When many people think of a “giant mythological bird”, the first thought that comes to mind is usually the highly colorful and powerful Phoenix, or its relative, the Thunderbird. Well, what if you learned that there once existed a bird so large and ominous that its mere presence would cast shade on the land below it, and its flapping wings could create gusts of wind comparable to a cyclone? To this day, the Roc is the largest bird ever to have existed, according to ancient mythology.
What is a Roc?
The Roc (also spelt “Rukh”, “Rokh”, or Ruc) is a huge, mythical bird best known for its ability to pick up and feed on baby elephants. Legend has it that this monstrous creature would also pick up and feed on humans; it would often rip its prey apart and take it back to its nest to feed its young. Although the Roc is well known for its tendency to cause terror, many believe that it acted as a protector to a vast secret valley filled with treasure.
The legend of the Roc (the name having derived from the Spanish words “rocho” and “ruc”) has been present in the mythology of a variety of different cultures, but has been rumored to have originated in Asia in around 39 AD, specifically in and around India. Historians believe its origin to be in this general area due to the discovery of ancient Indian Sanskrit epics that referenced what was said to be a giant bird, large enough to pick up elephants.
The Roc is described as being very similar to an eagle in overall appearance, except much larger and stronger. The Roc is classified in the species, “Avian”, and has a shocking 48-foot wingspan. The weight of the bird is unknown, but many historians believe it to have been significantly heavier than its prey (this included large land mammals, primarily elephants). The Roc is usually described as having coloring similar to that of an eagle, primarily brown with hints of color, and a long, thin and forked tongue muck like that of a snake. It is said to have had very sharp and pointy teeth as well, spanning across the lining of its humongous beak.
The Roc has often been compared to a bald eagle in terms of appearance and temperament, but is significantly larger with a much greater wingspan. Other creatures similar to the Roc include birds such as the Simurgh, the Garuda, the Phoenix, and the Thunderbird.
Famous Myths and Tales
The mysterious and mythical Roc has been the subject of numerous stories of both Eastern and Western descent over the years. One famous myth centers on the famous explorer, Marco Polo. In fact, Marco Polo is actually credited as being the first Westerner to sight the giant mythical bird. It is said that during his travels to China in the 13th century, Marco Polo witnessed in the air what he described to be a bird of “impossible size” that swooped down to land, picking up exceptionally large animals in its path. Legend has it that Marco described the supposed Roc as being very similar to an eagle but of much greater size and strength. He is rumored to have stated that the bird would “seize an elephant in its talons and carry him high into the air and drop him so that he is smashed to pieces; having so killed him, the bird swoops down on him and eats him at leisure”.
Another notable myth centered on Sinbad the Sailor and comes from the novel 1001 Arabian Nights. It is rumored that while on one of their famous voyages, the sailor and his crew accidentally wrecked their ship and a giant bird, thought to be the Roc, carried Sinbad to safety, placing him down in what appeared to be the bird’s nest resting on the tip of a mountain. While in the nest, Sinbad may have possibly stopped to eat a Roc egg. Unfortunately, this caused the parents of the creature to become angry and destroy the crew’s ship by dropping giant boulders onto it from many feet up in the air. This story is told throughout history in many different variations in mythological literature.
The story that is most commonly referred to in discussions of the history of the Roc originated in India and tells the story of a large bird that carried off an elephant that was battling a crocodile. This story became very well known throughout history, as well as the theory that this giant bird made its residence on top of a giant mythical mountain, potentially in Madagascar.