Hecatoncheires in Greek Mythology — The Hundred Handed Ones

Hecatonchires of Greek Mythology 101

What are the Hecatoncheires in Greek Mythology?

HECATONCHEIRES, in Greek mythology, are giant creatures who were the children of the Titan Uranus and Gaia. Three giants made up of the Hecatoncheires: Cottus (the striker or the furious), Briareus or Aegaeon (the vigorous or the sea-goat), and Gyges (the big-limbed). Hecatoncheires means “the Hundred-Handed Ones”.

There are creatures in Greek mythology that possess unrivalled beauty. There are those that instil fear with just a glance, and there are those that are so hideous and gruesome that not even their father could bear the sight of them. The creatures that I’m referring to here are the Hecatoncheires.

Much like the Cyclops and the Titans, the Hecatoncheires were born from Uranus and Gaia’s union, but unlike their siblings, the Hecatoncheires had a monstrous appearance. They were giant creatures with fifty pairs of hands and fifty heads. They were sometimes referred to as “the hundred handed ones”.

Having fifty heads and fifty pairs of hands that belonged to different individuals meant that the Hecatoncheires struggled to control themselves in unison. With endless screams and limbs flailing uncontrollably, they were wild and incapable of even a simple action.

The Birth of the Hecatoncheires

The Birth of the Hecatoncheires

The birth of the Hecatoncheires caused Gaia great pain and suffering. Upon seeing them, Uranus knew that they would never be as graceful as his previous children, and he refused to name them, instead referring to them as the hundred handed ones. On the other hand, Gaia loved all her children equally and gave them names, Briareus, the vigorous; Cottus, the furious; and Gyges, the big-limbed.

Uranus, unfortunately, did not share Gaia’s love and his disdain only grew towards the Hecatoncheires. He hated their appearance so much that he pushed him back into the womb of Gaia, where they would remain until Uranus was defeated and exiled.

In some variations, Uranus banished them to the pits of Tartarus when they were born. With no mother to love or nourish them, they did the only thing they could and fed upon their violence and anger, becoming more monstrous with each passing minute. Until the day Cronus castrated his father when the gates of Tartarus swung open, and they were finally free to leave the hell that they had been imprisoned in.

The Return to Tartarus and the Titanomachy

The Return to Tartarus and the Titanomachy

The Hecatoncheires had only known violence and cruelty their entire lives, and upon seeing Cronus and the other Titans, their first instinct was to attack. After a gruelling battle, Cronus knew that he could not control the Hecatoncheires, and he managed to place them, one by one, back into Tartarus.

Once again, the Hecatoncheires were sentenced to the fiery pits of Hell, where their anger would eventually begin to subside as they accepted their fate. That is until they heard a voice calling to them.

As Zeus and the Olympians were in the middle of a war between the remaining Titans, he believed that the Hecatoncheires and the Cyclops locked away in Tartarus were the keys to victory.

Unlike his father, Zeus had been told how to approach the Hecatonchires; he said,

“Brothers, I seek your help in battle, and for your services, I will set you free. But beforehand, you must prove that you have mastered the use of your limbs as well as your rage.

Save your rage for the coming battle. I give you three tasks to prove yourself worthy of your freedom.

First, you must defeat the dragon who guards your prison.

Second, you must hurl a boulder from the entrance of your pit to the highest point of Mount Olympus, declared Zeus pointing to the heavens.

Third, you must locate the Cyclops in Tartarus and help them to forge mighty weapons to defeat our father, Cronus.”

For the first time, the Hecatonchires were not treated like monsters, and they completed Zeus’s first two Labours, eagerly awaiting revenge upon the Titans.

During the battle, the Hecatonchires hold boulders, the size of mountains and the Titans were overwhelmed. Zeus’s plan had been successful, as the Hecatonchires and cyclopes had handed him victory. Still, the Hecatonchires had also triumphed over their disability and were now in control of their bodies.

Freedom at Last—Life After the War

Zeus remained true to his word, and he set them free. Briareus was even offered Poseidon‘s daughter’s hand in marriage and was granted a palace beneath the Aegean Sea. He would even later rescue Zeus from a coup staged by the other Olympians to overthrow him.

Cottus and Gyges became the guardians of Tartarus, as nobody knew the prison better than they did. They were also given their palaces under Oceanus.

It was often believed that the many limbs of the Hecatonchires cause earthquakes.

In Conclusion

The story of the Hecatonchires is one of redemption. The creatures were neglected from birth, and they were treated like monsters until they eventually became precisely that. But when given a chance and treated as equals, the Hecatonchires redeemed themselves and earned their place amongst the gods.


Hecatonchires Q&A


Who are the Hecatoncheires?

Hecatoncheires, in Greek mythology, are giant creatures who were the children of the Titan Uranus and Gaia. There are three giants that made up of the Hecatoncheires: Cottus (the striker or the furious), Briareus or Aegaeon (the vigorous or the sea-goat), and Gyges (the big-limbed). Hecatoncheires means “the Hundred-Handed Ones”.


Who were the Parents of the Hecatoncheires?

The Hecatoncheires were Uranus and Gaia’s children, but Uranus hated them because they were ugly creatures. So, he shoved the Hecatoncheires back into Gaia’s womb as they were born.


Who threw Hecatoncheires into Tartarus?

Uranus first thew the Hecatoncheires into Tartarus according to some account, but later, Cronus did. Cronus knew that he could not control the Hecatoncheires, and he managed to place them, one by one, back into Tartarus.


What happened to the Hecatoncheires?

Zeus remained true to his word, and he set them free after the defect of the Titans in the Titanomachy. The Hechatonchires, Briareus was even offered Poseidon‘s daughter’s hand in marriage and was granted a palace beneath the Aegean Sea. Cottus and Gyges became the guardians of Tartarus, as nobody knew the prison better than they did. They were also given their palaces under Oceanus.

Image Sources: Cliff Childs, Orion35.

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