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Title: Wyvern  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: European dragon, Lindworm, Dragon, List of dragons in mythology and folklore, Zilant
Collection: European Dragons, Heraldic Beasts, Medieval European Legendary Creatures, Mythological Hybrids
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


The Wyvern, or Green Dragon.

A wyvern ( ), sometimes spelled wivern, is a legendary winged creature with a dragon's head and wings; a reptilian body; two legs; and a tail. A sea-dwelling variant, dubbed the sea-wyvern, has a fish tail in place of a barbed dragon's tail.

The wyvern in its various forms is important to heraldry, frequently appearing as a mascot of schools and athletic teams (chiefly in the United States and United Kingdom). It is a popular creature in European and British literature, video games, and modern fantasy. The wyvern is often (but not always) associated with cold weather and ice, and it will sometimes possess a venomous bite and rarely have the ability to breathe fire.


  • Etymology 1
  • History 2
  • Wyverns and dragons 3
  • In heraldry 4
  • In fantasy 5
  • As a logo or mascot 6
  • Examples 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


The usual spelling wyvern is not attested before the 17th century as "winged two-footed dragon".[1] It is an alteration of Middle English (attested 13th century) reven, from Old French wivre (cf. French guivre and vouivre), itself from Latin vīpera, meaning 'viper', 'adder', 'asp'.[1][2]


A golden wyvern is believed to have been the symbol of the medieval kingdom of Wessex.

The design of the wyvern to have derived from the figure of the dragon encountered by Trajan's legions in Dacia. It may be the origin of the red dragon of Wales and the golden dragon of the Kingdom of Wessex carried at the Battle of Burford in AD 752.[3]

Wyverns and dragons

The wyvern has often been confused with the dragon, due to the similarities between them and due to the wyvern being a lesser-known mythical creature. In the middle ages, no clear distinction was made between the two. Since the sixteenth century, in English, Scottish, and Irish heraldry, the key distinction has been that a wyvern has two legs, whereas a dragon has four; however, this distinction is not generally observed in the heraldry of other European countries, where two-legged dragons are entirely acceptable.[4]

In the fantasy genre, the wyvern is usually considered to have two legs, whereas the dragon may have either four or none. The wyvern is regarded, moreover, as the distant, lesser cousin to the dragon, similar to a dog being the distant cousin to the wolf. Wyverns tend to be smaller, weaker, not as intelligent, and ultimately inferior to the much more ferocious and powerful dragon. While a dragon almost always has the ability to breathe fire (though other types of breath such as lightning have been seen as well), a wyvern will usually be unable to breathe fire. Those that can breathe fire are sometimes termed "fire drakes" and are still considered a lesser form. A wyvern will typically be unable to speak, while a dragon often does have that ability. [5] They are common in The Witcher books and games.

Various depictions in pop culture have featured creatures described as "dragons", even though they have features closer to the mythical wyvern. Notable examples are the 2002 film Reign of Fire,[6] the 1981 film Dragonslayer,[7] the role-playing video game Skyrim, the Harry Potter films, and the Hobbit films.[8]

In heraldry

A sable wyvern forming the heraldic arms of the Tilley family.

The wyvern is a frequent charge in English heraldry and vexillology, also occasionally appearing as a supporter or crest.

A white (Argent) wyvern formed the crest of the Borough of Leicester as recorded at the heraldic visitation of Leicestershire in 1619: "A wyvern sans legs argent strewed with wounds gules, wings expanded ermine." The term "sans legs" may not imply that the wyvern was "without legs", rather that its legs are not depicted, being hidden or folded under.[9][10][11] This was adopted by the Midland Railway in 1845, when it became the crest of its unofficial coat of arms.[12] The company asserted that the "wyvern was the standard of the Kingdom of Mercia", and that it was "a quartering in the town arms of Leicester".[13][14][15][16] However, in 1897 the Railway Magazine noted that there appeared "to be no foundation that the wyvern was associated with the Kingdom of Mercia".[14]

A sable wyvern on a white background with endorsed wings forms the coat of arms of the Tilley family.

The kings of Aragon of the House of Barcelona since Peter IV used a wyvern as a crest on their helmets. Nowadays this symbol has been officially adopted as the coat of arms of the Generalitat Valenciana (Valencian Parliament and Government).

The arms of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries depict a wyvern, symbolising disease, being overcome by Apollo, symbolising medicine.

In fantasy

The wyvern features frequently in modern fantasy fiction, though its first literary appearances may have been in medieval bestiaries.[17] It appears in many works of fantasy fiction, such as Dungeons & Dragons, Final Fantasy, Magic: The Gathering, World of Warcraft, and Monster Hunter.

Wyvern weather vane

As a logo or mascot

The wyvern is also a fairly popular commercial logo or mascot, especially in Wales and what was once the West Country Kingdom of Wessex, but also farther afield in Herefordshire and Worcestershire, as the rivers Wye and Severn run through Hereford and Worcester respectively. For example, a local school travel company is called Wyvern Schooltours Ltd and one of the local radio stations is called Wyvern FM.[18][19] Vauxhall Motors had a model in its range in the 1950s called the Wyvern. The Westland Wyvern was a British single-seat carrier-based multi-role strike aircraft built by Westland Aircraft that served in the 1950s, seeing active service in the 1956 Suez Crisis.

In Australia, the Wyvern forms the primary aspect of the logo and crest for Newington College, an elite high school in NSW. It is also the name of the College's primary school, Wyvern Prep. Westminster School in Adelaide South Australia has two Wyverns facing each other on its official emblem.

The wyvern is a frequent mascot of athletic teams, colleges and universities, particularly in the SK Wyverns, established in 2000.


A wyvern fighting with a wolf, relief, Trento Cathedral, Italy. A carved wyvern on the choir stalls of Chester Cathedral in Cheshire, England, c. 1380. Arms of Midland Railway at Derby station, bearing in crest a wyvern sans legs. Municipal arms of Stjørdal, Norway. Municipal arms of Terni, Italy. Arms of Sophie, Countess of Wessex.

See also


  1. ^ a b Hoad, T. F. (1993). English Etymology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 546.  
  2. ^ "Oxford English Dictionary" (Second ed.). November 2010. Retrieved 2011-02-18. 
  3. ^ "Flags in the Bayeux Tapestry". Encyclopædia Romana. 
  4. ^ Dennys, Rodney (1975). The Heraldic Imagination. New York: Clarkson N. Potter. pp. 186–8.  
  5. ^ "Difference Between Wyvern and Dragon". Retrieved 9 June 2015. 
  6. ^ Jackson, William C. (16 December 2013). "Wyverns & Dragons". Moviepilot. Retrieved 9 June 2015. 
  7. ^ Edwards, Graham (10 December 2013). "The Difficulty with Dragons". Cinefex blog. Retrieved 9 June 2015. 
  8. ^ James (13 November 2013). "Dragons vs. Wyverns: The Question of Smaug". A Tolkienist's Perspective. Retrieved 9 June 2015. 
  9. ^ Geoffrey Briggs, Civic & Corporate Heraldry, London 1971
  10. ^ C. W. Scot-Giles, Civic Heraldry of England and Wales, 2nd edition, London, 1953
  11. ^ A. C. Fox-Davies, The Book of Public Arms, London 1915
  12. ^ Cuthbert Hamilton Ellis, The Midland Railway, 1953
  13. ^ Frederick Smeeton Williams, The Midland Railway: Its rise and progress: A narrative of modern enterprise, 1876
  14. ^ a b The Railway Magazine, Vol. 102, 1897
  15. ^ Dow (1973)
  16. ^ Clement Edwin Stretton, History of The Midland Railway, 1901
  17. ^ A wyvern and an elephant may be found at Harley MS 3244 (dated 13th century, after c. 1236), f.39v.
  18. ^ "Welcome to Wyvern Schooltours". 
  19. ^ "Wyvern FM". Media UK. Retrieved 4 June 2009. 

External links

  • "Wyvern": Compact OED definition
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