Greek Mythology abounds with numerous Gods and Goddesses. Each of these had different powers and attributes, along with varying levels of importance. The 12 most significant Gods and Goddesses were known as the Olympians, and in this article, you’ll find out more about them.
The Olympian Gods and Goddesses
Although today we describe the most significant Gods and Goddesses as numbering 12, there was in fact no definitive list. The reason for this, is that over the centuries some Gods and Goddesses rose in favour, whilst others were discarded.
In addition, Hades is not technically defined as an Olympian God as he did not reside on Mount Olympus but instead lived in the Underworld. The result is that there were actually 13 ‘Main’ Gods and Goddesses in Greek Mythology, but only ever 12 Olympians. Confused? Welcome to Greece!
Who were the Olympian Gods?
The Olympian gods and goddesses of Greek mythology were the principal deities of Ancient Greece, and each was thought to have a home on Mount Olympus.
The Gods and Goddesses were a family, with the core being brothers and sisters, and the rest being their first born offspring. The Olympians acquired their authority after a war of the gods of Greece where Zeus is credited with leadership and the eventual victory.
He had led his siblings to triumph over the last generation of the ruling clan of deities known as the Titans. Zeus gained his victory by overthrowing his own father, Cronus, who was the king of the Titans. He, therefore, became the chief deity in a new group of deities comprising primarily of his siblings and children.
The Gods of Greek Mythology
Here, we list the main Gods and Goddesses of Greek Mythology, along with their attributes. The list is in no particular order, although Hestia, Dionysus and Hades are left until the end due to their uncertain positions.
1. Zeus – The King of the Gods
He was the overall ruler of Mount Olympus and the king of all the Olympian gods of Greece. He was the lord and controller of the weather, that is, god of the sky, lightning and thunder, law and order, as well as justice. He was the youngest child of the Titan deities Cronus and Rhea and a brother to Poseidon, Hera, Demeter, Hades, and Hestia. His symbols included the thunderbolt, eagle, lion, scepter, oak tree, and scales.
2. Poseidon – God of the Sea
He is often thought of as the most second powerful God after Zeus. In charge of all water bodies and their associated natural calamities, Poseidon’s influence also affected the seas and oceans, rivers and lakes, storms and hurricanes, tsunamis and earthquakes, as well as horses. He was a brother to both Zeus and Hades, and was the middle son of Cronus and Rhea. His symbols included the horse, bull, trident, and dolphin.
3. Hera – Queen of the Gods
She was the queen goddess of Mt. Olympus, the primary abode of the gods of Greece. She was the goddess of women and childbirth, marriage and family. She was both a sister and wife to Zeus, the king of the gods. She was the youngest daughter of Cronus and Rhea. Her symbols included the peacock, cow, and cuckoo. Being the goddess and overseer of marriage, she tormented any women who had extramarital affairs with Zeus, together with their children.
4. Ares – The God of War
He was the god of violence, bloodshed, war, masculinity and manly virtues. He was born of Zeus and Hera. Ares was despised by all the other gods. His symbols included the boar, the serpent, the dog, the vulture, as well as spear and shield.
5. Athena – The Goddess of Wisdom
She was the goddess of knowledge, wisdom, reason, intelligence, science, literature, handicrafts, as well as defence and strategic warfare. She was fathered by Zeus with the Oceanid Metis, being her mother. Athena is said to have emerged out of her father’s head a fully-grown woman in full armour and ready for battle. Her symbols included the owl and the olive tree. The city of Athens is named after her after she was the victor in a contest against Poseidon as to who should be its patron deity.
6. Aphrodite – The Goddess of Love
She was the goddess of love, passion, desire, pleasure, beauty, procreation, and the fertility of the human body. She was the daughter of the Oceanid Dione and Zeus. Her symbols included the dove, bird, swan, bee, myrtle, apple, and rose.
7. Artemis – The Goddess of the Hunt
Artemis was the goddess of the jungle, hunting, archery, purity and virginity, childbirth, protection, plagues, and the moon. She was the daughter of Zeus and Leto and also a twin sister to Apollo. Her symbols included the moon, horse, deer, hound, snake, the cypress tree, she-bear, as well as bow and arrow.
8. Apollo – The God of the Sun
Apollo is quite a complex figure in Greek Mythology. He was the god of light, the sun, prophecy and philosophy, truth and inspiration, the arts, poetry and music, medicine, healing, and the plague. He was the son of Zeus and Leto, as well as the twin brother of Artemis. His symbols included the sun, swan, lyre, and mouse. Many temples were built in honour of Apollo, with the most famous one being in Delphi.
9. Demeter – The Goddess of Fertility
Demeter was the goddess of the earth’s fertility and productivity, harvest, agriculture, the environment, seasons, and nature. She was thus believed to preside over grains, the harvesting season and, generally, the fertility of the earth. Demeter was the lover of both Zeus and Poseidon, and the middle daughter born to Cronus and Rhea. Her symbols included the poppy, wheat, cornucopia, pig, and torch.
10. Hermes – The Messenger
Hermes was originally described as a trickster like character who deceived, perhaps a little like Loki from Norse mythology. Over time, he became associated as a God of travellers and traders, but is most commonly thought of as the messenger between Gods and Men.
11. Hephaestus – Blacksmith God
Hephaestus was the lame son born of Hera, who at one point was cast out of Olympus. Married to Aphrodite, he is credited with creating the Gods fabulous weapons and equipment.
12. Dionysus – The God of Wine
He was the god of wine and strong drinks, the grapevine, fertility, festivity, ecstasy and madness, as well as resurrection. He was fathered by Zeus and the mortal Theban princess, Semele was her mother. Dionysus was married to the Cretan princess Ariadne. Among Olympian gods, he was the youngest and the only one to have been borne by a mortal mother. His symbols included the grapevine, ivy, cup, tiger, leopard, panther, dolphin, goat, and pinecone.
Hades – The God of the Underworld
Although Hades is of the first generation of Greek Gods, he is often not considered to be an Olympian as he does not have a home there. He was the lord of the world of the dead who lived in and ruled the underworld, a land that was believed to be heavily guarded and out of reach of mortals before death. He was a brother to Zeus and the husband of Demeter’s daughter, Persephone, whom he had kidnapped to make his own wife.
Read more about Hades here: Hades, ruler of the Underworld
Hestia – Goddess of the Hearth
Hestia was actually the oldest of the first generation of Greek Gods – even older than Zeus. As a daughter of Cronus and Rhea, she lists Zeus, Poseidon, Hades, Hera, and Demeter as her brothers and sisters. Known as the Goddess of home and hearth, fire and family, she tired of the Gods bickering. As a result, she is thought to have ‘resigned’ from Olympus, giving over her seat to Dionysus. As she was thought to have kept a home there however, she is listed as an Olympian God.
Would you like to find out more about the ancient Greek Gods during a Greek Mythology tour? Take a look at our most popular Greek Mythology tour packages here.