|MadSci Network: General Biology|
Hi Stuart Lions as we now know them (Felis leo) never lived in Britain, although their evolutionary ancestors may have done. Lions are now famously found in subtropical Africa, although their natural range included North Africa, Asia (e.g. Iran, India) and in Roman times, even parts of Europe such as Greece (places then known as Thrace and Mecedonia). That was how Roman gladiatorial games were able to have lions in the arena when the Romans had not been to kenya or Tanzania! However, although lions have never lived in Britain (you are right, it is too cold), the now extinct Cave Lion (Felis spelea) used to in prehistoric (e.g. Neanderthal) times and these were very similar to modern lions. The reason that lions feature in British (and other European) heraldry is simply that knights in the early days of heraldry ransacked the animal kingdom for symbols that looked suitably distinctive and heroic. Hence, there are lots of lions, leopards, eagles, stags and boars on shields, but not very many mice, sparrows or tuna. The earliest known use of a heraldic lion was on the seal of Philip I, Duke of Flanders in 1164, and it was soon used in various forms by plenty of European royals. I guess the most famous in England is Richard I AKA Richard the Lionheart (who as a Plantagenet was basically French and rarely came to England), but the European royal families are very much intertwined, so similar heraldry appears all over the continent. Anyway, I hope that's useful & interesting, if not much to do with biology! Dr David Hubble, UK
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