Titanomachy: The War of The Gods

The Titanomachy was a series of battles between the great Titans and their Olympian children, which ran for ten years. The war was to set up Zeus and his siblings as the most powerful of gods, and most worthy of worship.

What does “Titanomachy” mean?

The “Titanomachy,” also known as the “War of the Titans” or “War against the Gigantes,” was started by Zeus against his father Cronus, who had originally tried to kill his children by eating them. Cronus had been cursed by his father, Uranus, after leading his own rebellion. 

Zeus and the Olympian gods won the Titanomachy and split up the universe among themselves. Zeus took the skies and Olympus, while Poseidon took the sea, and Hades the underworld. The Titans were cast into Tartarus, the deep abyss of suffering and prison for eternity.

Why did The Titanomachy happen?

It could be said that the Titanomachy was inevitable. Cronus had rebelled against his father, Uranus, cutting off his testicles with a scythe. Uranus cursed the young god, telling him that one day his own children would also rebel, and win against him.

Cronus, fearful of this curse, decided upon a strange form of protection. Each time he fathered a child to his wife, Rhea, he would then eat the child. However, before Zeus was born, Rhea went to her mother-in-law Gaia and made a plan. They tricked Cronus into eating a rock, instead of her son, and hid Zeus away from his father.

When Zeus grew to be an adult he went back and forced his father to vomit up his siblings, who were still alive (as immortal gods would be, even eaten). Then, he set about planning revenge – taking over from the old Titans, becoming ruler of the universe, and sharing the power with his siblings. Rhea, the mother of the Olympian gods, told Zeus that he would win the war of the gods, but only if he was able to fight along his brothers and sisters.

Which Titans fought in the Titanomachy?

While most of the Titans fought with Cronus during the battle against the Olympians, not all did. Of the children of Uranus, only some were willing to fight for Cronus: Oceanus, Coeus, Crius, Hyperion, Iapetus, Theia, Mnemosyne, Phoebe, and Tethys. However, not all Titans chose the side of Cronus. The Titan goddess Themis, and her child Prometheus, chose the side of the Olympians instead.

Some of the children of the Titans would fight with them, while others chose the Olympians. Many were not named in the primary stories surrounding the Titanomachy, but their role would be mentioned in other tales. 

Who was on Zeus’ side in the Titanomachy?

While Zeus had the help of the other Olympian gods, as well as the Titan Themis and her child Prometheus, it was the unexpected allies he was able to gain that made the real difference. Zeus freed the Hecatonchires and the Cyclopes from “under the earth,” where Uranus, their father, had imprisoned them.

It is unknown why Uranus had imprisoned his children. Brontes, Steropes, and Arges (The Cyclopes) were skilled artisans, and willing to help in any way they could in return for their freedom. The three brothers were not fighters, but it did not mean they could not contribute. 

Cottus, Briareus, and Gyges (The Hecatoncheires) were three giants with a hundred hands and fifty heads each. During the battle, they held back the Titans by throwing enormous boulders at them.  

The Gifts from the Cyclopes to the Greek Gods

To help the Olympians win in the war of the Titans, the Cyclopes created some special gifts for the younger gods: The Thunderbolts of Zeus, Poseidon’s Trident, and the Helmet of Hades. These three items have long been considered the most powerful weapons and armor in all of ancient mythology, with the Thunderbolts of Zeus being the key factor in deciding many great conflicts.

What did Hades do in the Titanomachy?

Some people believe that Hades must have fought poorly to be “rewarded” with the Underworld. However, this was not the case. In fact, in Greek mythology, to rule the Underworld was to be given an important position. Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus were all equals in terms of the parts of the universe they had been given, and Zeus only greater for being the king of the Olympians. 

What did the Battle of the Titanomachy Look Like?

Hesiod’s “Theogony” goes into great detail about what the war between the great gods would have been like. While the war lasted ten years, it was the final battle, on Mount Olympus, that was most spectacular.

The battle was noisy like never before. The sea “rang terribly around, and the earth crashed loudly.” The earth shook and thunder rang out, and when the Titans attacked Mount Olympus, there was fear it would fall to the ground. The earth shook so badly that it was felt deep down in Tartarus, deep under the ground. The armies “launched their grievous shafts upon one another,” which would include the bolts of Zeus, the mighty trident of Poseidon, and the many arrows of Apollo

It was said that Zeus “no longer held back his might,” and we know from other stories that his power was so great that even Semele died when she simply saw his form. He tossed the bolts so hard and fast that it looked like it was “whirling an awesome flame.” Steam began to arise around the battle and the forests caught on fire. It was as if Uranus and Gaia had taken the Olympians’ side, heaven and earth fighting against the Titans. 

Duststorms rose, and lightning crashed so often that it was blinding. Zeus called upon the Hecatoncheires, who tossed 300 large boulders at the Titans like a rain of giant hail, driving them down into Tartarus.  There the Olympians took the old gods, “bound them in bitter chains [and] conquered them by their strength for all their great spirit.” With the closing of the great bronze gates, the war ended.

What were the consequences of the Titanomachy?

Cronus was imprisoned in Tartarus, watched over by the Hecatonchires. Poseidon built a great bronze gate to lock him behind, and the place would see no “ray of light nor breath of wind” for eternity.  After it was clear that Cronus was unable to escape, the Hecatonchires found home in the oceans, where Briareus even went on to become the Son-in-Law of Poseidon. It was in this role that he would take on the name Aegaeon.

The Titan Atlas, child of Iapetus, was given the unique punishment of holding up the sky on his shoulders. While the other Titans were also imprisoned for a time, eventually Zeus released them. Two of the female Titans, Themis, and Mnemosyne, would become lovers of Zeus, giving birth to the Fates and the Muses.

The Rewards for The Olympian Gods

After the ten-year war, the Olympians came together and Zeus portioned the universe up. He was to become the god of gods, and “sky father,” his brother Poseidon the god of the sea, and his brother Hades the god of the underworld. 

While the story of Cronus ends with his banishment to Tartarus, many of the other Titans continued to play a role in the stories of Greek mythology.

How Do We Know The Story of The Titan War?

The best source we have today about the story of the Titanomachy is from the poem “Theogony” by the Greek poet Hesiod. There was a more important text, called “The Titanomachia,” but today we only have a few fragments.

The Titanomachy is also mentioned in other major texts from antiquity, including Pseudo-Apollodorus’ “Bibliotheca,” and Diodorus Siculus’ “Library of History.” These works were all multi-volume histories that include several myths you know today. The war of the Greek gods was a story too important to be forgotten.

What was The Titanomachia in Greek mythology?

The “Titanomachia” was an epic Greek poem, believed to have been written by Eumelus of Corinth. The poem, from the 8th century BC, is now almost entirely lost, with only fragments remaining from quotations in other works. It was considered at the time to be the most popular telling of the war against the Titans and was referred to by many scholars and poets. Sadly it isn’t known if it was written before or after “Theogony,” though it could be possible that they were written by two men completely unaware that they were working on telling the same Greek myths.

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