Cronus, also known as Kronos, god of time and destruction as well as the god of harvest, was the son of Gaia (Earth) and Uranus (Sky) and the leader of the original Titans. He rebelled against his father Uranus and dethroned him. For a brief period, known as the Golden Age, he was the ruler of the universe. Cronus was the father of the Olympian gods who started a war and eventually overthrew him.
|Parents||Gaia and Uranus|
|Siblings||Titans, Hekatonkheires, Cyclopes|
|Offspring||Hestia, Hades, Demeter, Poseidon, Hera, Zeus, and Centaur Chiron|
|The God of||God of time, fertility and the harvest|
|Symbols||Harpe, grain, snake|
When Gaia, the earth, married the god of sky Uranus, they produced three sets of children: the Titans, the Cyclops, and the Hecotoncheires. Gaia and Uranus decided after the birth of Cronus that no more Titans were going to be born.
Uranus loathed his monstrous children the Cyclops and the Hecotonchieres so banished them to the underworld. The Titans, too, were banished to the Underworld as Uranus feared being overthrown by them. This caused Gaia great pain.
She created flint and made a sickle from it. When she asked each of her Titan sons, in turn, to fight against Uranus, Cronus was the only one who agreed. He castrated Uranus with the sickle and threw his severed organs into the sea, where the goddess of love Aphrodite was born from them. The castration separated the earth and the sky. Furious Uranus made a prophecy that Cronus would one day be treated the same way by his own children.
Cronus became the ruler of the universe. He married his sister Rhea and his Titans brothers and sisters became his court. This period of happiness and prosperity for gods and humans alike became known as the Golden Age. Unfortunately, it was cut short thanks to Cronus’s fear of his children the Titans.
Uranus made a prophecy that Cronus’s children would one day treat him in the same way as he had treated his father. To render the prophecy impossible to fulfill, Cronus would swallow each of his children as soon as Rhea gave birth to them. However, Rhea gave him a stone to swallow instead of her sixth child, Zeus. The baby grew up in a cave on mountain Ida in Crete supported by his grandmother Gaia and protected by Rhea’s assistants, the Curetes. Adult Zeus received a potion from Gaia which made Cronus disgorge in the reverse order whatever he had swallowed, starting with the stone.
There followed a long war between Cronus and his children. The Olympians were led by Zeus and recruited help from Cronus’s siblings the Cyclopes and the Hecotoncheires.
Cronus was finally overpowered and overthrown by his children, the Olympians. He was banished for the rest of eternity to Tartarus, the underworld.
Name and epithets
- Kronos is another name for Cronus.
- The name is possibly derived from the Indo-European root ker meaning “to cut”.
- This name was often confused with the Greek word for time, “Chronos” and therefore was also sometimes referred to as Old Father Time and depicted respectively.
- He was also sometimes referred to as “Patron of the Harvest”.
- The Cartheginian chief god Vaal is the equivalent of Cronus.
- Chronus was later identified with the Roman god Saturn.
Cronus was the son of Gaia, goddess of earth and mother of all life, and Gaia’s son Uranus, the god of Sky. He was the youngest of the Titans and would become their leader. He had five male siblings (Oceanus, Hyperion, Coeus, Crius, and Iapetus) and six female siblings, Titanides (Mnemosyne, Tethys, Theia, Phoebe, Themis, and Rhea). Apart from that, he also had half-siblings which included one-eyed Cyclopes Brontes, Arges and Steropes and Hecatoncheires (monstrosities with a hundred hands each) Kottos, Briareos and Gyges.
Cronus married his sister Rhea and they had six children: Hestia, Hades, Demeter, Poseidon, Hera and Zeus.
Cronus also had a son with Oceanid Phylira, the centaur Chiron.
The grandchildren of Cronus as mentioned by ancient authors are Athena, Eres, Ares, Hephaestus, Apollo, Artemis and Here.
Domains of power
Cronus was one of the most powerful deities and the king of Titans, the most prominent in his generation. He was almost omnipotent. Cronus controlled earth and vegetation and was celebrated as the god of the harvest. At the same time, however, Cronus was responsible for the destruction caused by time.
Cronus possessed incredible strength and resilience. He grew extremely fast as a child. He did not age since reaching adulthood and could not die by conventional means. Cronus was immune to all earthly diseases or injuries.
Cronus was able to speak with animals as well as with men and gods.
The Symbol of Cronus is a sickle (scythe). It symbolizes at the same time the castration of Uranus and the resulting split between the sky and the earth. The sickle also symbolized Cronus’s connection to the world of farming.
This god was associated in the later eras with another deity, Chronos, the god of time. He was therefore often depicted as “Father Time”, an old man with a scythe controlling the passing of the seasons.
Cronus is also sometimes depicted holding a scepter, especially when represented on the throne with his spouse Rhea. This alludes to him being the king of the universe during the Golden Age.
His other symbols are harpe, grain, and snake.
Classical literature on Cronus
- Cronus features in Homer’s Iliad as the father of the Olympian gods Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, and Hera.
- His origins, rise to power and downfall are recounted in detail in Hesiod’s Theogony.
“She lay with Heaven and bare deep-swirling Oceanus, Coeus and Crius and Hyperion and Iapetus, Theia and Rhea, Themis and Mnemosyne and gold-crowned Phoebe and lovely Tethys. After them was born Cronos the wily, youngest and most terrible of her children, and he hated his lusty sire.”
My children, gotten of a sinful father, if you will obey me, we should punish the vile outrage of your father; for he first thought of doing shameful things.’ (Gaia to her children, Theogony)
- According to some sources, Cronus was a central figure in the early epic Titanomachy, which was subsequently lost.
- There are passing references to Cronus in the Homeric Hymns, poems of Pindar, as well as later Orphic Hymns.
Place in ancient Greek religion
Greeks revered Cronus as an agricultural god and often considered him the ruler of the Isles of the Blessed. They celebrated his festival, the Cronia, in several Greek cities. The Cronia, a harvest-related festival, took place in the autumn at the temple of Cronus, where the atmosphere resembled that of a carnival. During this time, social order was temporarily suspended, allowing masters and servants to feast together.
Cronus, the God of Harvest, received honors at other harvest-related festivals as well. For instance, initiation festivals during the “dog days” – the hottest and most uncomfortable days of summer – or sometimes in spring, paid tribute to him. In the region of Elis, people made sacrifices to Cronus during the special month of Kronion, which coincided with the spring equinox. Later, the Romans recognized him as the god Saturn and celebrated him through the Saturnalia festival.
While Cronus was typically worshipped as the god of harvest and linked to the Golden Age, his worship also had a darker side. Greeks believed that the Phoenicians, particularly the Carthaginians, practiced human sacrifice. According to ancient Greek sources, Carthaginians sacrificed children from noble families by placing them on the extended arms of a mechanical statue of Baal, the Carthaginian counterpart of Cronus. The statue would then roll the child into a bronze pan, where they were burned alive.
The Greeks claimed that they never practiced such barbaric rites. However, there are also accounts confirming that they, too, practiced human sacrifice to Cronus.
People dedicated several temples to Cronus, including one in Athens, which they associated with the larger temple of Zeus. The mythical golden race, who lived before humans, was believed to have built his temple in Olympia. According to myth, they constructed the temple at the site of a wrestling match between Cronus and Zeus.
He had mountain sanctuaries in Greece, Sicily, and Italy.
Rhea supposedly gave Cronus a stone, which he later disgorged before releasing his children. People placed this stone in Apollo’s temple in Delphi and called it the omphalos or navel. Ancient Greeks believed that Delphi served as the world’s center, with the omphalos as its ultimate focal point.
Myths where Cronus plays a part
Uranus, Gaia and Cronus
Gaia bore Uranus three sets of children, the Titans, Cyclops and Hecatombieres. Uranus feared and loathed them. He banished his children to Tartarus, or the underworld, causing Gaia great pain. She created flint and made a scythe. Her youngest son Cronus was the only one who agreed to castrate Uranus with the scythe.
Gaia and Cronus set up an ambush. When Uranus came down at night to lay with Gaia, Cronus grabbed his father and castrated him, throwing the severed genitals into the ocean.
The Erinyes, the Giants and the Meliae were born on the stop where Uranus’s spilled blood touched the earth. When Uranus’s Cronus severed genitals fell into the sea, where they floated past Crete and blended with the sea foam to produce the goddess Aphrodite.
After his castration, the Uranus (Sky) came no more to cover the Earth at night but held to its place. The sky was forever separated from the Earth.
The balance of power shifted from primordial deities to the next generation, the Titans. Cronus became the leader of the Titans and ruler of the whole universe.
Rhea, Cronus and Philyra
On the days when Cronus ruled the Titans together with his consort Rhea, Rhea once surprised him in the act with Oceanid Philyra. He then galloped off in the form of a long-maned stallion. As for Philyra, she gave birth to the Centaur Chiron, the wisest of all Centaurs.
Cronus and the Golden Age
Gods and men alike lived blissfully under Cronus’s rule during the Golden age. There was no pain, death, disease, hunger, or any other evil. Children were born autochthonously, which means out of the soil, testifying to Cronus’s importance as the god of the harvest. This happy period ended with Zeus coming to power.
Rhea, Cronus and Zeus
The Golden Age did not last long. Cronus grew obsessed with his power, becoming suspicious and cruel. He began by banishing his siblings, the Cyclopes and Hecatoncheires, to Tartarus. His parents, Gaia and Uranus, had warned him that he would suffer the same fate as Uranus, being overthrown by one of his children. Determined to prevent this prophecy from coming true, he devoured each child Rhea gave birth to as soon as they were born. This continued until Rhea’s sixth child, Zeus, was born. At the urging of her parents, Uranus and Gaia, Rhea tricked Cronus by giving him a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes to swallow instead of Zeus. Gaia then supported Zeus as he grew up in a sacred cave on Mount Ida in Crete.
When Zeus reached adulthood, Gaia provided him with a potion that forced Cronus to regurgitate everything he had swallowed. The stone emerged first, followed by Rhea’s other children.
Zeus and his siblings, who later became known as the Olympians, rebelled against their father. They waged a long war against Cronus, called the Titanomachia. The Olympians ultimately emerged victorious, thanks in part to the assistance of the Cyclopes and Hecatoncheires, whom they had liberated from Tartarus.
After Zeus became the new king of the gods, he banished Cronus and the other Titans, except for Rhea, to Tartarus. Following this, Cronus completely fades out of the mythology.
Cronus flees to Latium
The ancient Romans believed that after the Olympians defeated Cronus’ army of Titans, he escaped to Latium. There, he ruled with righteousness and ushered the people into a period of peace and prosperity. This is the reason people celebrated Saturn (the Roman name for Cronus) each year in a festival known as Saturnalia.
Depictions in Art and Pop Culture
In Greek Art:
- Cronus often appears as a mature, curly-haired male with a large beard, resembling his sons Zeus and Poseidon with his bare-chested and muscular form. He frequently appears in merciless acts of child-devouring. The origin of his depictions featuring a mantle or veil covering his head remains unclear.
- Additionally, artists often portray him as an elderly man wielding a scythe or sickle in his hands. With long, grey, curly hair and a matching beard, Cronus sometimes also boasts white, angelic wings on his back.
- A Greek vase from 469-450 BC, now part of the Metropolitan Museum in New York’s collection, depicts Cronus receiving the omphalos stone from Rhea. Several surviving Greek vases echo this theme.
- A Pompeian fresco from the 1st century AD depicts Saturn (Cronus’s equivalent) holding a scythe.
- Goya’s famous mural “Saturn” transferred to canvas is part of the collection of the Prado museum.
In Pop Culture:
- Cronus features as a recurring character in the God of War video game series. He represents a major antagonist in God of War III (2010).
- In the book series, Percy Jackson and the Olympians he appears as Kronos, an evil character, embittered after the thousands of years that he spent in Tartarus. He gathers an army of monsters and leads them to Mount Olympus to try and overthrow Zeus and other Olympians.
- Cronus features in Freud’s writings in connection with the “castration complex”, as linked to the Oedipus complex.
Frequently Asked Questions
Cronus was the King of the Titans and the god of time, in particular time when viewed as a destructive, all-devouring force, but also the god of the harvest.
Cronus never embodied evil. He was an ancient force who fell to natural cycles of power in the Greek eyes, which is also proved by him being the god of the harvest.
Cronus was tricked by Rhea into swallowing a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes instead of Zeus.
Grain, sickle, scythe.
Featured Image Credit: Karl Friedrich Schinkel, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons