European Lion Facts and Figures

Fossilized skeleton of a European Lion
Skeleton of a European Lion found in Spain.

Juan Carlos Munoz / Getty Images

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. 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.

Cultural References

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. 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.

Facts

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