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October 21, 2023 8 min read

Ymir the first giant in nordic mythology

Ymir: Everything You Need to Know About the First Giant in Norse Mythology

Many men, gods, and creatures make up Norse mythology. Obviously, they do not all have the same importance, which has given rise to numerous stories. Among these characters, we find Ymir.

The Founder of the Jotnar

Ymir: The Founder of the Jotnar

Ymir is the creator of the Jotnar race, or Jotunn, which are ultimately all the giants in the Norse world. They are humanoid creatures of impressive size and immense strength. Some even possess powers of metamorphosis and illusion, which can lend them divine traits. However, they are at war with all the known gods of Viking mythology, led by Thor.

They live in Jotunheim, which is at the same level as Midgard in the Yggdrasil tree. A very dense forest and high mountains separate the two worlds. Unlike the deities who symbolize order, the giants represent chaos. They will also be opposed during the final battle of Ragnarok.

Some giants live in Utgard, the huge fortress that can be compared to Valhalla for Viking warriors, although the meaning is different. This is where Utgardloki, the king of the giants, resides. It is also here that a series of trials for Thor will take place. The god will not succeed because they have been rigged by the cunning of Utgardloki. The giants indeed used illusion and magic to achieve their ends. This is also when the opposition between Thor and Jormungandr was born.

All the Jotunn are sons of Ymir, the first giant. This Old Norse word actually means glutton, or man-eater, due to the presence of the same root as the word to eat. The first giants to be born actually came directly from Ymir's body. One night, while he was sleeping, sweat came from his armpits. This is how a man and a woman were born, both giants. Another gigantic creature, a son, was born from his legs. This is Thrudgelmir, the giant with 6 heads.

They are also found in the Járnviðr forest, which separates from Midgard. Troll women, associated with the giants, are particularly present there. This place is mentioned in Völuspá of the Poetic Edda, where it is described that an old woman enables the birth of Jotunn:

"An old woman sat in the east, in the Ironwood,

and she bore there the brood of Fenrir;

there will come of them all

one especially who will steal the moon in monstrous form."

A certain part of the giants, apart from their uncommon size, had a horrible appearance. Parts of their bodies were deformed, they had fangs, and claws. Thrivaldi was a giant who had 9 heads, proof of the many deformities that inhabited the giants. This is why Jormungandr and Fenrir, a serpent and a wolf respectively, were sometimes considered giants. Despite this, some giants are of certain importance in the Viking world.

But before all this was present, a special event had to take place.

Ymir: The Creation of the 9 Realms

Ymir: The Creation of the 9 Realms

Ymir is the first giant the Earth has known according to Norse cosmogony. He is even the first living creature, also called Brimir or Aurgelmir, the source of Earth's creation according to the Vikings.

At the beginning of the world, only a huge abyss existed: Ginnungagap. It was bordered to the North by the ice world, Niflheim, from the rivers called Elivagar. In the South, there is Muspellheim, the world of fire, bordering this abyss. One day, these two worlds collided, giving birth to the giant Ymir. He managed to live thanks to the milk of the cow Audhumla, whose 4 udders corresponded to 4 rivers of milk.

This animal notably licked the frost and salt covering Ymir’s body, giving birth to Buri. He would later give birth to Bur, the god of ancient times. He is the father of the most famous of the Nordic deities: Odin. He also has 2 brothers, named Vili and Vé.

Ymir was a giant of gigantic size and just as harmful nature. One day, Odin grew exasperated with his attitude. Together with his brothers, they decided to kill Ymir and throw him into Ginnungagap. This was followed by a huge flood caused by the blood of the creator giant, killing all the giants. Only Ymir’s grandson, Bergelmir, and his wife survived by hiding in a hollow tree, transformed into a boat. They are in fact tasked with repopulating the planet after the disaster.

Thanks to Ymir, the world could be created. Indeed, his flesh filled the abyss at the center of the universe. His head was used to create Earth, his eyebrow becoming the human world, Midgard. Ymir’s hair turned into trees, while his bones turned into mountains.

All parts of his body were used to shape the world. Thus, fragments of his bones and his teeth were used to create rocks. His blood filled the oceans, seas, lakes, rivers, and ponds. One could say that the Vikings had a sense of recycling, in a way. His skull formed the sky and finally, the maggots present in his flesh allowed for the creation of dwarves. Four of them also form the cardinal points: Nordri (North), Sudri (South), Austri (East), and Vestri (West).

Some of his limbs even helped to strengthen the ramparts of Menglod's residence, who lives on Mount Lyfjaberg.

The Grímnismál from the Poetic Edda describes this moment. It is also called the hooded song:

"From the flesh of Ymir the earth was made,

And from his sweat [or, in some versions, blood] the sea,

The mountains from bones,

The trees from hair,

And from his skull the sky.


And from his eyebrows the joyful gods made Midgard,

The home of the sons of men

And from his brain

They carved the dark clouds."

The Similarity with Greek Titans

Ymir viking store

In many mythologies, there is the image of a giant, or a titan, at the origin of the creation of the world. Norse cosmogony therefore has equivalences with other types of universe creation.

For example, one can draw a parallel with the story of Cronos in Greek mythology.

Cronos is a titan, son of Uranus (who represents the sky and life) and Gaia (who represents the Earth). He should not be confused with Chronos, who is the god of time. This giant married his sister Rhea. They had 6 children, including 3 daughters, Hera, Hestia, and Demeter, and 3 sons, Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus.

Very quickly, Cronos realized that his children were creatures more intelligent than himself. Fearing he would have to yield his throne, he decided to devour them. When the 6th child was born, Rhea decided to hide him in a mountain in Crete. In his cradle, she put a rock instead. Cronos, swallowing it without checking, did not realize what he had just swallowed.

But the child who had been hidden in the mountains was none other than Zeus. He grew up in this harsh terrain, raised by the Meliades and a goat named Amalthea. His growth made him stronger and stronger. Once he reached maturity, Zeus decided to fight the titans, and therefore his father. He made him swallow a magic potion that forced Cronus to regurgitate his children. They were still alive, inside the giant’s entrails. It was the goddess of cunning, Metis, who gave the titan an emetic.

With the help of his brothers and sisters, as well as the cyclops and the Hecatoncheires, Zeus eventually threw Cronus into the deep lands of Tartarus. The arms of the Hecatoncheires also held back the giant. Zeus would eventually free them along with the cyclops, which allowed him to receive the thunderbolts.

He was then recognized as the king of gods and shared the world with his two other brothers, Hades and Poseidon. To ensure sacrifices were made, they decided to create Humans, intelligent creatures harmless to their throne. Another legend claims that it was Prometheus, a good titan, who created humans. He used clay and gave them fire, ensuring their development.

The creation of the Norse world and the Greek world are not identical. But they contain certain similarities, such as the murder of a giant at the head of the entire universe. These are obviously not the only mythologies shaped in this way. Ymir is related to Yama, god and judge of the dead, in Hinduism.


Surt, a very old giant


When describing giants, like Ymir, we refer to very tall men with unfriendly faces. While the physical traits are often similar among the giants in Viking history, their personalities differ.

So, while Ymir has a rather bad temper, this is not the case for all. Mimir is a very ancient giant, guardian of the Mimisbrunn. This well contains wisdom and intelligence. It is located in Jotunheim, under one of the roots of the tree of life Yggdrasil. Beheaded during the war between the Vanes and the Aesir, he was nevertheless resurrected by Odin to be an advisor.

Having a character similar to Ymir, Surt is more well-known than Mimir. Some sources say that the devastating fire giant may be even older than Ymir himself. Knowing that he resides in Muspellheim, the hot region, this is quite possible. But from there, was the creation of the world with Ymir the truth? The world might have been built differently, via Surt precisely.

The one thing that is certain with this giant is that he is responsible for the destruction of the world during the battle of Ragnarok. His blazing sword especially triggered a gigantic fire, which will destroy everything. The Völuspá describes this moment:

"The sun will darken,

The earth will sink into the sea,

The bright stars

Will vanish from the sky.

The smoke will whirl,

The fire will roar,

The high flames

Will dance up to the sky."


Until the arrival of other historical sources indicating the contrary, the Viking world does indeed originate from Ymir.

Ymir Fritz in Attack on Titan

In all of Scandinavian mythology, Ymir is not the character that is most represented in popular culture. However, he is very well known within a famous manga: Attack on Titan.

Ymir Fritz is the first person to receive the power of the titans. She also gives birth to other titans. This young girl was blonde and small in her human form. In her original titan form, her size is colossal. She is then called the Founding Titan.

By marrying the king, she gave birth to 3 daughters: Maria, Sina, and Rose. One day, during a judgment, a warrior threw a spear to kill the king. Ymir Fritz protected him but died from her injuries. A mystery remains about why she did not regenerate. At that moment, her husband ordered their daughters to devour their mother’s corpse.

This action was performed with a specific purpose: to continue the line of titans. By eating Ymir’s corpse, the daughters could take advantage of her power. Upon her death, the king asked his daughters to have children, so that the titanic family power could be passed down again and again.

Rose, Maria, and Sofia followed this advice and the lineage gave birth to 9 titans:

  • Founding Titan
  • Female Titan
  • Beast Titan
  • Attack Titan
  • Colossal Titan
  • Armored Titan
  • Cart Titan
  • War Hammer Titan
  • Jaw Titan


On her part, Ymir Fritz awoke in the "Paths," where her mission was then to continue shaping titans.

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