European Lion

european lion
The European Lion (public domain).


European Lion; also known as Panthera leo europaea, Panthera leo tartarica and Panthera leo fossilis


Plains of Europe

Historical Epoch:

Late Pleistocene-Modern (one million-1,000 years ago)

Size and Weight:

Up to four feet high at the shoulder and 400 pounds



Distinguishing Characteristics:

Large size; lack of manes in females

About the European Lion

Panthera leo, the modern lion, included a bewildering array of subspecies in early historical times. At least three of these--Panthera leo europaea, Panthera leo tartarica and Panthera leo fossilis--are referred to collectively as the European Lion; these big cats inhabited a broad swath of western, central and eastern Europe, ranging from the Iberian peninsula to as far east as Greece and the Caucasus. (Not to confuse matters further, but the European Lion probably descended from the same common ancestor as the Asiatic Lion, Panthera leo persica, the still-extant remnants of which can still be found in modern India.) See a slideshow of 10 Recently Extinct Lions and Tigers

Tantalizingly, the European Lion is referenced numerous times in classical literature; the Persian king Xerxes reportedly encountered some specimens when he invaded Macedonia in the 5th century B.C.E, and this big cat was almost certainly used by the Romans in gladiatorial combat (or to dispose of unfortunate Christians in the first and second centuries A.D.). Like other Panthera leo subspecies, the European Lion was hunted to extinction by humans, either for sport or to protect villages and farmland, and disappeared off the face of the earth about 1,000 years ago. (By the way, the European Lion should not be confused with the Cave Lion, Panthera leo spelaea, which survived in Europe and Asia up to the cusp of the last Ice Age.)