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The earliest recorded depictions of lions in history are of lionesses hunting © Bjorn Persson

The First Depictions


The earliest recorded depictions of lions can be found as lionesses hunting in human cave art, dating back to 32,000 years ago in the Chauvet cave in the Ardéche region of southern France. Some propose that the cave paitings of Lascaux, that are 15,000 years old, are better known. In Lascaux, two lions were depicted mating in the Chamber of Felines.

First found in ancient Egypt, the Sphinx, which had the head and shoulders of a human and the body of a lioness, represented the goddess who was the protector of the Pharaohs. Later, Pharaohs were looked upon as Sphinxes, being thought of as the offspring of the deity.

During the New Kingdom , the Nubian gods Maahes and Dedun were depicted as lions. Maahes was absorbed into the Egyptian pantheon, and had a temple at the city Leontopolis, 'City of Lions' in lower Egypt. The Egyptians held that a sacred lioness was responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile.


Lions were also represented in other middle-Eastern cultures. In ancient Mesopotamia it was regarded as a symbol of kingship. The Dying Lioness is a relief panel from 650 BCE Nineveh (modern day Iraq) showing a lioness pierced with arrows, while the Babylonian goddess Ishtar has been represented driving a chariot drawn by seven lionesses.