Unicorn Origin & History


Have you always wondered what is the origin of the Unicorn, the mysterious legendary creature? Let's decrypt its history together!

1) Introduction: Birth of the Myth

The unicorn is a legendary creature usually depicted with the body of a horse, but with a horn, usually in the shape of a spiral, attached to its forehead. It is considered one of the most revered mythical creatures of all time.

Appearing in many cultures, the unicorn has become a symbol of purity and beauty, and is one of the few mythical creatures not associated with violence, danger and fear. As humanity progresses, establishing a world of peace and harmony, the characteristics of the unicorn resonate throughout human beings.

In the Middle East as well as in the Western world, the unicorn is a symbol of purity. In medieval tradition, the unicorn, the spiral horn of the unicorn (the word "Alicorn" can also be the name of a winged unicorn / horned Pegasus), is supposed to be able to heal and counteract poisons. This virtue is taken from Ctesias, a Greek physician, who used it in India and Persia to make cups that detoxified patients suffering from poisons.


2) The Unicorn: Origins of the Myth

Unlike most other legendary creatures, the unicorn was and still is considered by some to be a true animal of the past. This may be due to the fact that physiologically, the unicorn is similar to animals that live in the wild and have been regularly hunted and worshipped by humans, such as deer, horses, oryx and elk.

Based on the bones found on the remains of an animal that resembles a bull, it has been claimed that the unicorn was a common symbol during the Indus Valley civilization. Other extinct creatures, such as the Elasmotherium, an extinct relative of rhinos that lived in the European steppe, share many of the same physical characteristics as the unicorn, as does the narwhal, which, although a sea animal, has the only type of horn in nature that is comparable to that of the unicorn. Some scientists have even suggested that perhaps a mutant form of goat has been confused with a unicorn in the past.

3) Narwhals: The distant ancestors of unicorns?

The unicorn horns often found in medieval Europe and the Renaissance are very often examples of the unique straight spiral tusk characteristic of the Narwhal, an Arctic cetacean (Monodon monoceros), as established by the Danish zoologist Ole Worm in 1638. They were once the object of a very valuable trade. The usual representation of the unicorn horn in art is derived from this.

The issue of the origin of the unicorn is compounded by the various allegations of authentic remains. A unicorn skeleton is said to have been found at Einhornhöhle ("Unicorn Cave") in the German Harz Mountains in 1663.

Allegations that the so-called unicorn had only two legs (and was constructed from the fossil bones of mammoths and other animals) are contradicted or explained by accounts that smugglers looted the skeleton; these accounts further claim that, perhaps remarkably, the looters left the skull, together with the horn. The skeleton was examined by Leibniz, who had previously doubted the existence of the unicorn, but was convinced of its existence.


The history of the unicorn dates back to ancient Greece, from sources such as Herodotus, Aristotle and Ctesias, although there seems to be little consistency between the three in terms of geographical location and whether the animal possessed magical powers.

The unicorn appears in ancient Sumerian culture, as well as throughout the Old Testament of the Bible. It is likely that these interpretations all come from the folklore and natural history of the region.

The origins of the unicorn in the East are a little different. The Chinese Qilin is not similar in physical terms to any naturally occurring animal, and its significance in the legends of justice and prophecy suggests that it is a completely fictitious creature. This does not mean that the ancient Chinese did not believe it existed.

4) Unicorn hunting

One of the traditional artifacts of the unicorn is the hunting of the animal involving trapping by a virgin. The famous series of seven tapestry hangings of the end of the Gothic, The Unicorn Hunt, is a culmination of the European manufacture of tapestries, combining at the same time secular and religious themes.


The Unicorn in Captivity

The tapestries are today exposed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York. In this series, richly dressed nobles, accompanied by hunters and dogs, pursue a unicorn on a background of millefleurs or in garden decorations.

They take the animal to the bay with the help of a young girl who traps it with her charms, then seems to kill it to bring it back to a castle. In the last and most famous painting, "The Unicorn in Captivity", the unicorn is shown alive and happy, chained to a pomegranate tree surrounded by a fence, in a field of flowers.

Scientists speculate that the red spots on its flanks are not blood but rather the juice of pomegranates, which were a symbol of fertility. However, the true meaning of the mysterious unicorn resurrected in the last panel is unclear. The series was woven around 1500 in the Netherlands, probably in Brussels or Liege, for an unknown patron.

5) Heraldry: The Unicorn on Knights' Coat of Arms

In heraldry, a unicorn is depicted as a horse with split hooves and the beard of a goat, a lion's tail, and a thin, coiled horn on its forehead. Whether it is because it was the emblem of the Incarnation or the dreaded animal passions of the raw nature.

The unicorn was not much used in early heraldry, but it became popular from the fifteenth century.

Although it is sometimes depicted with a collar, which in some cases may perhaps be taken as an indication that it has been tamed or tempered, it is more often depicted with a collar to which a broken chain is attached, showing that it has been freed from its bondage and can no longer be taken back.

It is probably best known from the royal arms of Scotland and the United Kingdom: two unicorns support the Scottish arms; a lion and a unicorn support the arms of the United Kingdom.