The 12 Titans in Greek Mythology: Birth Story, Family Tree, Powers, Symbols & Abilities
In ancient Greek mythology and religion, the Titans were regarded as the offspring of primordial earth goddess Gaia and the sky god Uranus. They are described as fierce and powerful deities who ruled the cosmos before the emergence of the Olympians. Ancient Greek poet Hesiod states in the Theogony that there were twelve original Titans – split between six male deities and six female deities.
Below we explore the origin story, family tree, powers and symbols of the 12 ancient Greek Titans. It also includes how the Titan Cronus toppled his father Uranus, as well as how Cronus and his Titan siblings were in turn overthrown by Zeus and the Olympian gods.
Known as the only Titan who responded to his mother Gaia’s call to topple Uranus, Cronus was an extremely powerful deity in the Greek pantheon. He was very much worshiped in pre-Hellenic society of Greece. To the Romans, Cronus was known as the god Saturn.
The Greeks mainly associated Cronus with agriculture. This explains why his go-to weapon is a sickle or harpē. As a matter of fact, the inhabitants of ancient Attica celebrated a festival in Cronus’ honor. The festival, which was known as Kronia, was to celebrate the year’s harvest. The Romans used the Saturnalia festival to honor Saturn’s benevolence and the year’s harvest.
In addition to the sickle, this Greek Titan was usually depicted as an old man often times sitting on a throne.
It’s worth mentioning that although Cronus was the youngest of the 12 Titans, the myths portray him as a very powerful and brave Titan, perhaps the bravest of the Titans. Cronus was not afraid to go against his father sky god Uranus and bring down the tyrannical reign of his father. Uranus, perhaps of his children toppling him, decided the best course of action was to lock all 12 Titans in the deepest part of the Earth (Gaia), i.e. Tartarus. So as his father came to visit his mother, Cronus jumped out of his hiding place and tackled Uranus to the ground. The young Titan then proceeded to castrate his father. By so doing, the Heaven (Sky) was severed from the Earth (Gaia).
With Uranus deposed, Cronus took the throne of the cosmos and ruled as the king of the Titans. He proceeded to take his sister and fellow Titan Rhea. From the union between Cronus and Rhea came forth the Olympian deities Hestia, Hera, Hades, Poseidon, Demeter and Zeus.
In the first part of his reign, Cronus was said to be a just and benevolent god. However, as time passed, he ended becoming extremely paranoid and deranged, almost like his father Uranus. Afraid of his children one day overthrowing him, Cronus decided to swallow every one of those children, except Zeus, who kind courtesy to the collaborative efforts of Rhea and Gaia was saved. Zeus was kept hidden in Crete, pending when he would grow strong and powerful to go against his father Cronus. Ultimately, Zeus, using his powerful thunderbolts as well as some bit of help from Rhea and Gaia, defeated Cronus. The five children that Cronus had swallowed were also freed.
According to the myth, Zeus banished Cronus and a good number of his Titan friends and monsters to the depths of Tartarus. There Cronus is fated to spend an eternity in the abyss. In some other versions, Cronus was sent to the fields of Elysium, where served as ruler of the region.
In many of the myths, Oceanus is seen as the oldest of the Titans. He is known as the father of three thousand Oceanid nymphs and the River gods. He fathered those deities with his wife/sister Tethys.
Some examples of those river deities include Achelous, the river god of the Achelous River (the largest river in Greece); Scamander, the river god of the Scamander River; and Alpheus, the river god who pursued the nymph Arethusa.
Notable examples of the three thousand Oceanids borne to Oceanus and Tethys include Metis, Zeus’ first wife; Doris, the mother of the Nereids; Eurynome, Zeus’ third wife and the mother of the Charites; Styx, the river goddess of the Styx River and mother of Zelus (Zeal), Nike (Victory), Kratos (Strenght), and Bia (Force); and Clymene, the wife of Iapetus.
The Greek Titan Coeus was believed to symbolize intelligence or query. He took his sister Phoebe (Shining) as his consort. With her, he fathered two daughters – Leto and Asteria. By the former, Zeus fathered Olympian deities Apollo and Artemis. Asteria, on the other hand, gave birth to Hecate, the goddess of witchcraft and crossroads.
Generally, the Greeks depicted Coeus as a Titan who personified rational intelligence. His wife Phoebe, on the other hand, personified prophetic wisdom.
It was also said that this Titan god of intellect was the axis of the cosmos around which the constellations revolved.
Like many of his siblings, Coeus was imprisoned in Tartarus by Zeus following the 10-year war between the Titans and the Olympian gods.
By his consort Eurybia, the daughter of Pontus and Gaia, Crius fathered Astraeus, Perses and Pallas. Similar to his siblings, Crius was imprisoned in Tartarus by Zeus for his support of the Titans against the Olympians. Crius is also known as the grandfather of Hesperus, Eosphoros, Astraea, and the winds.
Hyperion and his sister/wife Theia gave birth to some very important deities in the Greek pantheon, including the sun god Helios, Eos (Dawn) and Selene (Moon). Hyperion was commonly associated with the epithet ‘he who goes before’. He was known as the personification of the sun. This explains how his son Helios came to be a sun deity. Hyperion supported Cronus in his war against the Olympians. Following the defeat of the Titans, Hyperion and his siblings were banished to Tartarus for eternity.
Iapetus fought alongside his younger brother Cronus in the Titanomachy, a war that saw the Titans get defeated by the Olympians. His two children – Menoetius and Atlas – are believed to have served with Cronus during the war, with Atlas serving as Cronus’ second in command. However, his son Prometheus fought on the side of the Greek Olympians.
Following the defeat of the Titans, Iapetus and many of the Titans were punished by Zeus, with many of those Titans imprisoned in Tartarus. As for his son Atlas, Zeus punished him by making the Titan stand at the western edge of the earth and hold up the sky on his shoulders.
In Bern, the capital of Germany, there is a famous frieze of the Great Altar of Pergamon which shows a number of Titans, including Titan goddess Theia fighting at the back of sun god Helios. Theia is depicted as the personification of sight in Greek mythology. She is also the goddess of many precious minerals, including silver and gold. She and her brother/consort gave birth to deities such as Selene (the Moon), Helios (the Sun), and Eos (the Dawn).
Commonly known as the mother of the Olympian deities, Rhea was a Titan goddess and the consort of Cronus in Greek mythology. Similar to her fellow Titans, Rhea was said to be worshiped irregularly in pre-Hellenic era. In the myths, her spheres of influence were in areas such as fertility and motherhood. As a result, she was sometimes associated with her mother Gaia, the earth goddess.
As stated above, Rhea and Cronus gave birth to Olympian deities – Hestia, Hades, Hera, Demeter, Poseidon, and Zeus. Not wanting her last child Zeus to end up like her first five children, who had been swallowed by the mad Titan Cronus, Rhea kept the birth of Zeus a secret from Cronus. She instead presented Cronus with a stone wrapped in clothes to look like the baby Zeus.
In ancient Greek mythology and religion, Themis is the titan goddess who personifies justice, wise counsel and wisdom. She often acted as the mouthpiece of the Titan gods. Themis is most known for keeping the order and peace in the cosmos. She most likely featured heavily during the golden age of the reign of the Titans.
According to the Theogony, Themis is the mother of the Horae, the goddesses of the season; and the Moirai (the Fates), deities who determine the fates of mortals and gods. In some versions of the myth, Themis is seen as the second consort of Zeus, with whom she gave birth to the Moirai, the Fates and the Hesperides.
Themis has also been described as the mother of Eirene (Peace) Eunomia (Law) and Dike (Justice)
In addition to being the personification of justice, Themis was believed to be the giver of oracles. It’s stated in some accounts that she was the owner of the oracle at Delphi before she later handed it over to the Olympian god Apollo.
In Greek mythology, Phoebe is described as “shining”. Her name translates to “bright”. From the union between Phoebe and Coeus, two deities emerged – Leto and Asteria. Her daughters in turn gave birth to deities like Apollo, Artemis, and Hecate.
Hardly worshiped by the ancient Greeks, the Titan goddess Mnemosyne was the goddess of memory. As a matter of fact the reek word mnēmē means “remembrance, memory”. By her nephew Zeus, Mnemosyne was known as the mother of the nine Muses in Greek mythology.
Mnemosyne was worshiped in some cult centers of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and son of Apollo.
Tethys was the most famous Titan, after the likes of Cronus and Oceanus. By the latter, she gave birth to many river gods and over three thousand Oceanids. Some examples of her children include Achelous, Syracuse, Alpheus and Scamander. The latter deity supported the Trojans during the Trojan War.
Family Tree of the Greek Titans
More facts about the Titans
- Gaia, the mother of the Titans, prophesied that just as Uranus was overthrown by Cronus, Cronus too would be overthrown by his children. That’s how come Cronus developed an irrational fear of his children; hence his decision to swallow every one of his children with Rhea.
- Zeus was raised in Crete by Gaia. The grandmother and child hid deep in the caves of Lyctus, just beneath Mount Aigaion.
- Compared to the Olympian gods and goddesses, the Titan gods and goddesses did not feature a lot in Greek art.
- According to Homer’s Iliad, rather than Gaia and Uranus, Oceanus and Tethys are the parents of the Titans. This view is also partly shared by Plato.
- According to the mythographer Apollodorus, the thirteenth Titan is Dione, the deity who gave birth to the Greek goddess of love Aphrodite with Zeus. Plato adds the primordial sea god Phorcys (or Phrocus) to the list of Titans. Phrocys is a primordial sea god born from the union between Pontus and Gaia.
- Although they acted in a cruel manner towards their children, the reigns of Uranus and Cronus were described by some ancient Greek authors as a golden age. It coincided with a time when mortals on earth lived harmoniously and prosperously.
- In one account, the Trojan War – the legendary war that pitted Greeks against the city of Troy (in western Anatolia) – was believed to have been planned by Zeus and the Titan goddess Themis. It was believed to be a tool designed to curb overpopulation in the world.
- According to the myths, the Titans lived on Mount Olympus. In real life, Mount Olympus, which is located in the Olympus Range, is the highest mountain in Greece. After the Titans were defeated in the 10-year Titan-Olympian War (known as the Titanomachy), Cronus and many of the Titans were banished from Mount Olympus (i.e. the upper world) and imprisoned in Tartarus (the lower world).
- Angered by Zeus’ solo birth of the goddess Athena, Hera, Zeus’ wife, prays to the Titans to help her give birth to a being that would be as powerful as Zeus. Hera ends up with a an immensely powerful monster called Typhon.
- According to Hesiod, Uranus fathered a total of eighteen children with Gaia; they were, the twelve titans, the three Cyclopes, and the three Hecantoncheires.
- Gaia was the one who forged the sickle that Cronus used to castrate and then overthrow his father Uranus.