Since time began, cultures around the world have told stories about dragons.
These myths often feature a scaly, winged, fire-breathing reptile who attacks villages and castles.
In Mesopotamia, oral histories recount tales of storm gods battling giant dragons with enormous wings and florescent skin. Some European dragons can fly.
Others scorch the earth with their hot breath. In Chinese lore, dragons are wise, benevolent deities with magical powers.
The word dragon comes from the ancient Greek word, drákōn for “sea serpent” or “large serpent”.
Old English and Germanic legends used “draca” and “wyrm” to refer to serpent-creatures. In Western culture, dragons lived in dark, dangerous seas or caves. They often guarded treasure. Dragon’s blood became a potent spell.
In the East, dragons could change size or shape. In Europe, dragons also shapeshifted into human form.
From St. George and the Dragon to the Midgard Serpent, Leviathan, and the Dragon Kings of China, discover these top 10 fabulous myths about dragons.
Myth #1: Mushussu in Mesopotamia
Dragons exist in ancient lore from Mesopotamia, the “cradle of civilization” nestled in a fertile valley between the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers in modern Turkey, Kuwait, and Syria.
According to legend, a creature called Mushussu waited upon the Mesopotamian gods. In fact, this huge dragon lurked among Babylonian palaces until Daniel, the Biblical prophet, kill it.
When Babylonian priests ushered Daniel to view King Nebuchadnezzar’s god at the temple of Bel, a great dragon called Mushussu who lived there appeared to them.
According to the story, the priests challenged Daniel’s invisible god (Yahweh) to defeat their visible god. In the end, the Mushussu died after Daniel poisoned it.
Myth #2: The Egyptian Akekh
Also called Akhekhu, the Akhekh is the name of a mythical monster in ancient Egypt. Akhekh had a twisting, serpentine body and walked on four legs.
This fantastic creature lived in hidden, remote places at the edge of the desert and in the reeds along the fertile, flowing Nile River Valley.
Stories about the Akhekh likely inspired tales about the griffins millennia later in Western Europe.
Over time, folkloric traditions evolved from the serpent head with ancient Egyptian headdress into a sleek antelope’s body with the head of a bird.
Myth #3: Vritra the Enemy
Dragon tales aren’t limited to the Near and Middle East Regions. Dragons play a role in India’s early Vedic religion.
In the ancient Sanskrit writings, Vritra is an enormous dragon that personifies the horrors of drought. An evil entity and first-born of dragons, Vritra is also an enemy of Indra, the protective god of rain, lightning, and rivers.
In the Vedas, Vritra battles Indra for control of the lands surrounding India’s vital rivers. Vowing to bring drought and suffering to the people, the dragon dammed up the rivers and held them hostage so that no one could benefit from the water.
In the end, the god Indra defeated and killed Vritra the dragon.
Myth #4: Greek Serpent Dragons Hydra, Typhon, and Python
Many famous tales about dragons come down to us from Greek mythology. The most popular stories involve Hydra, Typhon, and the python.
Hydra, a water serpent with many heads, lived submerged in the waters of Lake Lerna at the gates to the underworld. Every time someone cut off the Hydra’s head, two grew back instead.
Even worse, one Hydra head had the powers of immortality.
Finally, the Greek hero Hercules slaughtered the Hydra during the 12 labors of Hercules by slashing off all its heads and sealing the wound. Then he buried the immortal head in the earth so that the Hydra could not rise again.
Meanwhile, Zeus’ mother created the Typhon to terrorize the gods on Mount Olympus in revenge for overthrowing their father, Cronus. He continued his unstoppable terror until Zeus and his siblings defeated the monster.
Finally, Python was an earth dragon born from slime near Delphi. Some sources call the evil female entity the daughter of the earth goddess, Gaia.
With gigantic coils that curled around the Delphi oracle’s temple, she protected her mother the earth from harm.
As one of Hera’s pets, Python wreaked havoc without punishment until Apollo shot the dragon with a bow and arrow.
Myth #5: Merlin and the Dragons
Almost everyone has heard about King Arthur and Merlin the Magician from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 12th-century classic, “History of the Kings of Britain.” Later French and English writers added to the legend.
According to myth, a warlord called Vortigern attempted to build a tower atop Mount Snowdown to guard against the Angles and Saxons in the 12th century. Every time he built it up, the earth swallowed the fortress.
Then Merlin, a child prophet, told the warlord that his tower kept collapsing due to an underground pool that lurked beneath the castle.
Two sleeping dragons, and red one and a white one, lived in the cave. When Vortigern drained the pool, both dragons appeared. Brought into the light, the red and white dragons began an epic battle.
Watching the fight, Merlin predicted that the white dragon would beat the red dragon. His prophecy symbolized that England would conquer Wales.
Later, he told the warlord, the red dragon would return to defeat the white dragon.
Just as Merlin prophesied, the white dragon won the battle.
Myth #6: Saint George; The Dragon
The story about St. George and the Dragon is probably the most popular European dragon story.
In the city of Silene, Libya, a gargantuan dragon terrorized the villagers. He devoured sheep, killed a boy shepherd, and eventually demanded two sheep each day.
Even though the people gave the dragon everything they had, they finally started to offer their own children up to the creature.
Every day, they sacrificed a child to the dragon by a drawing a random lottery. When they chose the king’s daughter, he begged for a substitute. Instead, the villagers chained the girl to a rock next to the lake to wait for the dragon.
Meanwhile, Saint George wandered by in the early morning hours.
He lay in wait for the dragon, drove his lance into the beast’s body, and tamed the dragon by making the sign of the cross. Using the princess’ girdle, he led the monster back to the city.
Saint George vowed to slay the dragon and end their terror forever if they converted to Christianity. When they obeyed, Saint George slew the dragon.
Myth #7: The First Gargoyle Dragon
The first Gargoyle, called La Gargouille, terrorized medieval France by flooding the Seine River to destroy crops and drown villagers. He sank ships until the people in Rouen sacrificed a human to the dragon every year.
This sacrifice to appease the monster’s hunger continued until Romanus, a Catholic priest, wandered into town.
During his stay, he learned about their terrible plight. Build a church, he told them. In return, he promised to slay the dragon. When the people finished the church, the priest sallied out to battle with the dragon.
After a vicious fight, Romanus cut off the dragon’s head and hung it on the walls of the city as a symbol. It became the first gargoyle, depicted on French architecture for centuries to come.
Myth #8: The Midgard Serpent
In Norse mythology, the giant Loki fathered the Midgard Serpent. Dwelling in the water, this evil dragon battled Thor.
Vikings carved the serpent’s ferocious head onto the longships called “drakkar” or dragon ships when they sailed out to fight.
With a massive tail, the serpent can encircle the world and bite its tail in its teeth. People say that when the Midgard Serpent releases his tail, the world will end.
At the end of time, the legend says that Thor will battle the Midgard Serpent to the death.
Myth #9: Fafnir the Scandinavian Dragon
Many tales about terrible dragons emerge from Viking and Scandinavian mythology. Fafnir, one of the most famous dragons in the sagas, was born as a dwarf.
Son of the Dwarf King Hreidmar, Fafnir murdered his father to get his hands on the golden treasure stolen from the æsir gods.
When he stole the treasure, a curse fell on him from Andvari’s ring. This changed him into a terrible dragon covered in scales like armor.
No arrow or sword could pierce him until Sigurd used his broken sword to penetrate a soft spot in the beast’s underbelly.
Myth #10: The Dragon Kings of China
Not all dragons represented evil deities.
In China and the Far East, dragons possessed wise magical powers. Living in crystal palaces under the sea, they guarded the entrance to the underworld through secret caverns.
Here, the five miraculous Dragon Kings controlled the storms, water, and forces of nature.
Water Dragons flew to the surface of the ocean to cause hurricanes. Together, the 5 kings ruled the North, South, East, and West corners of the seas.