When Lions Were King

Features September/October 2023

Across the ancient world, people adopted the big cats as sacred symbols of power and protection
(Alamy)
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The world’s wild lion population is in grave danger. There are only 600 Asiatic lions remaining, all of which live in a wildlife reserve in the Gir Forest in northwest India. And just 23,000 African lions roam the land between the southern edge of the Sahara and northern South Africa. The total number of wild lions worldwide has dropped by more than 40 percent in the last half century. But in the past, lions were among the most geographically widespread animals on Earth. Each ancient culture that encountered lions had its own way of embracing their power, and the big cats became symbols of spirituality, kingship, bloodlust, divinity, and even safety and peace.

  • When Lions Were King September/October 2023

    Rituals

    Spain

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    (Courtesy Marián Cueto)
  • When Lions Were King September/October 2023

    Kings

    Mesopotamia

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    (AdobeStock)
  • When Lions Were King September/October 2023

    Games

    Rome

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    (Manuel Cohen/Art Resource, NY)
  • When Lions Were King September/October 2023

    Guardians

    Greece

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  • When Lions Were King September/October 2023

    Gods

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    (Alamy)
  • When Lions Were King September/October 2023

    Symbols

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    (Wikipedia Commons)
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    (Arnold Mikkelsen, National Museum of Denmark)
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    INDIA

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