The Asian lion

This article is also available in: Italiano

The Asian lion, formerly also present on the Mediterranean coasts, was the animal that most of all embodied the ideal of royalty and power, so much so that it was even more represented than the African one.

The Asian lion

The Asian lion is extremely similar in appearance and size to the African one, with the only differences relating to the mane (tendentially less thick) and to one’s social habits. If the African lion is used to hunting in vast plains, the Asian lion, on the other hand, prefers smaller environments that require much smaller herds, allowing greater autonomy for the single individual.


The male can almost reach 3 meters in length, while the weight is from 160 to 190 kg with records that, however, exceed 200 kg. Its favorite preys are deer, cattle, antelopes, gazelles and wild boars, but it does not disdain livestock either, which has led it, over the centuries, to almost become extinct.

From lion of the world to Indian lion

This incredible beast, in fact, originally extended its range from India to Greece and Italy and was then gradually expelled from its habitat, so much so that today there are wild specimens only in the Gir Forest National Park, in the Indian region of Gujarat. . Here, in fact, the nawab of Junagadh established a protected area of 1412 km², so that no one would ever disturb the peace of the big cat again.


The creation of this sort of “natural sanctuary” was a real blessing for the species which, due to repeated human behavior, would soon become extinct. Between 80 and 100 A.D. it disappeared from Greece and Armenia, around the 10th century from the Caucasus and Ukraine and finally from Iran and Turkey starting from the 19th century; the latest find in Iran is attested in 1944 on the banks of the Karun River in Khuzestan.

The “real” lion

Precisely because of its very vast range, the Asiatic lion was the most represented in absolute in the various cultures, so much so that our idea of a lion is probably more modulated on the latter than on the African one. Most of the lions of the Greek, Persian, Roman, Indian and even Chinese imaginary are actually inspired by the latter which can be said, without any shadow of doubt, the “most incisive” lion in history. Just think that the Indian surname “Singh“, one of the most popular in the world, really means “lion” and that, from the same origin, comes the name “Singapore” which in Malaysian means precisely “the city of the lion”.

The flag of the Safavids

Furthermore, the typical lions of Chinese and Tibetan folklore are inspired by the latter, observed for the first time by Buddhist monks who went to India (historically there are no lions in China) and then forcefully entered the imagination of the Far East. Looking at the Mediterranean, this fair is present both in the biblical episode of Samson, both in the Labors of Hercules with the Nemean lion, and in the Quran, with numerous passages that certify the purity and glory of the beast. Finally, even in the Persian world, the lion takes on an incredible symbolism and this both before and after the arrival of Islam; it is no coincidence that both the Achaemenids and the Safavids used it as a royal symbol. In addition, the Sherabad River means “Home of the lions” and according to some sources the name “Shiraz” is also connected to this beast due to the meaning of “Sher” in the Pahlavi language.

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