In the Iliad Homer describes a reptile of huge size, of blood-red or dark color shot with changing hues, and sometimes with three heads.
This monster he called a drakon, which became dragon in English.
Agamemnon, leader of the Greeks in the Trojan War, according to this ancient story, bore a shield with a picture of this creature painted upon it. But belief in dragons was not confined to the Greeks.
They are pictured in the ancient art of China and Egypt, and even the Norse Viking’s, in their day, carved dragons’ heads on the prows of their ships.
Generally, but not always, dragons were thought to be huge four-legged monsters with large fan-shaped wings extending on either side; sometimes from their wide jaws they shot a blood-red and venomous forked tongue against an attacking foe, and sometimes their nostrils breathed out fire.
Or again they attacked an enemy with their sharp claws, or struck at him with long and scaly forked tail. Some had but one head; others two or even three. Many legends describe how heroes of old fought and killed such a fabulous monster to rid the neighborhood of his baneful presence.
In English history the most renowned is the legend of the holy knight, St. George, who became the traditional patron and protector of the English nation. He was supposed to have been a prince of Cappadocia, who, passing by, rescued the lady Aja from the jaws of a fierce dragon and slew the dread creature.
The Crusaders of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries were so impressed by this heroic deed that, likening the dragon to their Mussulman foes and themselves to St. George, they felt themselves safe from danger if their banners pictured St. George killing the dragon.
In later years, after firearms were invented, the early muskets were called dragons because of the fire and smoke they emitted.
In English spelling the term became dragoon and, like “lancer” for men armed with a lance, the name was also applied to those who carried the weapon.