Human beings are natural storytellers, whatever the age in which they happen to live. Even in the time before television, movies, and comic books, we were still an inventive and creative people, and one need look no further than medieval myth and legend for example. Countless creatures from medieval lore Grace tapestries, paintings, arms and armor despite the fact that they existed nowhere in nature. And of these mythical creatures, perhaps none are better examples of courage and Majesty than the Gryphon.
Gryphons (also spelled Griffen and Griffon) were mythological creatures with origins in ancient antiquity, possibly as early as the fourth millennia BCE. The earliest depictions were simply winged lions, though other versions in ancient Sumeria were eagles with the heads of lions. What all Gryphons seem to have in common is a combination of the king of birds and the king of beasts – the eagle and the lion – into a single creature capable of flight and ferocious battle. Gryphons appeared in art from ancient Mesopotamia, the Akkadian empire, the Persian empire, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and even areas of Central Asia. While this is a remarkable continuity of mythology, it should be noted that many of these dynasties succeeded one another and carried over significant amounts of culture, and trade between all of these areas was common for many centuries.
Gryphons in there many appearances were generally considered to be of mere human intelligence if not Superior, and were especially majestic and noble. Gryphons were known as fierce defenders and were often depicted as watching over gateways and passages as guardians. This led to their incorporation in Medieval Europe as signs and sigils of noble families, knights, military units, even being included in fashion and art. While there are many variations, most commonly in the Medieval period they were depicted as lions with the heads and foreclaws of eagles, and wings folded in relief or unfurled in flight. Gryphons have made their way into modern popular culture, being found in role-playing games and fantasy movies of all kinds.
This shield depicts a black Gryphon rampant on a stable field, clearly a defensive or protective posture. The wings are not visible in this particular design, though the clawed eagle forelegs and beak contrasting with the hind quarters of the lion are clear. This shield would have been a simple classic design for any night taking to the field and seeking to make a name for themselves in battle – possibly as a defender of others like the Gryphon they bore.