The most famous Roman religious festival honored the god whose best-remembered character trait was eating his children. But, like the god for which it was named, the Saturnalia was adapted from an older version known to the Greeks.
The Kronia is first recorded in Ionia, the central part of western Anatolia (modern Turkey) in the eighth century BC, a little before the time of the prophet Isaiah. From there, the celebration spread to Athens and the island of Rhodes, ultimately making its way westward to Rome, shifting over time from midsummer to the winter solstice. Both festivals were a time of merriment and abandoning social norms, with gambling, gift-giving, suspension of normal business, and the reversal of roles by slaves and their masters.
But don’t let the annual party fool you. The god has a dark side. It’s well documented that both Saturn and Kronos accepted human sacrifices.
Condemned prisoners were sacrificed to Kronos at Rhodes; children were offered to the god at Crete; and, as Baal Hammon, the god was offered sacrifices of Phoenician children well into the Christian era. Perhaps most horrifying of all is the description of the first-century philosopher Plutarch:
[Carthaginians] offered up their own children, and those who had no children would buy little ones from poor people and cut their throats as if they were so many lambs or young birds; meanwhile the mother stood by without a tear or moan; but should she utter a single moan or let fall a single tear, she had to forfeit the money, and her child was sacrificed nevertheless; and the whole area before the statue was filled with a loud noise of flutes and drums took the cries of wailing should not reach the ears of the people.
This reputation followed Kronos down the centuries. As late as the Roman Imperial period (27 BC to about AD 400), a Greek inscription called him Κρόνου Τεκνοφάγου–Kronos Teknophagos, or “Kronos Child-eater.”
But we can’t lay the blame for the cult of Kronos entirely on the Greeks. As you’ve already learned, this god is much older than Greek civilization, and he originated farther east, in northern Mesopotamia. Evidence suggests that the Kronia was ancient by the time the Greeks established themselves as a world power.
A text discovered in 1983 at the site of the capital city of the Hittite kingdom, Hattuša, dated to about 1400 BC, the time of the Israelite conquest of Canaan, describes a myth in which the king of the gods, the storm-god Teshub (Baal/Zeus/Jupiter by a different name) celebrates a ritual meal with the sun-goddess, Allani, and the “primeval gods” who’d been banished to the netherworld. These old gods were not just at the table; they sat in the place of honor at Teshub’s right hand.
The celebration of the temporary suspension of the cosmic order surely accompanied the temporary suspension of the social order on earth. In other words, the myth with the “primeval gods” will have been associated with a ritual of reversal between masters and slaves. Now the Titans were also called “the old gods,” old and/or dumb people were insulted as Kronoi, and Attic comedy used expressions such as “older than Kronos” and “older than Kronos and the Titans.” Evidently, the antiquity of this divine generation had become proverbial at a relatively early stage of the tradition. The Titans thus can be legitimately compared to the Hurrian “primeval” gods.
The mention of the ancient Northern Syrian city of Ebla in the Hurrian tale suggests that the origin of the Kronia/Saturnalia is to be found there, in Syria. This is consistent with a growing body of evidence that the cults of the Greek and Roman gods originated in Syria, Canaan, and Mesopotamia:
[Martin L.] West drew attention to the conceptual similarity of the (Hittite) “former gods” (karuilies siunes) with the Titans, called Προτεροι Θεοι in Theogony 424, 486. Both groups were confined to the underworld (with the apparent exceptions of Atlas and Prometheus), and as Zeus banished the Titans thither, so Tešup [Teshub] banished the karuilies siunes, commonly twelve in number, like the Titans. They were in turn identified with the Mesopotamian Anunnaki. These were confined by Marduk to the underworld, or at least some of them were (half the six hundred, Enuma Elish vi 39–47, see 41–44), where they were ruled over variously by Dagan or Shamash.
So, the earliest traces of Kronos are found in Mesopotamia, not Greece. Specifically, the trail leads to northwest Mesopotamia, along the Mediterranean coast near the border between modern Syria and Turkey—precisely where we find the cults of El and the old god of the Hurrians, Kumarbi.
Scholar Amar Annus, who has done brilliant work tracing the Watchers back from Hebrew texts to older Mesopotamian sources, came to an astonishing conclusion when he dug into the origin of the name of the Titans. Annus notes first the existence of an ancient, and by the time of the judges in Israel, almost mythical Amorite tribe called the “Tidanu” or “Ditanu.”
They had a bad reputation in Mesopotamia. There were considered uncivilized, warlike, and dangerous. In fact, they were so threatening to the last Sumerian kings of Mesopotamia, the Third Dynasty of Ur, that around 2037 BC they began building a wall 175 miles long north of modern Baghdad specifically to keep the Tidanu away. We know this because the Sumerians named it bàd martu muriq tidnim, which literally means “Amorite Wall Which Keeps the Tidnum [Tidanu] at a Distance.”
Annus notes that the name “Ti/Di-ta/da-nu(m)—most possibly ‘large animal; aurochs; strong, wild bovide’—is the name of the eponymic tribe.” Now, if you were going to pick a totem animal to represent your tribe back in the day, the aurochs was a great choice. It’s an extinct form of cattle from which modern domesticated breeds descend, and they were huge. Bulls stood about six feet at the shoulder, weighed about a ton, and had nasty horns that put a chill in a hunter’s spine. Based on medieval art, a recommended tactic for hunting aurochs involved keeping a stout tree between the hunter and the animal. Aurochs were the largest land mammals in Europe until the last one died in 1627.
The point is that the Ditanu/Tidanu, which apparently took the tribal name from didānu or ditānu, the Akkadian word for “aurochs,” were linked to the Rephaim in ritual texts at Ugarit:
Greatly exalted be Keret
In the midst of the rpum [Rephaim] of the earth
In the gathering of the assembly of the Ditanu.
So, the Ditanu/Tidanu were connected to the Rephaim in mind and ritual among the ancient Amorites, who believed the Rephaim were the divinized ancestors of their kings. What’s more, this assembly was summoned in a necromancy ritual for the coronation of Ugarit’s last king, Ammurapi III.
You are summoned, O Rephaim of the earth,
You are invoked, O council of the Didanu!
Ulkn, the Raphi’, is summoned,
Trmn, the Raphi’, is summoned,
Sdn-w-rdn is summoned,
Ṯr ‘llmn is summoned,
the Rephaim of old are summoned!
You are summoned, O Rephaim of the earth,
You are invoked, O council of the Didanu!
This council or assembly was more than a group of honored forefathers. One text from Ugarit refers to ritual offerings for the temple of Didanu, and temples owed sacrifices are typically devoted to gods. Between the time of Abraham, around 2000 BC, and the time of the judges, circa 1200 BC, the Tidanu/Ditanu were transformed from a scary tribe of Amorites named for a giant wild bull into divine beings connected to the Rephaim, who likewise disappeared from the earth (in physical form) during that period.
And—here’s the interesting bit—the Tidanu/Ditanu are the origin of the name of the bad old gods of the Greeks:
Then it may not be overbold to assume that the Greek Titanes originates from the name of the semi-mythical warrior-tribe (in Ugarit) tdn—mythically related to the Rpum in the Ugarit, and once actually tied together with Biblical Rephaim in II Samuel 5:18–22, where we have in some manuscripts Hebrew rp’m rendered into LXX as Titanes.
At the risk of sounding like a TV pitchman: But wait—there’s more! The name of the Titan king, Kronos, probably has a similar origin:
The bovid sense of the form Ditanu/Didanu is particularly intriguing in view of other tauromorph elements in the tradition. Thus, the prominent Titan Kronos was later identified with El, who is given the epithet tr, “Bull”, in Ugaritic and biblical literature. Apart from this explicit allusion, we may well ask whether the name El, (Akkadian and Ugaritic ilu) does not already itself have a bovine sense…. Does it perhaps mean “Bull”, (perhaps more generically “male animal”), so that the epithetal title tr is in effect a redundant gloss on it?…
Furthermore, the name Kronos may well carry the same nuance, since it may be construed as referring to bovine horns (Akkadian, Ugaritic qarnu, Hebrew qeren), which feature prominently in divine iconography in the Near East.
In other words, the name “Kronos” probably comes from a Semitic word that basically means “Horned One.” And in this name, we may have discovered a basis for the artistic depictions of devils and demons through the ages as horned entities at home in the underworld.
This fits with the depiction of deities in Mesopotamia. The gods of Sumer were always shown wearing helmets with multiple sets of horns. The lamassu of Assyria looked like winged bulls with human heads and lion’s feet. And when we compare the descriptions of the cherubim in Ezekiel 1 and Ezekiel 10, we realize that the face of the cherub is, in fact, the face of an ox—or an aurochs.
The veneration of the Tidanu/Ditanu/Titans and their demonic offspring, the Rephaim, stretches at least as far back as the time of Isaac and Jacob. A bone talisman dated to about 1750 BC, found in a royal tomb at Ebla in northern Syria, depicts a scene that suggests three ranks in the hierarchy of the afterlife: A lower level for the human dead, a top level inhabited by the gods, and a middle level occupied by entities that probably represent Rephaim or the Eblaite equivalent. It’s been suggested by scholars who have tried to interpret the symbols on the artifact that the item was a guide to the spirit of the dead king on how to attain status as one of the venerated dead.
But why would the Greeks choose the name of an Amorite tribe for the old gods imprisoned in Tartarus? Was that tribe literally descended from the rebellious “sons of God” in Genesis 6? In other words, were the Tidanu/Ditanu literally Nephilim?
Probably not. The Nephilim were destroyed in the Flood. Their spirits survived to become demons, but we don’t believe there is Nephilim DNA floating around inside humans today.
What’s clear are the connections between the religions of the ancient Amorites, the Hurrians and Hittites who lived to the north of Mesopotamia, and the Greeks of the classical era. It’s not surprising that scholars are shifting away from the consensus view of a hundred years ago that Greco-Roman religion developed from prehistoric Indo-Europeans. Modern archaeology makes it more obvious with each passing year that the religion of Greece and Rome originated with the people of the Near East.
The biggest change regarding the relationship between humanity and the “former gods” was that, by the time the Greeks emerged onto the world stage, Kronos was the only one of the old gods who received any kind of worship. His brothers and sisters had small roles in the Greek cosmology, but Kronos was the only one with official rites.
This is a little odd, since the assembly, or council, of the Ditanu had its own temple at Ugarit as late as the time of the judges. It seems that as the centuries rolled by, the only one of the spirits in the abyss who still commanded any respect was their leader.
Since the Titans can be identified as the Watchers who defied their Creator in the distant past on Mount Hermon, then the Amorites worshiped those beings long after the Flood had destroyed their children, the Nephilim. Under the influence of the demon spirits of the Nephilim, these descendants of Canaan, son of Ham, terrorized the ancient Near East from before the time of Abraham until the time of David, when the soldiers of Israel finally wiped out the Philistine “descendants of the Rapha.”
Identifying the Titans as the Watchers who swore an oath on Mount Hermon is consistent with evidence from the myths of later civilizations. Textual evidence from ancient Mesopotamia identifies Kronos as the Phoenician Baal Hammon, and the earlier Mesopotamian deities Kumarbi (Hurrians), El (Canaan), Dagan (Amorites and Philistines), Assur (Assyria), and Enlil (Akkad and Sumer). All of them, from Kumarbi to Enlil, have their origins in northwest Syria or southeast Turkey, in an area generally bounded on the south by Jebel Bishri in northeast Syria and the Amanus mountains in southern Turkey. And that’s precisely the region that eventually produced the Amorites and the tribe from which the Amorite kings of Babylon claimed descent, the Tidanu/Ditanu, which apparently took the name of the old gods called “Titans” by the later Greeks. In fact, one of the mountain peaks in the Bishri range northeast of Palmyra is called “Jebel Diddi,” which may preserve the name of the ancient Amorite tribe.
After the Flood, spirits in the vicinity of modern-day Aleppo led a group of Amorites to believe a twisted version of history—that the ancestors of this tribe had been demigods, “mighty men who were of old,” and that the old gods were still available to serve if only the Amorites pledged their worship and made regular sacrifices to them. Over time, as the influence of these old gods spread westward through the lands of the Hurrians and Hittites, they were adopted into the religion of the Greeks as the Titans, a name that reflects the bull-like appearance of these entities, who may be, like the divine rebel from Eden, rebellious cherubim who thought they could overthrow their Creator.
In fact, this may be additional evidence that the “horned one,” Kronos/Shemihazah, was the guardian cherub in Eden before he dared to try establishing his own kingdom on earth.
Even after his ejection from the mountain of God, Kronos has continued to influence the world. To this day, one can make the case that child sacrifice, which has become an industry, is a sanitized version of the ancient worship of a dark god who sits in Tartarus, waiting for the time to emerge and claim what he believes is rightfully his—the very throne of God.
NEXT: Baal Hammon
 Jan N. Bremmer, “Remember the Titans!” In C. Auffarth and L. Stuckenbruck (eds.), The Fall of the Angels(Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2004), pp. 43–44.
 Ibid., p. 44.
 John F. Miller, “Roman Festivals,” in The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Greece and Rome (Oxford University Press, 2010), p. 172.
 Porphyry, On Abstinence from Animal Food, 2.54 (http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/porphyry_abstinence_02_book2.htm, retrieved 6/15/19).
 Ibid., 2.56.
 Diodorus Siculus, Library of World History 13.86.3; 20.14.6 (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Diodorus_Siculus/home.html, retrieved 6/15/19); also Tertullian, Apologeticus 9.22 (http://www.tertullian.org/articles/mayor_apologeticum/mayor_apologeticum_07translation.htm, retrieved 6/15/19).
 Plutarch, On Superstition 13.4 (http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Plutarch/Moralia/De_superstitione*.html, retrieved 4/7/21).
 Jan N. Bremmer, Greek Religion and Culture, the Bible and the Ancient Near East (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2008), p. 84.
 Bremmer, op. cit., p. 46.
 Ibid., p. 47.
 Wyatt (2010), op. cit., p. 56.
 Michael Heltzer, The Suteans (Naples: Instituto Universitario Orientale, 1981), p. 99.
 Thorkild Jacobsen, Cuneiform Texts in the National Museum, Copenhagen, Chiefly of Economical Contents(Leiden: Brill, 1939), p. 7.
 Walther Sallaberger, “From Urban Culture to Nomadism: A History of Upper Mesopotamia in the Late Third Millennium.” In C. Kuzucuoğlu and C. Marro (eds.), Sociétés humaines et changement climatique à la fin du troisième millénaire: une crise a-t-elle eu lieu en Haute Mésopotamie? (Istanbul: Institut Français d’Études Anatoliennes-Georges Dumézil, 2007), pp. 444–445.
 Annus (1999), op. cit., p. 19.
 There’s an active program to create a new breed similar to the aurochs to be released into the wild in Europe. Breeders hope to have a close match for the aurochs by 2025. Kieron Monks, “The Wild, Extinct Supercow Returning to Europe.” CNN, Jan. 9, 2017. https://www.cnn.com/2017/01/09/world/auroch-rewilding/index.html, retrieved 4/6/21.
 Ugaritic text KTU 1.15. III, 13–15, cited by Annus, op. cit.
 KTU 1.161, in Wyatt (2002), op. cit., p. 210.
 Jordi Vidal, “The Origins of the Last Ugaritic Dynasty.” Altorientalishce Forschungen 33 (2006), p. 168.
 Og of Bashan, defeated by the Israelites around 1406 BC, was described in the Bible as the last of the remnant of the Rephaim (Deuteronomy 3:11).
 Annus (1999), op. cit., p. 20.
 Wyatt (2010), op. cit., pp. 54–55.
 Andrea Polcaro, “The Bone Talisman and the Ideology of Ancestors in Old Syrian Ebla: Tradition and Innovation in the Royal Funerary Ritual Iconography.” In P. Matthiae (ed.), Studia Eblaitica (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2015), pp. 179–204.
 Genesis 10:16.
 Daniel Bodi, “Is There a Connection Between the Amorites and the Arameans?” Aram 26:1 & 2 (Oxford: Aram Publishing, 2014), p. 385.