Lions have been an important symbol for thousands of years and appear as a theme in cultures across Europe, Asia, and Africa. Despite the recorded incidents of attacks on humans, lions enjoy positive depiction in popular culture as creatures that appear strong, but gentle at the same time. The most consistent depiction is in keeping with their image of "king of the jungle" or "king of the beasts", hence lions are popular symbols of royalty and stateliness and a symbol of bravery.
The earliest recorded depictions of lions can be found in some of the earliest paleolithic human cave art possibly dating to 32,000 years ago in the Chauvet Cave in the Ardèche region of southern France, where lionesses are depicted hunting for the pride in much the same strategy as contemporary lions.  Some have proposed a more conservative estimate in line with the better known cave paintings of Lascaux, that are 15,000 years old. In the Lascaux, two lions were depicted mating in the Chamber of Felines. The ivory carving from Vogelherd cave in the Swabian Alb in southwestern Germany has been determined to be about 32,000 years old from the Aurignacian culture.
Found first in Ancient Egypt the sphinx, which had the head and shoulders of a human and the body of a lioness, represented the goddess who was the protector of the pharaohs. Later pharaohs were depicted as sphinxes, being thought as the offspring of the deity. Bast (cat goddess of protection and the eye of Ra) originally was depicted as a lioness.
The war goddess Sekhmet typically was depicted as woman with a lioness head or, just as a lioness. During the New Kingdom the Nubian gods Maahes (god of war and protection and the son of Bast) and Dedun (god of incense, hence luxury and wealth) were depicted as lions. Maahes was absorbed into the Egyptian pantheon, and had a temple at the city Leontopolis "City of Lions" in Lower Egypt attached to that of the temple of his mother. Dedun was not absorbed into the Egyptian religion and remained a Nubian deity. The Egyptians held that a sacred lioness was responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile.
Lions were represented in other middle-eastern cultures. In ancient Mesopotamia it was regarded as a symbol of kingship. The Dying Lioness is a relief panel from 650 BCE, Nineveh (modern day Iraq) depicting a half-paralyzed lioness pierced with arrows, while the Babylonian goddess Ishtar has been represented driving a chariot drawn by seven lions. Ishtar's Sumerian analogue Inanna was frequently depicted standing on the backs of two lionesses.
Lions have been widely used in sculpture and statuary to provide a sense of majesty and awe, especially on public buildings. This usage dates back to the origin of civilization. There are lions at the entrances of cities and sacred sites from Mesopotamian cultures; notable examples include the Lion Gate of ancient Mycenae in Greece that has two lionesses flanking a column that represents a deity, and the gates in the walls of the Hittite city of Bogazköy, Turkey.
The most notable lion of Ancient Greek mythology was the Nemean lion, killed barehanded by Heracles, who subsequently bore the pelt as an invulnerable magic cloak.  This lion is also said to be represented by the constellation of Leo, and also the sign of the Zodiac.
Lions are known in many cultures as the king of animals, which can be traced to the classical book Physiologus. In his fables, the famed Greek story teller Aesop utilized the lion's symbolism of power and strength in The Lion and the Mouse and Lion's Share.
Several Biblical accounts document the presence of lions, and cultural perception of them in ancient Palestine. The best known Biblical account featuring lions comes from the Book of Daniel (chapter 6), where Daniel is thrown into a den of lions and miraculously survives.
A lesser known Biblical account features Samson who kills a lion with his bare hands, later sees bees nesting in its carcass, and poses a riddle based on this unusual incident to test the faithfulness of his fiancee (Judges 14).
The prophet Amos said (Amos, 3, 8): "The lion hath roared, who will not fear? the Lord GOD hath spoken, who can but prophesy?", i.e., when the gift of prophecy comes upon a person, he has no choice but to speak out.
In Christian tradition, Mark the Evangelist, the author of the second gospel is symbolized by a lion - a figure of courage and monarchy. Mark has John the Baptist preaching "like a lion roaring" at the beginning of his Gospel. It also represents Jesus' Resurrection (because lions were believed to sleep with open eyes, a comparison with Christ in the tomb), and Christ as king. Some Christian legends refer to Saint Mark as "Saint Mark The Lionhearted". These probably false legends say that he was fed to the Lions and the animals refused to attack or eat him. Instead the Lions slept at his feet, while he petted them. When the Romans saw this, they released him, spooked by the sight.
Subsequently, the lion proves to be a loyal companion and a symbol of knightly virtue, and helps Yvain complete his altruistic ventures. In the happy end, the lion comes to dwell with Yvain and his wife Laudine at their castle.
The common motif of the "majestic and powerful" lion was introduced to China by buddhist missionaries from India, somewhere in the 1st Century AD . Lions themselves, however, are not native to China, yet appear in the art of China and the Chinese people believe that lions protect humans from evil spirits, hence the Chinese New Year Lion dance to scare away demons and ghosts. Chinese guardian lions are frequently used in sculpture in traditional Chinese architecture. For instance, in the Forbidden City in Beijing, two lion statues are seen in almost every door entrance.
Lions feature prominently in the Tibetan culture with a pair of Snow Lions seen on the Tibetan flag. The Snow Lions are mythical creatures that are seen as protector entities. The Snow Lion symbolizes fearlessness, unconditional cheerfulness, east, and the Earth element. It is one of the Four Dignities. It ranges over the mountains, and is commonly pictured as being white with a turquoise mane.
The island nation of Singapore (Singapura) derives its name from the Malay words singa (lion) and pura (city), which in turn is from the Tamil-Sanskrit சிங்க singa सिंह siṃha and पुर புர pura. According to the Malay Annals, this name was given by a 14th century Sumatran Malay prince named Sang Nila Utama, who, on alighting the island after a thunderstorm, spotted an auspicious beast on shore that his chief minister identified as a lion (Asiatic Lion).  Recent studies of Singapore indicate that lions have never lived there, and the beast seen by Sang Nila Utama was likely a tiger.
Narasimha ("man-lion") (also spelt as Narasingh, Narasinga) is described as an incarnation (avatara) of Vishnu within the Puranic texts of Hinduism and is worshiped as "Lion God" thus Indian or Asiatic Lions which were commonly found throughout most of India in ancient times are considered sacred by all Hindus in India.
Singh is an ancient Indian vedic name meaning "Lion" (Asiatic Lion), dating back over 2000 years to ancient India. It was originally only used by Rajputs, a Hindu Kshatriya or military caste in India. After the birth of the Khalsa brotherhood in 1699, the Sikhs also adopted the name "Singh" due to the wishes of Guru Gobind Singh. Along with millions of Hindu Rajputs and numerous other Hindu martial groups today, it is also used by over 20 million Sikhs worldwide. The appellation of the name Singh was used by the Rajputs before being adopted by the Sikhs in 1699.  Therefore, all "Singh"s in Indian history before 1699 are Hindu and mainly Rajputs; after 1699, Singhs from the Punjab are mostly Sikhs, while the Singhs from the Shivalik hill ranges of Punjab (also Kangra, Chamba, Simla) are mainly Rajputs.
The lion is symbolic for the Sinhalese, Sri Lanka's ethnic majority; the term derived from the Indo-Aryan Sinhala, meaning the "lion people" or "people with lion blood", while a sword wielding lion is the central figure on the modern national flag of Sri Lanka.
The entrance to Sigiriya, the Lion-Rock of Sri Lanka, was through the Lion Gate, the mouth of a Stone Lion. The paws of the lion can still be seen today. It is one of 7 World Heritage Sites in Sri Lanka.
Statue of a pair of lions often founds in temples in Southeast Asia as the gate guardian. In Borobudur buddhist monument Central Java, Indonesia andesite stone statues of lions guarding four main entrances of Borobudur. The statue of winged lion also found in Penataran temple East Java, as well as in Bali. In Myanmar, the statue of lion guarding the stupas, pagodas, and buddhist temples in Bagan.
Lion door handle at Burg Hohenzollern
Löwe by German painter Albrecht Dürer, 1494.
Lion monument commemorting the Battle of Waterloo
The lion holds historical significance for English heraldry and symbolism. The Three Lions was a symbol for Richard the Lionheart, and later, for England. For many centuries the lion had been a feature of the Armorial of Plantagenet of the House of Plantagenet, and is still worn by both the England national football team and England cricket team.
The Lion Rampant continues to be used widely today; the Royal Standard of Scotland has given rise to its use as the emblem for the Scotland national football team and Rangers and Dundee United of the Scottish Premier League, as well as Aston Villa in the English Premier League; and not only sport but businesses such as the French car company Peugeot, the international beer company Lion Nathan, and Caledonian MacBrayne ferries. Arising from heraldic use, the Red Lion is also a popular pub name, with over 600 pubs bearing the name. A rarer inn name is the White Lion, derived from Edward VI or the Duke of Norfolk. Though the Lion Rampant appears on the Lyon coat of arms and flag, the French city's name has an unrelated derivation despite the similarity.
In the Middle Ages, when lions became a major element in heraldry, few Europeans had any chance to see actual lions. The lions were, for them, nearly as much as legendary anumals as were dragons or gryffins, also commonly appearing on coats of arms.
National currencies of three countries in Europe are named after the lion. The name of Romanian and Moldovan leu (/leŭ/, plural: lei /lej/) means "lion" in Romanian language. The Bulgarian lev (Bulgarian: лев, plural: лева, левове / leva, levove), the currency of Bulgaria, has the same etymology.
The lion's symbolism continues in fantasy literature. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz features the Cowardly Lion, who is particularly ashamed of his cowardice because of his cultural role as the King of the Beasts. Aslan, the "Greatest Lion" is the central figure in C.S. Lewis' Narnia series. The word aslan is Turkish for lion. The lion is also the symbol for Gryffindor house, the house of bravery, in the J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.
Lafcadio: The Lion Who Shot Back is a 1963 children's book written and illustrated by Shel Silverstein. Lions also tend to appear in several children's stories, being depicted as "the king of the jungle", when, in fact, there are actually no lions whatsoever that live in jungle regions as they mostly tend to inhabit savanna like areas or dry deciduous forests.
In award-winning children's picture book, Charlie and Mama Kyna, Leo, the lion, befriends and journeys home with Charlie in vivid illustrations.
Elsa the Lioness is certainly the most famous lion ever, having been written about in three books which were all bestsellers and featured in a major motion picture titled Born Free which won two Academy Awards and was nominated for three Golden Globe Awards. Elsa the Lioness is known to millions and shows a personal relationship with humans, notably Joy and George Adamson, that was never before imagined.
The lion is a popular sporting mascot or symbol, not only for sports but also businesses and other entities; Patience and Fortitude, are the large stone lions outside the main branch of the New York Public Library, and are the mascots of the New York and Brooklyn Public Library system. A modified heraldic lion is the emblem of Australian car company Holden, an iconic Australian brand.