vs. The Giant Serpent of
The lore of serpent dragons is surely derived from sightings of giant snakes in ancient and prehistoric times. It was only a few thousands years ago that many super-sized species of animals shared the world with a burgeoning humanity. In a world where mega fauna such as mammoths, super bison, giant elk, and wooly rhinos lived, it is reasonable to assume that some old granddaddy snakes kept pace with the large landscape of prehistory. A story of an enormous snake in North Africa comes to us from the history of the Romans, who had to overcome a dragon before crossing the River Bagrada near the present day nation of
The decline of the age of mega fauna overlapped with the beginnings of recorded history. The struggle of the
with its nemesis in North Africa, the Carthagians, has been greatly detailed as they battled for dominance of the ancient
. Within this history is the chapter about the slaying of the giant Carthaginian serpent.
During the First Punic War (264 B.C.E. to 241 B.C.E.) the Roman General Marcus Atilius Regulus had to overcome more than the tough soldiers of
. When about to take his army across the River Bagrada, Regulus was confronted by a huge snake that emerged partially from the reedy banks of the river. Its huge head, glowing eyes, and hostile hissing were enough to give the army pause, especially because the full extent of its size was hidden by the reeds and water.
Prudently, Regulus decided to ford the river at another location, but the serpent followed the army and attacked when the soldiers entered the river. As the soldiers fought the serpent, it grabbed men in its coils and pulled them underwater to their deaths. After dozens of men died in this way, Regulus pulled back. He decided to assault the fortress-like strength of the serpent with siege ballistae that are catapults that throw heavy rocks. After pounding away on the river dragon, the Romans succeeded in bombarding the snake to death with rocks.
They hauled the serpent from the river and it is said to have measured 120 feet in length. The skin of the Carthaginian serpent was taken back to
as a prestigious trophy. History records that it was displayed in one of
's temples before it disappeared in 133 B.C.E.
Whether history and the boasting of generals have exaggerated this figure, it is hard to know. But surely a snake must have been a dragon to do battle with the Roman army.
"Dragons: A Natural History." 1995. Dr. Karl Shuker.
. Pages 26-29.
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