Book: Animal Iconography in the Archaeological Record
Chapter: Dragons, Griffins and Leucrottas: Supernatural Creatures in the Eastern Baltic
This article discusses a selection of animal depictions from the Eastern Baltic region. It is suggested that the modern Linnean taxonomy and biological characteristics may not always be the best methodology to identify animal species in art. By focusing on certain elements, it is demonstrated that certain figures depict mythical animals, an interpretation that has so far not been taken seriously. While the dragon or the oversized snake is clearly the ‘indigenous’ mythical animal in the north, the spread of Christianity introduced other mythical creatures, like leucrottas and griffins. Knowledge of these spread not only in Christian countries: in some cases these creatures were also included in the last pagan worldviews in northern Europe. It is suggested here that mythological animals, manifested in the form of staffs, allegorically denoted ideological and moral qualities, and were most likely used as symbols of certain ruling families across the Eastern Baltic.