Greek mythology often references the twelve gods of Olympus. These Olympians were among many deities, but held more power and prestige than most.
Most Greeks agreed on many of these gods. Figures like Zeus, Hera, Athena, and Apollo were revered throughout the Greek world.
Others, however, were not always seen in the same light. While some Greeks considered them to be among the most powerful and influential gods, others saw them differently.
Unlike the Romans, whose twelve chief gods were part of the state religion, Greek belief varied widely by period, place, and even individual preference. This meant that the question of who the twelve Greek gods of Olympus were could have many different answers.
While the Greeks had many gods and goddesses, they believed that twelve of them were more powerful than the rest.
These twelve ruled from Mount Olympus, the home of the gods. While many gods lived there, the twelve most prominent gods are usually what is meant when someone refers to the Olympians.
Most of these gods were recognized throughout the Greek-speaking world. They had temples and shrines as far away as Italy, Turkey, and North Africa.
The king of the Olympians was Zeus. The father of many gods and heroes, he had established Olympus and earned the right to rule its gods by defeating his own father, Cronos, and the Titans.
His wife Hera was also one of his three sisters. Although often depicted as jealous and vindictive, she was also well-loved as the goddess of marriage and family.
Their brother Poseidon was the lord of the sea. He was nearly equal to his brother in power and influence over the world.
Zeus and Hera’s sister Demeter was another important Olympian goddess. As the deity of grains she oversaw agriculture and, ultimately, the cycle of life.
Zeus and Hera had one son, the god of war Ares. Although he was said to live outside of Greece much of the time, he still held an important place among the gods of Olympus.
The other deity of war, Athena, was born from Zeus after he swallowed his first wife, Metis. She was also the goddess of wisdom and was one of the most well-loved Olympians throughout the Greek world.
Rivaling Athena in importance was one of her half-brothers, Apollo. The god of music, poetry, oracles, and light, he represented everything the Greek people believed set their culture apart from those of their barbarian neighbors.
His twin sister, Artemis, was the goddess of hunting and the wilderness. She was also a virginal goddess who protected young women and new mothers.
Hephaestus was sometimes said to be the son of Zeus and Hera, but more often was thought of as having been born to Hera alone. Although deformed and often mocked, he held an important place as the god of smiths.
The smith god’s marriage to Aphrodite was an infamously bad match. The goddess of love and beauty had no affection for her husband but was instead in love with Ares.
Another of Zeus’s sons, Hermes, was the messenger of the gods. The trickster was often invoked as the patron of merchants, seamen, and other travelers.
While these eleven gods were generally recognized throughout Greece, the identity of the twelfth Olympian varied more greatly.
Some traditions included Hestia in the list of the most highly-regarded deities. The virginal sister of Zeus and Hera, she tended to the gods’ home and received all the burned offerings that were given to the Greek gods.
Some people, however, considered Dionysus to be the twelfth major god of Mount Olympus. The god of wine and revelry was more prominent in many places than his more sober aunt.
Because the religion of ancient Greece was not centralized, there is no single list of the twelve Greek gods of Mount Olympus.
Hestia and Dionysus, for example, often traded places.
Hestia was often given a place among the most powerful gods because she was one of the original children of Cronos and Rhea. As the keeper of Zeus’s hearth, she also had an important role in sacrifices and the connection between the people and their gods.
Dionysus, however, was a much more visible god. Hestia’s worship was largely centered around the home, not large temples or public celebrations, so she was often passed over in favor of the god of wine.
The specific domains of different gods also made them appeal to some worshipers more than others.
In the case of Dionysus and Hestia, the younger god was particularly favored in areas where winemaking was a major part of the local lifestyle and economy. Hestia, meanwhile, appealed more to people who favored a pious and virtuous lifestyle over the excess associated with Dionysus.
The gods’ domains also influenced which powerful gods were almost never counted among the twelve Olympians.
Hades was also Zeus’s brother and was an extremely powerful god. However, he was rarely counted as one of the twelve Greek gods of Mount Olympus.
As a god of the Underworld, Hades was respected but kept at a distance. The chthonic gods, those who had domain over death, were grouped separately from the main Olympian gods.
That is not to say that all the Olympians were well-loved. Ares was similarly disliked by most people, but his role in Greece’s many wars and importance to the men who fought in them seemingly warranted his inclusion in the twelve main gods.
Even the most widely recognized gods were not believed by all to be members of the twelve ruling gods of Olympus. At least one writer listed the twelve Olympians in pairs that included Rhea and Cronos rather than Aphrodite and Hephaestus.
Plato’s list seems to have included Hades, unlike most. He linked the twelve Greek gods with the twelve months of the year and said that the god of the Underworld had dominion over December.
Cults in Greece also had their own unique lists. Many included figures like Persephone that were important figures in the Underworld.
What all these systems had in common, however, was that they held twelve gods in the highest esteem. While the individual gods varied, the number twelve is known to have significance in Greek religion from at least the 6th century BC.
Ultimately, there was no definitive list of which of the twelve Greek gods were the most revered. Different circumstances, local customs, and individual preferences could lead to different gods being held in the highest esteem.
Greek mythology and literature often reference the twelve Olympians. These powerful Greek gods were held in the highest honor and had supremacy over many lesser deities.
Most Greeks agreed on many of the most powerful gods. The eleven included in most lists were Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Aphrodite, Ares, Athena, Hermes, Demeter, Apollo, Artemis, and Hephaestus.
In this list, the final god was often interpreted differently. Both Hestia and Dionysus were sometimes included among the twelve Greek gods but left out by others.
Not all Greeks agreed with this list, however. Many other gods were sometimes named as one of the twelve Olympians.
Hades was often seen as separate because he had dominion over the Underworld. Some, including members of Greece’s many mystery cults, included him, however.
Others such as Persephone, Rhea, and even Cronos were named as Olympians in some contexts.
What remained constant, however, was that the number twelve had great importance in the Greek religion. While the individual gods that were revered may have varied, people agreed that there were twelve Greek gods who were more important than the rest.