The Titanomachy – The Battle of the Gods

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In Greek mythology, the Titanomachy was a war that lasted for ten years between the Titans and the Olympian gods. It consisted of a series of battles fought in Thessaly. The purpose of the war was to decide who would rule the universe – the reigning Titans or the new gods led by Zeus. The war ended with victory for the Olympians, the younger generation of gods.

The main account of the Titanomachy that has survived through the ages is Hesiod’s Theogony. The poems of Orpheus also sparingly mention the Titanomachy, but these accounts vary from Hesiod’s narrative.

Olympians vs titans

Who Were the Titans?

The Titans were the children of the primordial deities Uranus (the personification of the heavens) and Gaia (the personification of the Earth). As mentioned in Hesiod’s Theogony, there were originally 12 Titans. They were:

  1. Oceanus – the father of the Oceanids and the river gods
  2. Coeus – god of the inquisitive mind
  3. Crius – the god of heavenly constellations
  4. Hyperion – the god of heavenly light
  5. Iapetus – the personification of mortality or craftsmanship
  6. Cronus – King of the Titans and god of time
  7. Themis – the personification of law, fairness and divine order
  8. Rhea – the goddess of motherhood, fertility, ease and comfort
  9. Thea – the Titaness of sight
  10. Mnemosyne – the Titaness of memory
  11. Phoebe – the goddess of oracular intellect and prophecy
  12. Tethys – the goddess of fresh water that nourishes the earth

The original 12 Titans were known as the ‘first generation Titans’. It was the first generation Titans who fought in the Titanomachy against the Olympians.

Who Were the Olympians?

Procession of the Twelve Gods and Goddesses courtesy of Walters Art Museum. Public Domain.

Like the Titans, there were 12 Olympian gods who became the most important deities of the Greek pantheon:

  1. Zeus – the god of the sky who became the supreme god after winning the Titanomachy
  2. Hera – the goddess of marriage and family
  3. Athena – the goddess of wisdom and battle strategy
  4. Apollo – the god of light
  5. Poseidon – god of the seas
  6. Ares – the god of war
  7. Artemis – Apollo’s twin sister and the goddess of hunting
  8. Demeter – the personification of harvest, fertility and grain
  9. Aphrodite – the goddess of love and beauty
  10. Dionysus – the god of wine
  11. Hermes – the messenger god
  12. Hephaestus – the god of fire

The list of 12 Olympians can vary, sometimes replacing Dionysus with either Heracles, Hestia or Leto.

Before the Titanomachy

Before the Titans, the cosmos was ruled entirely by Uranus. He was one of the Protogenoi, the first immortal beings to come into existence. Uranus was insecure about his position as the ruler of the universe and feared that someone would one day overthrow him and take his place on the throne.

As a result, Uranus locked up anyone who could be a threat to him: his own children, the Cyclopes (the one-eyed giants) and the Hecatonchires, three incredibly strong and fierce giants who each had a hundred hands. Uranus had them all imprisoned within the Earth’s belly.

Uranus’ wife Gaia and mother of the Hecatonchires and Cyclopes was angry that he had locked up their children. She wanted to take revenge on her husband and began to plot with another group of their children known as the Titans. Gaia forged a large sickle and convinced her sons to castrate their father with it. Although they agreed, only one son was willing to do this – Cronus, the youngest. Cronus bravely took the sickle and ambushed his father.

Cronus used the sickle against Uranus, cutting off his genitals and throwing them into the sea. He then became the new ruler of the cosmos and the King of the Titans. Uranus lost most of his powers and had no choice but to retreat to the heavens. As he did so, he predicted that Cronus would one day be overthrown by his own son, just as Uranus himself had been.

Cronus swallows children
Cronus Devouring One of His Children by Peter Paul Rubens (Public Domain)

It was Gaia who made this prophecy come true when she realized that Cronus had no intention of releasing the Cyclopes or the Hecatonchires and plotted against him.

Cronus’ children included Hera, Hestia, Hades, Demeter, Poseidon and Zeus, the youngest. To prevent the prophecy from coming true, Cronus swallowed all his children. However, his wife Rhea had tricked him by wrapping a rock in a blanket, convincing him that it was his youngest son, Zeus. Rhea and Gaia then hid Zeus away in a cave on Mount Ida located on the island of Crete and safely out of danger.

The Return of Zeus

Zeus continued to stay in Crete and was raised by the she-goat nurse Amalthea, until he reached maturity. Then, he decided that the time was right to return and try to overthrow Cronus. Gaia and Rhea gave him their full support. They concocted a drink made of wine and mustard which would make Cronus regurgitate the children. When Cronus drank it, he vomited so hard that the five children and the rock he swallowed came right out.

Zeus’ five siblings joined him and together they went to Mount Olympus where Zeus called a gathering of the gods. He announced that any god who took his side would reap the benefits but any who opposed would lose everything. He sent away his sisters Hestia, Demeter and Hera to safety so they wouldn’t get caught in the middle of the upcoming war and then he led his brothers and the other Olympian gods in the rebellion against the Titans.

In some versions of the story, Zeus’ sisters stayed with their brother and fought alongside him in the war.

The Titanomachy

Battle between gods and titans
Joachim Wtewael – The Battle Between the Gods and the Titans (1600). Public Domain.

Cronus, Hyperion, Iapetus, Crius, Coeus, Atlas, Menoetius and Iapetus’ two sons were main figures who fought on the side of the Titans. Iapetus and Menoetius were famed for their fierceness but it was ultimately Atlas who became the leader of the battlefield. Not all Titans fought in the war, however, for some had been forewarned about its outcome. These Titans, such as Themis and Prometheus, allied with Zeus instead.

Zeus released his half-siblings, the Cyclopes and the Hecatonchires from where Cronus had imprisoned them and they became his allies. The Cyclopes were skilled artisans and they forged Zeus’ iconic lightning bolt, a mighty trident for Poseidon and the Helmet of Invisibility for Hades. They also made other weapons for the rest of the Olympians while the Hecatonshires used their many hands to hurl stones at the enemy.

In the meantime, the Titans too had strengthened their ranks. Both sides were equally matched and the war continued for many years. However, Zeus now had the support and guidance of Nike, the goddess of victory. With her help, Zeus struck Menoetius with one of his deadly lightning bolts, sending him straight to the depths of Tartarus, which effectively ended the war.

In some accounts, it was Hades who turned the tide of the war. He wore his Helmet of Invisibility and entered the Titans’ camp on Mount Othrys, where  he destroyed all their weapons and equipment, rendering them helpless and unable to continue fighting.

Whatever the final event, the war that had raged on for ten long years finally came to an end.

The Aftermath of the Titanomachy

After the war, Zeus had all the Titans who fought against him imprisoned in Tartarus, the dungeon of torment and suffering, and were guarded by the Hecatonchires. According to some sources, however, Zeus freed all the imprisoned Titans once his position was secure as the ruler of the cosmos.

All the female Titans were allowed to go free since they hadn’t taken any part in the war, and all of Zeus’ allies were well rewarded for their services. The Titan Atlas was given the task of holding up the heavens, which was to be his punishment for all eternity.

After the war, the Cyclopes continued to work as craftsmen for the Olympian gods and had forges on Mount Olympus as well as beneath volcanoes.

Zeus and his brothers, Poseidon and Hades, drew lots and divided the world into separate domains. Zeus’ domain was the sky and air and he became the supreme god. Poseidon was given domain over the sea and all bodies of waters while Hades became the ruler of the Underworld.

Earth, however, remained common ground for the other Olympian gods to do what they wished. If any conflicts occurred, the three brothers (Zeus, Hades and Poseidon) were called to solve the problem.

Once Zeus became the supreme god of the cosmos, he asked Themis and Prometheus to create humans and animals to repopulate the earth. According to some accounts, Prometheus created humans while Themis was in charge of creating animals. As a result, the Earth which had been barren and dead during the war, began to flourish again.

What Does the Titanomachy Symbolize?

The Titans represented the former gods of the pre-Olympian order, who ruled the cosmos before the new gods arrived on the scene.

Historians speculated that the Titans may have been the old gods of an indigenous group of people in ancient Greece, however, this is no longer accepted. Instead, it’s believed that the mythology of the Titans may have been borrowed from the Near East. They became the backstroy to explain the advent and victory of the Olympians.

In this light, the Titanomachy symbolizes the strength, power and victory of the Olympians over all other gods. It also represents the vanquishing of the old and the birthing of the new.   

In Brief

The Titanomachy was a pivotal moment of Greek mythology that has inspired many artists throughout history. It also inspired several myths and stories of other religions that came into existence much later.