the Waters Kingdom, feeding young dragons. Eventually, with his children big and strong, Drac chose not to kill the woman, but to instead set her free to tell her tale.
Dragon Legends from Around the World
Finally we take a look around the world at those legends we may have missed or overlooked so far.
The Western Dragon
Though the legends may vary, and the descriptions may differ, you can generally categorize dragons into two main categories.
The western dragon contrasts with its eastern counterpart in almost every way. In dragon legends from the west, the scaly beasts are almost always evil, terrifying and ferocious. Yes, they’re noble and intelligent, and sometimes helpful and friendly, but more often than not, they’re to be avoided.
They also look different to, say, Chinese or Japanese dragons. From their faces, to their bodies and even their abilities, there are several notable differences.
You can read a more in-depth guide to western dragons here.
Though heavily influenced by the Chinese dragon, the Japanese dragon is a legend in its own right. Like many Asian dragon legends, the Japanese dragon tends to be linked to water, either bringing rainfall, or existing in lakes or rivers.
Famous Japanese dragons include Wani, a half-shark, half-crocodile creature, Watatsumi, the dragon god, and Yamata no Orochi, an eight-headed and eight-tailed beast!
These tend to be serpentine type dragons. One of the most famous is the Naga. If that name seems to ring a bell for you, it may be because you’re thinking of Nagini, a snake from Harry Potter. Although not a dragon in the series, The ‘Nag’ portion of Nagini comes from the Indian, Naga.
Vritra is the dragon that brings drought to India. It does this by blocking rivers so that the water can’t get to towns and villages that need it. In the dragon legend, Vritra is slain by Indra.
We already know about the Chinese Zodiac dragon, the noble creature and the Great Race. And we already know about the year of the dragon.
We also know that in China, dragons are not seen as scary or fearful creatures, but instead as peaceful and wise creatures. In fact, it is said that people of China see themselves as being descended from dragons, and that being born in a dragon year is to be envied.
And nowhere else is the dragon so enthusiastically entwined into art and culture than China.
The most famous English dragon is likely to be the wyvern. This dragon is normally depicted in the classic style, with two arm, legs and wings. There are tales throughout olde English of dragon slayers, but mostly in the south, in the area known as the New Forest.
Possibly the most well known dragon from England is, ironically, unnamed, as it is the dragon that appears in Beowulf.
Coca, the Portuguese Dragon
Although they don’t have a rich history of dragon legends, the people of Portugal do have one notable dragon.
Coca is the dragon in the Portuguese version of Saint George and the Dragon. She is a mighty beast, but loses her strength when the knight cuts off one of her ears.
Though not as compelling as the English version, it’s always interesting to see how stories are retold in different cultures by different people.
Learning about dragon legends from around the world is a little like taking a course in how to say dragon in other languages.
Take Slavic, a language that covers a large part of Eastern Europe. We have zmey, zmiy, zmaj and even smok. Certainly a mouthful!
These dragons are all very similar to the classic Western dragon, but are all multi-headed.
A special mention must go to Wales, who actually have a dragon on their flag! It is a mighty red dragon, who in legend defeated the white dragon, foretelling the gallant victory of the Welsh people over the English.
North American Dragons
We end our look at dragon legends in North America. Unfortunately, there aren’t many dragons in American history (we think Dragon University is helping make up for that!)
For North American dragons we have to look at the Mayans, who give us Kukulkan, a feathered serpent who was worshipped as a deity. There is currently at least one statue of Kukulkan in Mexico.
Also Mayan, and also a feathered serpent was Qʼuqʼumatz, which as much as anything else would get you one heck of a Scrabble score!
Dragon Legends – Our Final Thoughts
This has been quite the round up, and we aim to keep it going. Over time we’ll add to this list as we discover more legends about dragons.
We’ll add, we’ll refine, and we’ll do what needs to be done to ensure that this is the ultimate go to guide anywhere in the world.
As we said at the beginning, if you’ve got something you think we should add to this list, please head over to Facebook and get in touch.
Otherwise, we hope you enjoyed reading. Stick around, there’s so much more to see on Dragon University!
William SmithWilliam is a 64-year-old retired teacher from California who has loved dragons ever since he was a child. He loves reading fantasy novels that feature dragons, and he has even created his own stories and artwork inspired by these mythical creatures. William enjoys attending fantasy conventions and participating in cosplay events, often dressing up as his favorite dragon characters from movies and books.
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