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King Arthur fights a giant (engraving by Walter Crane )

In many stories , myths , legends and fairy tales, a type of human-like, but particularly large and powerful creature, whose representatives often take on the role of antagonists , are referred to as giants . Giants usually live according to different rules than humans or as rulers in the story, some have magical powers.

"Giant" is also a term for a tall person, or cases of giant stature (hypersomia, gigantism). Whether that is the only root of the myth is questionable.

The content-related argument with giants often stands for the fight against an outmoded, archaic and no longer considered sustainable structure of thought and action or against enemies of the order represented by the people. The titans of Greek mythology , for example, are the uncivilized predecessors of the Olympic gods. Almost all peoples in the world have or have had stories about giants, so there are tales of the giants as prehistoric humans among the natives of North America .

European narratives

Giants in Germanic mythology

In Germanic mythology , giants are often excessive, oversized, violent, threatening, and hostile to both humans and gods. They are then called Thursen or frost giants ( Hrimthursen ). The giants are generally referred to as jotun , regardless of their attitude.

The giants live in Riesenheim (Nordic Jötunheimr , Utgard , which means something like 'the outside world'). The giants embody the irrepressible natural forces such as ice, (wild) fire, water, stone or landslides (mudslides), hurricanes or spring tides cf. Midgard Serpent . Because the giants have existed since the beginning of the world, they are also called especially wise. Mimir is a wisdom giant, and the Jötun Wafthrudnir can only be defeated in the wisdom competition ( Vafþrúðnismál ) by Odin by asking the answer of which Odin alone knows. The first gods are descended from the giants, and later there are numerous connections between gods and giants (women).

In Ragnarök , the "final fate of the gods" (also known as Wagner's Götterdämmerung ), the Thursen march against the gods led by Odin ( Asen , an older family of gods are the Wanen ) and Einherjer (fallen warriors) in the great battle at the end of the world . The unleashed battle between the forces of nature and the spirit beings ends in the extensive mutual annihilation of both sides. Ragnarök as the end of the world of gods is not, however, immediately a new beginning; the sources are ambiguous for the assumption of a cyclical worldview.

In his Germania, Tacitus reports on the Hellusier and Oxionen peoples living far north, a mixture of people and giants, an assumption that persisted into the Middle Ages. Another reading simply equates Tacitus' reports with the observations of seals and sea lions in the North Sea, whose anatomy, at least in the head area, has a certain comparability with that of humans.

A saga tells of the giant Thrym (one of the ice giants) who steals Mjöllnir , the hammer of Thor . In return for the exchange, he demands marriage to the goddess Freyja . Thor agrees and, disguised as Freyja, moves into the giant's hall with Loki . Thanks to his skillful tongue, Loki succeeds in appeasing Thrym's suspicion aroused by "Freyja's" excessive appetite. At the wedding ceremony the hammer of the alleged Freyja is finally placed in the lap - Thor can finally take off the disguise. Meanwhile, his anger has grown to the point where he slays all the giants in the halls, including Thrymr. On earth this event is seen as a huge thunderstorm.

Giants at the time of the Great Migration

The term giant for an oversized, strong or mighty person is traced back to the time of the Great Migration . Here, some historians establish a linguistic reference to the Huns, although they are smaller than the Teutons, but repeatedly successful in warfare . An earlier use of the word is currently without a document, although in the context of European megalithic the term about megalithic grave finds. Colloquially and systematically related to this is the term giant grave for megalithic structures on Sardinia. There is a systematic cross-reference to the giants of Greek mythology .

Giants in the medieval world of legends

In the legends of the Middle Ages that follow the Germanic myths, the giants are mostly degraded to dumb, raw figures. They only serve the heroes to oppose such. B. the giant corner . This development can also be demonstrated in the various versions of the legend of the giant Bruns von Hanstedt . A certain mythical content is still given.

In the Danish story of Saxo Grammaticus , which dates back to the High Middle Ages , the preface refers to giants as former residents of Denmark and as evidence of this are given "the large [sic!] Stones that are attached to the graves and grottos of the ancients". Stone graves are thus declared here as the "work of giants".

In Paul Hermann's German Mythology there are some details that identify giants as local manifestations of natural forces. A giant named Tännchel is said to have blown up the rocks that dammed up the water of the Rhine between the Black Forest and the Vosges .

Allegedly, the emperor Maximilian (1459-1519) is said to have killed the last giant from the Odenwald himself in Worms.

Giants in fairy tales

Fairy tales about giants are numerous.

The legends about the giant and mountain spirit Rübezahl from the Giant Mountains, which have been handed down in writing since at least 1783, show several strong similarities to the tales about the god Odin in Germanic myths , at least in one work .

In the story of The Brave Little Tailor , published in 1812 by the Brothers Grimm, there is a depiction of two giants who, on the one hand, seem to be an indomitable plague, but which, on the other hand, soon kill each other due to specially provoked aggression.

The giant legend about Nideck Castle is also well-known , in the German-speaking area above all through the legend of the Brothers Grimm in 1816, The Giant Toys , which inspired Adelbert von Chamisso to write the poem of the same name.

With the Brothers Grimm, giants continue to plunge into the fairy tales The King's Son, Who Feared of Nothing , The King of the Golden Mountain , The Raven , The Messengers of Death , The Giant and the Tailor , The Huntsman , Ferenand Trü and Ferenand Undaunted , The Drummers , The crystal ball on. Here they are consistently depicted as greedy, irascible and stupid. A slightly different representation can be found in The Young Giant or in variants of Snow White , where they appear instead of the seven dwarfs.

The giant Samson from Tamsweg in Lungau

Giants in tradition

In many places in Europe, but more often in Belgium , in Salzburg's Lungau and in Catalonia (e.g. in Olot ), giant figures up to six meters high (in Lungau: Samson ) are carried during processions and parades .

The Alpine region , which is partly populated by Swabian and Alemannic people , especially the Berchtesgadener Land, Vorarlberg and Switzerland , is just as rich in stories about giants. Here, forces of nature such as avalanches, falling rocks or heavy weather, which have badly affected those affected, are personified by the stories. Furthermore, numerous mountains are assigned to both male and female legendary figures of particular sizes. Last but not least, stories from troll-like beings to wild women are lined up in a variety of ways. (see also the web link at the end)

Giants in Greek mythology

The titans are considered to be the oldest Greek family of gods. The giants ( gigantes ) are hybrids of humans and snakes and opponents of the Olympic gods. The one-eyed Cyclopes ( Cyclopes ) are also an ancient family of gods. For certain rather irregular, often large-format stone composites, mostly of historical origin, the term Cyclops wall is used today.

In the Odyssey of Homer will of the people Laestrygonians reported. They are also giants and cannibals who capsize Odysseus' ships with huge boulders, causing Odysseus to lose eleven of his twelve ships. During their journey to Colchis, the Argonauts also encounter six-armed giants ( Gegeneis ) who enjoy the violence.

Information about multi-armed giants can be found in many writings, they were called Hekatoncheiren . The largest should have around 100 arms. Well-known giants from legends are the bronze giant Talos , who was created by Zeus to protect his beloved Europe , the giant Geryones , who had three bodies and had the most beautiful cattle in the world, and Geryones' shepherd Eurytion . Both were killed by Heracles . Talos fell victim to the Argonauts.

Giants in the Bible, Torah and Quran

David versus Goliath ; Lithograph by Osmar Schindler from 1888

There is a difficult to interpret mention of giants in Genesis before the Flood tale. The giants came into being after the “sons of God” took the daughters of men as wives and mated with them. According to the story, the children from these relationships laid the foundation for the people of giants ( Gen 6.4  EU ). An alternative name is nephilim . According to one interpretation, this people is said to have been wiped away by the Flood because it was essentially evil. Several other references to these "sons of the gods" can be found in the Bible. Psalm 29 may also refer to it with the term "Heavenly", whereby in the further text references are made specifically to Lebanon with Mount Sirjon ( Hermon ), its cedars and the desert of Kadesh - all with a location north of Israel near the Golan or in Syria . Since an American priest described the accounts of the Bible as absolutely true, a peasant came up with the idea of ​​providing him with “proof” of their existence. The buried Cardiff Giant he had created was recognized as a fake very late.

In a somewhat broader, if viewed in context tends to exaggerate representation, there is the report of spies who were sent by the Israelites under Moses standing in the desert to the promised land north of Sinai, "where milk and honey flow" explore. Individual parts of the local inhabitants are classified as giants and continue to be referred to as the sons of Anak and later as Anakites.

And they spread a bad rumor among the Israelites about the land they had explored, saying, The land that we have gone through to explore is eating its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are people of great length. We saw giants there too, Anak's sons of the family of giants, and we were like locusts in our eyes, and so were we in their eyes too. ( Num 13,32-33  LUT )

For the region of the land of Moab , there is said to have been a second giant people known as the Emiter .

The Emiter lived in it before; they were a large, strong, and tall people like the Anakites. They were also thought to be giants like the Anakites; and the Moabites call them Emiter. ( Dtn 2,10-11  LUT )

In the following phases of conquest, there were victories against numerous peoples, whereby according to the Bible in the land of Bashan (roughly the Golan) the king and last giant Og was defeated. The information about his grave suggests a system that was at least 3 m or even 4.5 m long.

So at that time we took the land beyond the Jordan from the two kings of the Amorites, […] and all of Bashan as far as Salcha and Edreï, the cities of the kingdom of Ogs of Bashan. Because only King Og of Bashan was left of the giants. Behold, in Rabba, the city of the Ammonites, his stone coffin is nine cubits long and four cubits wide by the usual cubit. ( Dtn 3,8-11  LUT )

Og is partly assigned to the gender of the Rafaites . Its capital Rabba , today's Amman ( Jordan ), is assigned to the Ammonites or the state Rabbat-Ammon .

In Deuteronomy 3:13, Bashan is once again explicitly referred to as the “land of giants”. And with Joshua 13:13 EU it is affirmed that the victory over these peoples and especially the giants was achieved by the Israelites under Moses. In the following quotation, his successor Joshua is credited with the extensive extermination of the giants in the northeastern regions:

At that time Joshua came and cut off the Anakites from the mountains, from Hebron, from Debir, from Anab, and from all the mountains of Judah, and from all the mountains of Israel, and destroyed them and their cities, and left no Anakites in the land of the Israelites besides Gaza, Gath, and Ashdod; some of them remained there. ( Jos 11,21-22  LUT )

The name Baschan is again weakly associated with Gog and Magog in the book of Ezekiel . These peoples are also classified north of Israel as the land of Og and are at least mythologically considered to be descendants of Jafet . According to a non-biblical legend, Gog and Magog are said to have fled from Troy in Asia Minor under the leadership of Brutus and are said to have settled as the first settlers on the British Isles, especially in Cornwall . According to legend, there were particularly many giants there. The Bible, on the other hand, describes a far less distant end of the giants:

“On that day,” says the Lord, “I will designate a burial place for Gog in the Land of Israel: the caravan valley east of the Dead Sea. He and his whole army will be buried there. The burial mound will be so big that it blocks the whole valley and nobody can go through it. The valley will be called the valley of Gog's army. " ( Ezek 39:11  GNB )

Far more well-known than the above passages and the folkish theme linked to it is the fight of the boyish David against the giant Goliath . According to 1 Sam 17.4  EU, Goliath is said to have had a height of six cubits and a hand's breadth, which is understood by some cantilevers as 2 m, but mostly as 3 m (according to the Masoretic text , the Septuagint only speaks of four (ancient Greek. tessaron ) ells and a hand's breadth). His equipment included heavy weapons and armor made of ore, as well as a shield that had to be carried by a helper. His spear was unusual in that its shaft resembled a weaver's tree. His sword was later given to David by a priest. According to the Bible, Goliath belonged to a race of giants, the Rafaites . For most of its representatives, the place is called Gat , a city from the Philistine League . In 2 Samuel 21, after descriptions of David's struggles against the Philistines, the following closing lines are found (verses 20-22):

And another war arose at Gat. There was a tall man with six fingers on his hands and six toes on his feet, twenty-four in number, and he too was of the race of giants. And when he was mocking Israel, Jonathan the son of Shammah, who was a brother of David, slew him. These four were of the race of the giants in Gath and fell at the hands of David and his soldiers. ( 2 Sam 21,20-22  LUT )
Folkloric representation of the giant Samson, Mariapfarr (Austria)

In some traditions, Samson ( Book of Judges ) is also referred to as a giant or at least a gigantic person with great powers.

Giants in literature

Gargantua and Pantagruel is a cycle of novels by François Rabelais about the life of two giants, the 5 volumes of which were published in 1532, 1534, 1545, 1552 and 1564.

In Jonathan Swift's fantastic satirical work Gulliver's Travels , the second of four parts depicts a country called Brobdingnag, the land of the giants. The representation does not claim to be realistic, but is used as a means of distancing and exaggerating social relationships.

In JRR Tolkien's The Hobbit is of stone giants the speech on the peaks of the Misty Mountains live. The bear man Beorn also appears here , who among other things has giants as ancestors. Giants often appear in Tolkien's Middle-earth , albeit on the margins of the narrative. Interestingly, it is difficult to place them in a particular place in Tolkien's systematic mythology ; they are not mentioned in the Silmarillion .

Roald Dahl wrote the children's book Sophiechen und der Riese (1982) with nine cruel and one good, dumb giant. Also in Joanne K. Rowling's Harry Potter books appear giants who are described as raw and violent. Through wars and brutal instincts, they are themselves responsible for the impending extinction of their race. One of the main characters, Hagrid , as a half- giant largely corresponds to the otherwise usual giant image; Of the purebred giants, the giant Grawp stands out in particular, but it is successfully tamed.

Visual arts

Half giants

As a half-giant is known figures in modern Fantasy Mythology, belongs whose parents of the "race" of the Giants. They are generally depicted as large figures that are taller than people but smaller than giants.

The best-known half-giant is probably Hagrid from the Harry Potter novels by Joanne K. Rowling . In addition, many computer games represent opponents in the form, but less often than playable characters such as in Vanguard: Saga of Heroes , Istaria: Chronicles of the Gifted and Dungeon Siege . They also belong to the Creature Index of the Dungeons & Dragons Universe.

The dummy giant Mr. Tur Tur from Jim Knopf and Lukas the engine driver from Michael Ende can also be described as half- giant . It appears bigger the further you are away from it.

See also


  • Jacob Grimm: German Mythology . Dietrichsche Buchhandlung, Göttingen 1835. online at
  • Schäfke, Werner (2015): Dwarves, Trolls, Ogres, and Giants. In Albrecht Classen (ed.): Handbook of medieval culture. Fundamental aspects and conditions of the European middle ages, vol. 1. Berlin: de Gruyter, pp. 347-383.
  • Katja Schulz: Giants: from knowledge guardians and wilderness inhabitants in Edda and Saga . Winter, Heidelberg 2004, ISBN 3-8253-1570-3 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Giant  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Commons : Giant  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Quoted from the translation by Paul Herrmann: Explanations of the first nine books of the Danish history of the Saxo Grammaticus. First part. Translation . With a card. Wilhelm Engelmann, Leipzig 1901, p. 12-13 . Digitized
  2. ^ Dietmar Gehrke: Archeology and local history in the district of Lüneburg . Ed .: District of Lüneburg, The District Administrator. Husum Druck- und Verlagsgesellschaft, Husum 2000, ISBN 978-3-88042-974-1 , p. 10 .
  3. Homer, Odyssey 10, 81 ff., Especially 10, 118–127.
  4. 1 Samuel 17.4, Hebrew Text and Septuagint ( Memento of the original from February 9, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /