The Ancient Sport of Kings
from the book, "Our Fascinating Earth"

Book: 
Our Fascinating Earth

The Ancient Sport of Kings

The domain of the lion once extended over much of the world. Wherever its population has been significant, its most formidable enemy has always been man. Egyptian, Assyrian, and Persian rulers considered it their royal duty to wage continuous war against the lions. They often sought fame and prestige as lion killers, claiming that they were protecting the peasants.

Assyrian relief sculptures frequently depict royal lion hunts. They typically show the lion displaying magnificent strength and courage, and in several sculptures it is shown attacking the king's chariot. In the meantime the king, with equal courage, is calmly firing arrows at his opponent.

The royal hunts of ancient Asia Minor later became ceremonial rather than actual hunts. The lion, after being drugged, was released from a cage into a hollow square formed by troops with shields. The purpose of the troops was to position the lion so the king could kill it with little risk or difficulty. The lion, already befogged, usually didn't even see the king wielding the executioner's spear. The celebrations of the evening were lavish; after all, the king, at great personal risk, had proven his eminence by "single—handedly" killing the greatest of beasts.