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George, Saint

dragon century figure soldier

The exceedingly popular soldier *saint, George, may have been martyred in Palestine or Nicomedia in the mid-third or early fourth century. Legends from at least the sixth century were elaborated throughout the Middle Ages, reaching detailed form in the * Golden Legend . This source describes him as a third-century warrior from Cappadocia whose special adventure involved subduing a dragon that had been terrorizing townspeople in Sylene (Libya). He rescued the king’s daughter (whose turn had come to be fed to the dragon), captured and tamed the dragon, and later killed it, as promised, after 15,000 townspeople converted to Christianity. Accounts of his later tortures and *martyrdom follow; he refused to worship the emperor Diocletian and was dragged by wild horses, roasted in a bronze bull, and eventually beheaded. The cult of Saint George grew significantly during the Crusades; he was credited for the successful seige of Antioch (1089), and he was named patron saint of England in the mid-thirteenth century.

A very popular figure in both Byzantine and western art, Saint George is typically portrayed riding on a white horse or as a standing figure, dressed as a soldier. He may be piercing a dragon with a lance or spear, or his horse may be trampling upon the dragon. Narrative cycles include the princess (leading the tamed dragon) and episodes of George’s tortures and martyrdom.

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