The image of the dragon has an almost archetypal power to attract people. Dragon beasts are found throughout the myths and legends of cultures around the world. I believe that our human fascination with dragons stems from our prehistoric existence alongside mega fauna. Our oppressive harvesting of Nature was not always the case, and animals held a much larger sway upon the Earth than we did. Mammoths, saber tooth tigers, giant rhinos, super-sized crocodiles, and an endless host of fearsome beasts once populated the Earth, and our early ancestors struggled to survive amid large and predatory neighbors. Even the California valley where I live was once crawling with grizzly bears only 200 years ago.
Dragons emerged into art, legend, and mythology as an expression of the potent forces of Nature that could trick, consume, or bless us, depending on the situation. The image of the dragon hoarding treasure can represent the base emotion of greed. This is illustrated in the story of Siegfried and the dragon Fafnir. Once a dwarf, Fafnir became a dragon or beast after murdering his father and taking his treasure. Long years of guarding the treasure transformed him into a dragon.
Dragons do not always have such malicious meanings. In Chinese traditions, dragons are associated with water and weather, two great natural forces that are embodied by the dragon. The Chinese dragon is also a composite of many animals, such as the snake, carp, stag, tiger, eagle and so forth. In this way the dragon represents animal power in general.
I've studied several dragon legends, and many records indicate that strange dragon-like creatures actually inspired our modern concept of dragons. The winged dragon on the flag of Wales is representative of the persistent folklore about small winged dragons in that land. Actual sightings of small flying serpents with iridescent colors were reported as late as the 19th century. Another amazing account of a Roman army battling a giant snake to cross a river comes from actual history. The snake was reportedly 120 feet long. Exaggeration likely tampered with this story, but even so, it must have been a big snake.
Read more about dragons at my website Dragon Ride: Dragon slayers, legends & serpent dragons. They are a fascinating subject that tug at our deep human consciousness.