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I'm halfway through the first half of A Storm of Swords, and so far appearances or references to every animal/symbol of every house sigil have been made, with exception to the lion of Lannister.

I mean, we've seen direwolves (Stark), stags (Baratheon), bears (Mormont), dragons (Targaryen), trouts (Tully) and eagles (although Arryn's sigil is a falcon, it is close enough and most likely exists). We know that there are sigils such as the Frey's Twins or the Martell's Sun and Spear (Sunspear) that are a reference to their "keep's" name or location. Furthermore, in page 108 of ASOS's first part, Jorah Mormont tells Daenerys that "(...)dragons(...) grew so huge that they could pluck giant krakens from the seas.", making reference to the Greyjoy's sigil animal, in a way that is not metaphorical. The Tyrell's sigil is a flower, which is explained by their natural lands, fertile and flowery. Similar to the case of House Arryn's sigil is House Florent's (we've seen wolves but not foxes, but they most likely exist in Westeros South, since the geographical location and climate would allow them to).

This means that, excluding the lion of Lannister, every house sigil (that I am aware of so far) as been referenced in conditions other than metaphors (like the lion defeating the wolf, referring to this or that battle between Lannister and Stark, etc.), and/or can have its meaning traced back to its House's geographical location.

As far as I have read, no lion other than a metaphorical one (used in confrontations with other houses, reflecting the characteristics (fierce, beautiful, etc.) of some Lannister House member, etc.) or the one present in the Lannister House sigil has been spotted or referenced in the books. Judging from the biomes in Westeros, I'd say that lions are bound to be indigenous to some location further South (or perhaps they come from Essos). This begs the question: Do lions exists in Westeros or in the world of ASOIAF? If so, why is it House Lannister's sigil? Shouldn't they have picked some animal natural to their geographical region or something like that?

If this question is simply something that is answered by reading the rest of the series just tell me so, and sorry for the long question.

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    I'll put this as a comment because I don't have the books to look up which one it is in, (it's after ASOS though). Cersei states that they had a pair of lions in a cage at Casterly Rock, of which she touched one while Jaime was too frightened to. So they do exist, and were likely imported to the Rock from overseas. – NominSim Nov 26 '12 at 18:03
  • Thanks for that! Still, isn't it odd that their sigil should be an imported animal, unlike every other house's sigil, which is an animal natural to their 'home'? – JNat Nov 26 '12 at 18:05
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    I don't know if there will be an in-world answer (I've read all the books and nothing springs to mind) but GRRM is a big fan of real world heraldry, and I'd guess at least part of the choice of the Lion for Lannister was taking the meaning from our heraldry - specifically the British Lion and the use of the Lion by British figures like Richard I (the Lion Heart). Similar too in that the British Cave Lion has been extinct for maybe 12,000 years. – David Hall Nov 26 '12 at 18:12
  • @DavidHall: I understand that GRRM would take inspiration from a creature and heraldry from our world, but if lions didn't exist in ASOIAF's world it would be pretty weird to have a sigil with an animal from OUR world. Nice comment regarding the British Cave Lion! +1 – JNat Nov 26 '12 at 18:17
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    Keep in mind that lions don't exist in Europe, either, yet they were the most common animal in European heraldry. And in our world, dragons and phoenixes and yales and any number of other fantastic beasts don't exist at all, but no herald ever let that minor fact bother him. – Martha Nov 27 '12 at 15:20

10 Answers 10

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In A Clash of Kings, Sandor Clegane tells Sansa the story of how his house came to be, and the story behind his sigil.

His father was a kennel master in service to a Lannister lord, as I recall Tyrion's grandfather, Lord Tywin's father. One day when they were out hunting, the lord came under attack from a lion, but the kennel master set his dogs on the lion and saved the lord. Three of the dogs died, and the grateful lord bestowed lands and title on his kennel master. Those three dogs were then put on the Clegane arms, in memory of their heroism.

So at least in that story, it would seem there are lions in the area of Casterly Rock.

EDIT: Found the reference:

The first knight of House Clegane was kennelmaster at Casterly Rock until he saved Lord Tytos Lannister from a lioness and lost a leg and three dogs in the effort. As a reward, Lord Tytos gave him lands and a towerhouse and took his son as his squire. The three dogs on the Clegane sigil represent those that died saving Lord Tytos.

Quoted from the wiki at westeros.org: House Clegane

EDIT 2: Exact quote from A Clash of Kings, page 262:

"I like dogs better than knights. My father's father was kennelmaster at the Rock. One autumn year, Lord Tytos came between a lioness and her prey. Lioness didn't give a shit that she was Lannister's own sigil. Bitch tore into my lord's horse and would have done for my lord too, but my grandfather came up with the hounds. Three of his dogs died running her off. My grandfather lost a leg, so Lannister paid him for it with lands and a towerhouse, and took his son to squire. The three dogs on our banner are the three that died, in the yellow of autumn grass. A hound will die for you, but never lie to you. And he'll look you straight in the face."

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    The story does not say, I believe. However, I believe there is mention of mountain lions somewhere, and of course snow cats at the wall. – TLP Nov 26 '12 at 20:57
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    Personally, I also always thought that lions sounded rather exotic for what is supposed to be England. Lions to me exist in Africa, and nowhere else. ASOS is the last truly great book, IMO, so savour it. ;) AFFC and ADWD becomes extra interesting if one has read the Dunk & Egg stories, so I can recommend doing that. – TLP Nov 26 '12 at 21:22
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    Well, much of Dunk & Egg is references to the ancient houses of Westeros and certain characters, such as Maester Aemon and his brother, king Aegon. There are many cross references between the books, but I would think that reading Dunk & Egg first would be better for spotting all the references. – TLP Nov 26 '12 at 22:02
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    Have a look at this awoiaf.westeros.org/index.php/Dunk_and_Egg – TLP Nov 26 '12 at 22:50
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    Thanks! They are not compiled into a single book. However, after the fourth novella that is coming out, they're to be compiled into a book. – JNat Nov 26 '12 at 22:57
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I think that whole Stark (York) and Lannister (Lancaster) feud is a reference to the War of Roses.
Both houses descended from house Plantagenet, whose sigil was three lions on a red field. Incidentally, Edward IV, who was the first King of England from York, may be the 'inspiration' to Lord Eddard Stark's name.

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To add on TLP's answer, I'd like to draw a parallel to real world heraldry.

For example, the Royal Arms of England bear three "passant guardant" lions. But they are not the only ones... To name only a few, Scotland, Finland, Czech Republic and even the Philippines bear lions in their national heraldry.

And one similitude between all of these countries is that they probably never saw a lion outside of imported specimens. Oh, for sure, there used to be some species of lions found in Europe (like in Greece and Italy, for instance), but it is theorized that they left Western Europe around 10 000 years ago. So, basically, Northern Europe never saw a real lion before importation yet it is found just about everywhere in heraldry, just like griffins, dragons and unicorns. And honestly, good luck finding one of those!

In the end, people have used many different beasts, real or mythical, to represent their houses or their countries. Their primary concern was probably the strength or power the beast projected, not whether or not said beast was found locally. To return to the Lannisters, if in the world of ASOIAF the lion also has the moniker "king of the animals", why would they select another animal as the symbol of their house, even if it's not found locally in Westeros? Shouldn't the Lannisters rule above everyone else?

  • There are unicorns in England. Or at least Scotland (Ref: JKR) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Nov 27 '12 at 17:54
  • Thanks for the answer! But regarding your comment on griffins, dragons and the like, I'll need to point out that those are mythological creatures in our world, unlike the lion in Westeros. – JNat Nov 27 '12 at 20:22
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    @JNat you are perfectly right, of course, but the core of my argument was that no one really needed to have seen the actual beast to put it on heraldry, just for it to represent something, like strength and power. Lions exist in our world too, just not in northern Europe. Yet it's probably the most used heraldic beast even though most people that use them as sigil never saw one. – Dungarth Nov 28 '12 at 13:09
  • Lions would be known from Biblical stories and in England it was not unknown to import exotic creatures as pets for the King. Also some of the "lions" inspiring heraldry and the like were actually leopards or other big cats. – TheMathemagician Jun 18 '13 at 8:57
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There used to be lions in South-east Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East (see Wikipedia for "Lion," "History of Lion in Europe," "Barbary Lion," and "Asiatic Lion"). There are still a few left in India. Lions loom large in the stories and symbols the ancient cultures of Greece, Israel, Persia and Carthage because they used to be there. Lions were hunted to extinction in those regions, first because they are not compatible with herding livestock, and second for entertainment -- for example, during the Roman period, to be put on display in the arena.

If Westeros is meant to be like medieval Europe, there is likely at least a memory of the lion in the balmier climes, maybe even a few stragglers left in Casterly Rock, as there are in India today.

  • This answer is reasonable for an out-of-universe reason, but being like something is not the same as being the same as something. The fact that there were lions in Europe long ago means nothing within the world of Game of Thrones. – phantom42 May 27 '14 at 15:03
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Do lions exists in Westeros or in the ASOIAF's world?

Yes, we hear of a lion in Westeros is Sandor Clegane telling her about the time his grandfather saved Lord Tytos Lannister from a lioness. Note that this lioness is also living in the Westerlands.

"I like dogs better than knights. My father's father was kennelmaster at the Rock. One autumn year, Lord Tytos came between a lioness and her prey. The lioness didn't give a shit that she was Lannister's own sigil. Bitch tore into my lord's horse and would have done for my lord too, but my grandfather came up with the hounds. Three of his dogs died running her off. My grandfather lost a leg, so Lannister paid him for it with lands and a towerhouse, and took his son to squire. The three dogs on our banner are the three that died, in the yellow of autumn grass. A hound will die for you, but never lie to you. And he'll look you straight in the face." He cupped her under the jaw, raising her chin, his fingers pinching her painfully. "And that's more than little birds can do, isn't it? I never got my song."
A Clash of Kings, Sansa II

There are various other references to lions in The World of Ice and Fire but to name one is of the Children of The Forest using cave lions against the First Men.

The hunters among the children—their wood dancers—became their warriors as well, but for all their secret arts of tree and leaf, they could only slow the First Men in their advance. The greenseers employed their arts, and tales say that they could call the beasts of marsh, forest, and air to fight on their behalf: direwolves and monstrous snowbears, cave lions and eagles, mammoths and serpents, and more. But the First Men proved too powerful, and the children are said to have been driven to a desperate act.
The World of Ice and Fire, Ancient History: The Coming of First Men

There is also mention of "Hrakkar" a breed of white lion that lives in the plains along the Dothraki sea.

"Yes, my sun-and-stars," Dany said. Drogo would take his bloodriders and ride in search of hrakkar, the great white lion of the plains. If they returned triumphant, her lord husband's joy would be fierce, and he might be willing to hear her out.
...
The brazier was cold again by the time Khal Drogo returned. Cohollo was leading a packhorse behind him, with the carcass of a great white lion slung across its back. Above, the stars were coming out. The khal laughed as he swung down off his stallion and showed her the scars on his leg where the hrakkar had raked him through his leggings. "I shall make you a cloak of its skin, moon of my life," he swore.
A Game of Thrones, Daenerys VI

If so, WHY is it the House Lannister's sigil?

There's no explicit mention as to why but a Lion is a symbol of great power and strength, something which House Lannister clearly tries to replicate. Also consider one of the possible stories for how the Lannisters came to be.

Other tellers prefer other versions of the tale. In one, Lann uses the cleft to fill the Rock with mice, rats, and other vermin, thereby driving out the Casterlys. In another, he smuggles a pride of lions inside, and Lord Casterly and his sons are all devoured, after which Lann claims his lordship's wife and daughters for himself. The bawdiest of the stories has Lann stealing in night after night to have his way with the Casterly maidens whilst they sleep. In nine months time, these maids all give birth to golden-haired children whilst still insisting they had never had carnal knowledge of a man.
The World of Ice and Fire, The Westerlands

It's also said that Casterly Rock looks like a Lion as darkness starts to creep in.

Casterly Rock, the ancient seat of House Lannister, is no ordinary castle. Although crowned with towers and turrets and watchtowers, with stone walls and oaken gates and iron portcullises guarding its every means of egress, this ancient fortress is in truth a colossal rock beside the Sunset Sea, a rock that some say looks like a lion in repose when the sun sets and the shadows fall.
The World of Ice and Fire, The Westerlands: Casterly Rock

Shouldn't they have picked some animal natural to their geographical region or something like that?

The lion is natural to the Westerlands and is even known to have lived in the Rock itself.

The Rock has been a habitation for men for thousands of years. Before the coming of the First Men it seems likely that the children of the forest and giants made their homes in the great sea-carved caverns at its base. Bears, lions, wolves, and bats have also been known to make their lairs within, along with countless lesser creatures.
The World of Ice and Fire, The Westerlands: Casterly Rock

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There were supposed to be the great lions from the Westerlands (where the Lannisters are from), but they died out along with other great creatures of Westeros like the Unicorns and Dragons before the current timeline of the books. Other special creatures are the direwolves and mammoths of the giants, which have both almost died out as well as there are only 100 mammoths left beyond the Wall. This information comes from A Dance with Dragons I'm pretty sure and is recollected by Jon. Also, the lion who attacked Lord Tytos was a mountain lion, not a great lion of the Westerlands.

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    You should try adding a page number or qoute. – Pobrecita Jul 23 '14 at 2:57
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The Lannisters chose the lion as their sigil because the lion is believed to be the king of all animals, and the Lannisters as we all know like to be the only family there is that has everything and is keen on being the most powerful family in the Seven Kingdoms, and any house who rises up against them is faded into history, so much so that one of one of such family is remembered through a song (The Rains of Castamere)

  • That's absolutely wrong. Lannisters chose Lions as their sigil because great lions of Westerlands once used to dwell in Casterly Rock, seat of House Lannister. Other Westerlander houses such as Reynes also took lions for their sigil because of that iconic beast of their lands – Aegon May 30 '16 at 14:26
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I do have an answer, it took me a little imagination but when I came across a couple of vintage Lowenbrau beer mugs at a church sale they immediately reminded me of the Lannister sigil. I'm guessing G.Martin chose the lion in "rampant" position as the Lannister sigil for the many common characteristics they have (forepaws and even a hind leg raised and ready to strike, blond hair; common in northern parts of Europe, unlike southern Italy and Africa). I first thought the Lannisters (like mugs) were German, but come to think of it the the Houses of the series are too well imagined and constructed to be assigned to a specific area or people.

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    Welcome to SFF.SE. Please avoid guesses in answers; speculation should be reserved for comments. You need to earn 50 reputation to comment everywhere. – Null Jun 4 '15 at 20:53
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Lion is a symbol of bravery and i think every king made it in their place.

This is a symbol of their bravery and people might respect it.

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Lions often eat their cubs. This portends the down fall of the Family as Lions are loners. They do not work well together like wolves.

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    Lions are the only cats that are NOT loners. They live in prides. – Oldcat Apr 28 '14 at 16:09
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    Lions don't eat their own cubs, though they might eat a competing male's cubs. – System Down Apr 28 '14 at 18:47

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