|The Castle Lion|
Sphinx of Egyptian pharaoh Hatshepsut - with unusual rounded ears and ruff that extend strong leonine features to the head of the statue, 1503-1482 BC
Lions also play a role in numerous later ancient cultures. In Ancient Egypt the pharaoh sometimes was represented as the sphinx, a lioness with a human head. The best known representation of this type is the Great Sphinx of Giza. From the earliest written human records, the lioness was recognized as the fierce hunter of the formidable species in Ancient Egyptian and African cultures and was dominant in the pantheons of these ancient cultures as representing warriors and protectors of the country. Egyptian mythology featured images of lionesses such as Bast and Sekhmet from their pantheon. Male rulers might be associated with the son of the goddess, such as Maahes. While the Egyptians ruled over Nubia they documented the worship of Dedun as a god of wealth and prosperity, who was said to be the son of the Nubian lioness deity, although they did not incorporate that deity into their own pantheon. The ancient Egyptians also created naturalistic portrayals of lions as symbols of protection and royal power in addition to the images of mythical sphinxes.
In the near east a long line of cultures used the motif of Lions as both a symbol of primal and royal power. The earliest examples come from Sumer in Mesopotamia. This usage continued throughout the later cultures of the Hittites, Babylonians, Assyrians, Persians and early Islamic cultures like the Umayyads and Abbassids.
In antiquity, lions were common along the southern coast of the Mediterranean, as well as in Greece and the Middle East. In Greek mythology a lion appears in a variety of functions. The Lion Gate of Mycenae features two rampant lionesses who flank a central column representing the major deity of this early Greek culture that dates to the second millennium BC. In later classical Greek mythology, the Nemean Lion was portrayed as a people-eating beast; killing it was one of the twelve tasks assigned to Heracles. In the story of Androcles, one of Aesop's fables, the hero, a runaway slave, pulls a thorn from a lion's paw; when he is later thrown to the lions as punishment for escaping, the lion recognizes him once again and refuses to kill the man. According to the Book of Genesis of the Hebrew Bible, the Israelite Tribe of Judah had the Lion of Judah as its symbol.
The characteristic of the lion as the "king of the jungle" goes back to the influence of The Physiologus, an early Christian book about animal symbolism which spread into many cultures and generally had great influence in Western culture. First written in Greek in the second century AD, the book was translated into Latin in about 400 AD, next into Ethiopic and Syriac, then into many European and Middle-Eastern languages. Many illuminated manuscript copies such as the Bern Physiologus survive. It retained its influence over ideas of the "meaning" of animals in Europe for over a thousand years. It was a predecessor of bestiaries (books of beasts). Medieval poetical literature is full of allusions that can be traced to the Physiologus tradition; the text also exerted great influence on the symbolism of medieval ecclesiastical art.
The winged lion of Mark the Evangelist is the national emblem and landmark of Venice
The royal symbolism of the lion was taken up repeatedly in later history, in order to claim power, for example by Henry the Lion. The ongoing fascination is apparent today by the diversity of coats of arms on which lions are shown in various colours and forms.
Many images from ancient times depict lionesses as the fierce warrior protecting their culture. Since in certain views lionesses seem to have a ruff, often the only clue to this difference between the genders is the lack of a massive mane. When no mane is apparent, the image often is described as a panther or leopard among cultures without familiarity with the nature of lion social organization and hunting strategies for prides. In literary and historical references, note of a figure or an image as depicting a lion may relate to either gender without being specific, and be easily misunderstood, thereby then being drawn with a mane since it is so distinctive.
Images of lions appears on many flags, coats of arms, and emblems. For example, it symbolises the Sinhalese people (Sinhalese Singha = Lion). Local folklore tells of Prince Vijaya, the first of the Sinhalese kings, as being the son of Sinhabahu, who was fathered by a lion. See history of Sri Lanka. Lions are recurring symbols in the coat of arms of royalty and chivalry, particularly in the UK, where the lion is also a national symbol of the British people, and in Ethiopia, where it is a symbol of the Monarchy.