Dragons are a common concept in world mythology and folklore, and appear all across the world from China to Europe, and from Africa to the Americas, with each culture giving their own specific twist to this mythological creature.
Dragons often represent forces that are beyond human control. They can symbolize chaos, wisdom, danger, power, or fertility, depending on the culture. They often serve as a symbol of challenges or obstacles that must be overcome, making them a prevalent feature in hero’s journey narratives.
In other myths, dragons represent the forces of creation, and are the beings that either create the world, or are the building blocks of the world itself.
Finally, dragons are often used to symbolize evil or wickedness. In this sense, dragons become the main antagonist in a good versus evil story, and their ugly shape and savage behavior represent the worst in mankind.
9 Famous Dragon Stories, Myths and Legends from History
Saint George and the Dragon
Once upon a time, in the land of Libya, there was a town named Silene. The town was in great peril as a dragon had made its nest at the town’s spring, the only source of water for the people. To draw water, the townsfolk had to offer a daily sacrifice to appease the dragon, initially offering sheep, but when the sheep ran out, they had to sacrifice their own children.
The victims were chosen by lottery, and one day, the lot fell on the king’s beloved daughter, Princess Sabra. Filled with despair, the king begged for her life, offering all his gold and silver, and half his kingdom. But the people were unmoved. So, with a heavy heart, the king prepared his daughter for the sacrifice.
Meanwhile, a brave Roman soldier named George was passing through the town. Seeing the princess in tears, he stopped and asked her what was wrong. Sabra told him about the dragon and the sacrifices. George was moved by her plight and decided to help.
Bravely, he rode to the spring where the dragon lived. As the monster emerged, George made the sign of the cross and charged it on horseback, seriously wounding it with his lance.
George then called out to the princess to throw him her girdle. He placed it around the dragon’s neck, and to everyone’s astonishment, the beast became docile and followed the princess back to the town like a meek pet.
Seeing the dragon led back to their town, the people were terrified. But Saint George called out to them, saying, “Fear not. Believe in God, be baptized, and I shall slay the dragon!” The king and the townspeople converted to Christianity, and Saint George, true to his word, slew the dragon.
The king offered him a bag of gold as a reward, but George distributed it among the poor. And so, Saint George went on his way, leaving the town of Silene safe and peaceful once again. From that day forth, he became known as the great Dragon Slayer, and his story has been told throughout the ages, a symbol of bravery, faith, and the triumph of good over evil.
Sigurd and the Dragon of Greed Fafnir
Once upon a time, in the icy realms of the Norse Vikings, lived three dwarven brothers – Fafnir, Otr, and Regin, the sons of the dwarf king, Hreidmar.
Otr was capable of shape-shifting, and so spent most of his days transformed as an otter, eating fish. Not knowing this, Loki accidentally killed Otr to acquire his pelt.
To make amends for this mistake, Loki covered Otter’s skin with gold and gave it to King Hreidmar.
Among the gold was the accursed ring Andvaranaut, which Loki had stolen from the dwarf Andvari. The ring was cursed to bring misfortune and ruin to whoever possessed it.
Awakened by the lust for wealth, Fafnir, driven by greed and envy, killed his own father to claim the gold and the cursed ring for himself. He took the treasure to a remote location, where he transformed into a fearsome dragon, ruled by avarice and malevolence, to guard his ill-gotten wealth.
Regin, seeking revenge and desiring the treasure, plotted Fafnir’s demise. He took under his wing a young man named Sigurd.
Regin, a blacksmith by trade, forged for Sigurd a magnificent sword, Gram, which was so sharp that it could cleave an anvil in two.
Regin sent Sigurd to slay Fafnir, advising him to dig a pit in the dragon’s path and, from there, stab the dragon in the heart as he passed over. Sigurd followed Regin’s instructions and successfully killed Fafnir.
Before his death, Fafnir warned Sigurd of the curse that lies on the hoard of gold and that it would be his bane, just as it was for those who owned it before him.
Regin then asked Sigurd to cook Fafnir’s heart for him to eat. But when Sigurd touched the roasting heart to test if it was done, he burned his finger.
Instinctively, Sigurd put his finger in his mouth, and as he tasted the dragon’s blood, he was granted the power to understand the language of the birds. Overhearing the conversation of two nearby birds, he learned of Regin’s plot to betray him and take the treasure for himself.
Armed with this knowledge, Sigurd killed Regin, thus avenging Hreidmar death and avoiding his betrayal.
Sigurd took Fafnir’s treasure, including the cursed ring, and continued his heroic adventures. But the curse of the ring would soon torment Sigurd as well.
And so the tale of Fafnir, the dwarf turned dragon, serves as a reminder of the destructive power of greed and envy.
Ladon and Hercules
Once upon a time, in the realm of ancient Greece, the mighty hero Hercules was tasked with twelve labors as a part of his punishment, set forth by King Eurystheus. One of these was to fetch the golden apples from the Garden of the Hesperides.
The garden was a gift from Gaia, the Earth, to Hera on the day of Hera’s marriage to Zeus. The garden bore golden apples, and Hera appointed the Hesperide evening nymphs to guard the garden and golden apples.
But Hera didn’t completely trust the nymphs, so she also placed a fearsome dragon named Ladon in the garden to ensure the apples were well-guarded. Ladon was an enormous creature with a hundred heads, each speaking a different language.
Hercules, undeterred by the challenges that lay ahead, set off on his quest. However, he did not know the location of the garden. After many adventures, he came across the wise, old Titan, Prometheus, who was punished by Zeus for stealing fire and giving it to humans.
Hercules freed Prometheus from his torment, and in gratitude, Prometheus told him the location of the Garden of the Hesperides and advised him to send Atlas, the Titan who held up the sky, to fetch the apples.
Atlas was the father of the Hesperides and thus could safely approach the dragon Ladon. Following this advice, Hercules journeyed to the far western edge of the world, where he found Atlas standing with the weight of the sky on his shoulders.
Hercules offered to hold up the sky in Atlas’s place if he would fetch the golden apples. Atlas, relieved at the prospect of a break, agreed and successfully brought back three golden apples from the garden. But when he returned, Atlas saw an opportunity to escape his eternal punishment and told Hercules he would deliver the apples himself.
Hercules, however, was no fool. He casually agreed but asked Atlas if he could just hold up the sky briefly so that Hercules could adjust his cloak to make it more comfortable for carrying the weight.
Atlas, not suspecting the ruse, agreed and took back the sky. Hercules picked up the apples and made his way back, leaving Atlas holding up the sky once again.
And so, Hercules successfully completed his task without having to confront the fearsome dragon Ladon directly, demonstrating that strength coupled with intelligence is a hero’s greatest asset.
Marduk defeats Tiamat and her dragons
In the ancient land of Mesopotamia, when the world was still young and gods walked among mortals, there existed a primordial goddess named Tiamat. Tiamat was the goddess of the salt sea, while her husband, Apsu, was the god of the fresh water.
Together they bore many gods, creating a celestial family. However, as generations passed, their offspring became unruly and noisy, disrupting Tiamat and Apsu’s peaceful existence.
Apsu, driven to frustration, proposed to kill their offspring, but Tiamat disagreed, refusing to destroy what they had created. However, their plan was discovered by their great-grandson, Ea, who, to prevent Apsu’s disastrous intent, put him into an eternal sleep and took his place as ruler of the gods.
Tiamat, grieving the loss of her husband and incensed at the younger gods’ arrogance, decided to wage a war against her own offspring. She created an army of monstrous creatures, led by her new consort Kingu, and the most formidable of these was a fierce and mighty dragon.
The gods, seeing Tiamat’s wrathful army, were filled with fear and called upon the young god Marduk for help.
Marduk, confident in his power, agreed to help on one condition: that he be made the supreme ruler of the gods. The gods, desperate for salvation, agreed to Marduk’s terms.
And so, Marduk prepared for battle, crafting a bow, fletching arrows, and wielding the winds as his weapon. He also crafted a net to ensnare Tiamat.
On the day of the battle, Marduk, riding his storm-chariot drawn by four fiery steeds, met Tiamat and her dragon on the battlefield. Marduk caught Tiamat in his net, and then he drove the evil wind into her mouth.
Tiamat, unable to close her mouth, was split by Marduk’s arrows, and from her body, he created the earth and the sky. Marduk also slew the dragon, scattering its body to the winds.
With the threat vanquished, Marduk arranged the stars, created the calendar, and invented the hierarchy of the gods. He also created humans from the blood of Kingu to serve the gods, thus establishing his reign as the supreme deity.
And so goes the tale of Marduk and the dragon of Tiamat, an ancient narrative of creation, bravery, and ascendancy.
Hercules and the Hydra
In the mystical times of ancient Greek mythology, Hercules, the son of Zeus, was punished for a crime he committed in a fit of madness, instigated by the jealous Hera.
His punishment was to serve King Eurystheus and complete twelve seemingly impossible tasks, known as the Twelve Labors. The second of these tasks was to slay the Lernaean Hydra.
The Hydra was a monstrous creature that lived in the swamp of Lerna. It was a serpent with multiple heads, of which one was immortal. What made the Hydra even more fearsome was that if any of its heads were cut off, two more would grow back in its place.
Armed with his club and a golden sickle given by Athena, Hercules set off to Lerna. He found the Hydra in its lair and lured it out by shooting flaming arrows. He attacked the Hydra with his club, but to his surprise, each time he smashed one of the Hydra’s heads, two more grew back.
The battle seemed endless, and to make matters worse, Hera, who despised Hercules, sent a giant crab to assist the Hydra by biting Hercules’ foot.
Just as Hercules started to feel the task was impossible, his nephew and charioteer, Iolaus, came up with an idea. As Hercules bashed off each of the Hydra’s heads with his club, Iolaus would cauterize the wound with a torch to prevent the heads from growing back. They worked together, slowly weakening the Hydra.
Eventually, only the immortal head remained. Hercules sliced it off with his golden sickle and buried it under a heavy rock, sealing its immortality away from the world. He then dipped his arrows in the Hydra’s poisonous blood, making them deadly enough to kill anything they pierced.
Having defeated the Hydra and its ally, the crab, Hercules successfully completed his second labor.
Despite the challenges and the interference of Hera, Hercules’ strength, courage, and the help from his nephew led him to victory. His adventure against the Hydra is one of the most famous stories of his Twelve Labors.
Zhu Long and the creation of night, day and the seasons
Once upon a time, long ago in the age of ancient Chinese gods, the world was engulfed in darkness. The Sun had not yet been created, and the people of Earth were living in an endless night, guided only by the faint glow of the stars.
However, in this endless night, there was one creature, Zhu Long, a divine dragon who had the body of a dragon but the face of a man.
Unlike ordinary beings, Zhu Long did not sleep, and his eyes sparkled with a bright light. He had a majestic red mane that glowed and a long, coiling body that radiated a soft light.
Concerned by the people’s struggle, Zhu Long took upon himself to bring light to the world. Each day, he would ascend to the heavens, his radiant body illuminating the world below, creating what was the first day.
Then, when he would descend to the earth to rest, his light would dim, and the world would be enveloped in what we know as night. Zhu Long thus became the cycle of day and night.
But Zhu Long gave humanity not just day and night, but also the seasons.
His breathing controlled the wind and clouds. When he breathed out, the winds would blow, clouds would form, and when he breathed in, they would disappear. Thus, Zhu Long’s slumber became winter, and his awakening was summer.
While the sun, moon, and stars were later created to light up the sky, Zhu Long’s story remains as a reminder of how day and night, the seasons, and time came to be in ancient Chinese folklore.
Ryujin, the guardian dragon of Japan
In the ancient times of Japanese mythology, in the heart of the sea, there was a magnificent palace made of red and white coral. This palace, known as Ryugu Palace, was the home of Ryujin, the god of the sea.
Ryujin was not an ordinary deity; he had the form of a dragon, symbolizing his power over the ocean.
Ryujin had the power to control the tides with the magical Tide Jewels, known as the Kanju and Manju.
The Kanju had the power to cause high tide, and the Manju could create low tide. With these gems, Ryujin could create or calm storms, guide or mislead sailors, and change the fortune of the seas as he wished.
One of the most famous tales about Ryujin involves a fisherman named Urashima Taro. One day, Taro saved a turtle from torment. As it turned out, the turtle was a servant of Ryujin. To show his gratitude, Ryujin invited Taro to his undersea palace. There, Taro was entertained by Ryujin’s beautiful daughter, Otohime, and enjoyed a feast that seemed to last only three days.
When Taro decided to return to his village, Otohime gifted him a mysterious box known as tamatebako, warning him never to open it. However, once he was back, Taro found his village changed. It was not three days but three hundred years that had passed in his absence.
In his despair, Taro forgot Otohime’s warning and opened the box. Instead of treasure, what came out was his old age. Taro aged rapidly and turned into an old man, as the box had contained his age.
This story of Ryujin and Urashima Taro is one of the most loved in Japanese folklore. It serves as a reminder of the mysterious and unpredictable nature of time and the ocean, and the price one might have to pay for their curiosity.
The dragon Quetzalcoatl and making of mankind
Long, long ago, in the mystical land of the ancient Aztecs, there lived a powerful deity named Quetzalcoatl.
Known as the Feathered Serpent, Quetzalcoatl was a combination of a bird and a serpent, symbolizing the unity of the earth and the sky.
But Quetzalcoatl was not a conventional dragon; he was a deity who represented knowledge, learning, and culture.
One day Quetzalcoatl descends to the underworld, Mictlan, after the original humans, created by the gods, perished. He journeyed to the land of the dead to recover the bones of these ancient humans. His intention was to use these bones to create a new race of humans who would inhabit the earth.
Guarding these bones was Mictlantecuhtli, the god of the underworld, who didn’t want to let the bones go easily. He tricked Quetzalcoatl, causing him to fall into a pit and die. However, Quetzalcoatl, being a god, was reborn. He managed to retrieve the bones and escape the underworld.
Upon reaching the land of the living, Quetzalcoatl carried the bones to Tamoanchan, the divine place where gods transformed precious objects into human beings.
He ground the bones into a powder and mixed it with his blood, imbuing the mixture with his divine essence. From this mixture, the new human race was born. Thus, Quetzalcoatl, in his dragon-like form, became the creator of humankind.
His story doesn’t end there. Quetzalcoatl is also revered as the deity who brought the gift of maize, or corn, to humans.
He defied the rules of the other gods and gave maize to humans to help them thrive, symbolizing his role as a protector and benefactor of humanity.
The dragon Vritra & the battle over the world’s water
In the ancient lands of India, during the time of the great Vedic civilization, a tale unfolded that would resonate through time. This was the story of Vritra, a formidable dragon, and Indra, the god of rain and thunderstorms.
The god Indra had killed a son of the creator god Tvashtri. Out of this anger, Tvashtri created Vritra to defeat Indra and obtain vengeance.
As a formidable asura, Vritra was a serpent-like dragon with immense power. He took away all the waters of the earth, hoarding them away, causing severe drought and suffering among people and gods alike.
Recognizing the plight of the world, Indra knew he had a responsibility to defeat Vritra and release the life-giving waters.
However, Vritra was protected by a spell – he could not be killed by any weapon made of wood or metal, nor any projectile, nor by anything that was dry or wet.
Tvashtri, despite his anger at Indra, gave him a hint. He crafted a thunderbolt, Vajra, from the bones of the sage Dadhichi, who willingly sacrificed his life for the cause. The Vajra, not being made of wood or metal, became the weapon capable of slaying Vritra.
Indra, armed with the Vajra, faced Vritra in a battle that raged across the cosmos. The encounter was fierce, and the world held its breath. With a mighty roar, Indra hurled the Vajra at Vritra, piercing his scales. The spell protecting Vritra was powerless against the Vajra, and Vritra was defeated.
With Vritra’s defeat, the waters he had hoarded rushed forth, cascading back into the world. Rivers flowed, crops flourished, and life bloomed once again.
The story of Vritra and Indra symbolizes the eternal battle between drought and rain, scarcity and abundance, chaos and order.
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