In Greek religion, a male agricultural deity. He was the youngest of the 12 Titans borne by Uranus and Gaea, and his castration of his father separated heaven from earth. With his sister and consort Rhea, he fathered Hestia, Demeter, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon, all of whom he swallowed because he had been warned that he would be overthrown by his own child. Rhea hid his son Zeus and tricked Cronus into swallowing a stone; Zeus later forced Cronus to disgorge the others and then vanquished him in war. He was identified with the Roman god Saturn.
Learn more about Cronus with a free trial on Britannica.com.
As a result of his association and virtuous Golden Age, Cronus was worshipped as a harvest deity, overseeing crops such as grains, nature, agriculture, and the progression of time in relation to humans in general. He was usually depicted with a sickle, which he used to harvest crops and which was also the weapon he used to castrate and depose Ouranos. In Athens, on the twelfth day of every month (Hekatombaion), a festival called Kronia was held in honor of Cronus to celebrate the harvest. Cronus was also identified in classical antiquity with the Roman deity Saturn.
The etymology of the name is obscure. It may be related to "horned", suggesting a possible connection with the ancient Indian demon Kroni or the Levantine deity El. In the Alexandrian and Renaissance periods there was some confusion with the word χρόνος, Chronos, meaning time.
In ancient Greek myths, Cronus envied the power of his father, the ruler of the universe, Ouranos. Ouranos drew the enmity of Cronus' mother, Gaia, when he hid the gigantic youngest children of Gaia, the hundred-armed Hecatonchires and one-eyed Cyclopes, in Tartarus, so that they would not see the light. Gaia created a great adamant sickle and gathered together Cronus and his brothers to persuade them to kill Ouranos. Only Cronus was willing to do the deed, so Gaia gave him the sickle and placed him in ambush. When Ouranos met with Gaia, Cronus attacked him with the sickle by cutting off his genitals, castrating him and casting the severed member into the sea. From the blood (or, by a few accounts, semen) that spilled out from Ouranos and fell upon the earth, the Gigantes, Erinyes, and Meliae were produced. From the member that was cast into the sea, Aphrodite later emerged. For this, Ouranos threatened vengeance and called his sons titenes (according to Hesiod meaning "straining ones," the source of the word "titan", but this etymology is disputed) for overstepping their boundaries and daring to commit such an act.
In an alternate version of this myth, a more benevolent Cronus overthrew the wicked serpentine Titan Ophion. In doing so, he released the world from bondage and for a time ruled it justly.
After dispatching Ouranos, Cronus re-imprisoned the Hecatonchires, the Gigantes, and the Cyclopes and set the dragon Campe to guard them. He and Rhea took the throne of the world as king and queen. This period of Cronus' rule was called the Golden Age, as the people of the time had no need for laws or rules; everyone did the right thing, and immorality was absent.
Cronus learned from Gaia and Ouranos that he was destined to be overcome by his own son, just as he had overthrown his father. As a result, although he sired the gods Demeter, Hera, Hades, Hestia, and Poseidon by Rhea, he swallowed them all as soon as they were born to preempt the prophecy. When the sixth child, Zeus, was born Rhea sought Gaia to devise a plan to save them and to eventually get retribution on Cronus for his acts against his father and children. Rhea secretly gave birth to Zeus in Crete, and handed Cronus a stone wrapped in swaddling clothes, also known as the Omphalos Stone, which he promptly swallowed, thinking that it was his son.
Rhea kept Zeus hidden in a cave on Mount Ida, Crete. According to some versions of the story, he was then raised by a goat named Amalthea, while a company of Kouretes, armored male dancers, shouted and clapped their hands to make enough noise to mask the baby's cries from Cronus. Other versions of the myth have Zeus raised by the nymph Adamanthea, who hid Zeus by dangling him by a rope from a tree so that he was suspended between the earth, the sea, and the sky, all of which were ruled by his father, Cronus. Still other versions of the tale say that Zeus was raised by his grandmother, Gaia.
Once he had grown up, Zeus used a poison given to him by Gaia to force Cronus (Kronos or Kronus) to disgorge the contents of his stomach in reverse order: first the stone, which was set down at Pytho under the glens of Mount Parnassus to be a sign to mortal men, then the goat, and then his two brothers and three sisters. In other versions of the tale, Metis gave Cronus an emetic to force him to disgorge the children, or Zeus cut Cronus' stomach open. After freeing his siblings, Zeus released the Gigantes, the Hecatonchires, and the Cyclopes, who forged for him his thunderbolts. In a vast war called the Titanomachy, Zeus and his brothers and sisters, with the help of the Gigantes, Hecatonchires, and Cyclopes, overthrew Cronus and the other Titans. Afterwards, many of the Titans were confined in Tartarus. Some Titans were not banished to Tartarus. Cronus, Epimetheus, Menoetius, Oceanus and Prometheus are examples of Titans who were not imprisoned in Tartarus following the Titanomachy. Gaia bore the monster Typhon to claim revenge for the imprisoned Titans, though Zeus was victorious. Accounts of the fate of Cronus after the Titanomachy differ. In Homeric and other texts he is imprisoned with the other Titans in Tartarus. In Orphic poems, he is imprisoned for eternity in the cave of Nyx. Pindar describes his release from Tartarus, where he is made King of Elysium by Zeus.
Cronos is again mentioned in the Sibylline Oracles, particularly book three, which makes Cronos, 'Titan' and Iapetus, the three sons of Ouranos and Gaia, each to receive a third division of the Earth, and Cronos is made king over all. After the death of Ouranos, Titan's sons attempt to destroy Cronos' and Rhea's male offspring as soon as they are born, but at Dodona, Rhea secretly bears her sons Zeus, Poseidon and Hades and sends them to Phrygia to be raised in the care of three Cretans. Upon learning this, sixty of Titan's men then imprison Cronos and Rhea, causing the sons of Cronos to declare and fight the first of all wars against them. This account mentions nothing about Cronos either killing his father or attempting to kill any of his children.
The account ascribed by Eusebius to the semi-legendary pre-Trojan War Phoenician historian, Sanchuniathon, indicates that Cronus was originally a Canaanite ruler who founded Byblos and was subsequently deified. This version gives his alternate name as Elus or Ilus, and states that in the 32nd year of his reign, he emasculated, slew and deified his father Epigeius or Autochthon "whom they afterwards called Uranus". It further states that after ships were invented, Cronos, visiting the 'inhabitable world', bequeathed Attica to his own daughter Athena, and Egypt to Thoth the son of Misor and inventor of writing.
While the Greeks considered Cronus a force of chaos along with disorder, believing that the Olympian gods had brought an era of peace and order by seizing power from the crude and malicious Titans, the Romans had a more positive view of the deity. Although the Roman deity Saturn was conflated heavily with Cronus, the Romans favored Saturn much more than the Greeks did Cronus. While Cronus was considered a cruel and tempestuous deity to the Greeks, his nature under Roman influence became more innocuous, with his association with the Golden Age eventually causing him to become the god of "human time", i.e., calendars, seasons, and harvests — not to be confused with Chronos, the unrelated embodiment of time in general. While the Greeks largely neglected Cronus, considering him a mere intermediary stage between Ouranos and Zeus, he was a larger aspect of Roman mythology and religion; Saturnalia was a festival dedicated in his honor, and at least one temple to Saturn existed in the early Roman Kingdom.
Owing to the abundance of isolated cities in ancient and classic times, numerous myths were developed and adopted to the local regions. As technology allowed cultures of common descent to rejoin, people made accommodations to create a unified pantheon or understanding of the universe.
As a result of Cronus' importance to the Romans, his Roman variant, Saturn, has had a large influence on Western culture. In accordance with the Near Eastern tradition, the seventh day of the Judaeo-Christian week was also called in Latin Dies Saturni ("Day of Saturn"), which in turn was adapted and became the source of the English word Saturday. In astronomy, the planet Saturn is named after the Roman deity. It is the seventh and outermost of the seven heavenly objects that are visible with the naked eye.