DRAGONS OF MEDIEVAL legend are not described much physically. It was their fiery breath that drew attention. The tales of the historian Geoffrey of Monmouth, who lived in the 12th Century, hint that there might be some truth behind this.
In Monmouth’s writings, ancient British king Vortigern was forced to flee to Welsh hills as the Saxons invaded. Near Snowdonia, he demanded that a fort be built.
Yet every time his men began constructing the walls they fell over. Vortigern sought advice from his wise men who told him he needed to spill the blood of a child not born from the union between man and woman.
Vortigern sent them off to find such a child and, when they came to Carmarthen, they discovered two boys arguing. One of the children insulted the other as a bastard with no father. Bingo! The wise men grabbed the kid and ran for it.
Upon meeting Vortigern, the boy told him it was the dragons below the ground that were responsible for the tumbling walls. Vortigern ordered his men to dig into the ground and, sure enough, they found dragons ‘panting’ flame.
People assume Monmouth made this up, but there is science here. Wales has many regions where coal gas collects in underground pockets. People who went digging into them with tools that sparked against the rocks would have caused explosions.
We understand this as mere combustion today, but back then, the blasts of foul smelling fire belonged to the deadly breath of a monster.