A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Legendary Colchis lives on in the Republic of Georgia.
There are two sides to every story, but in the case of tales told by the
ancient Greeks, by triumph of their early literacy and our later biases,
usually only their side has survived. It was the pursuit of that other side
of a favorite Greek tale that took me last summer to Georgia, a small former
Soviet republic the size of South Carolina, wedged between the Caucasus
Mountains and Russia to the north and Turkey to the south. Here in the
country's western half, a region bordered by the Black Sea, is where Greek
legend says Jason sailed up the river Phasis and stole the Golden Fleece
from Aeetes, king of the Colchians.
How did the Colchians, farmers and metallurgists who had lived in the region
since the third millennium B.C., view the treasure-seekers who appeared on
their shores? What sort of relationship did they develop with these
strangers? Did they embrace the mythical legacy of cooperation between the
two peoples that the Greeks brought with them to Colchis hundreds of years
after the arrival of Argo? Georgian archaeologists have been working for
more than a century to answer these questions, and their work continues
despite the dismantling of their once-primary funding source, the Soviet
state, despite civil wars, breakaway republics, and a near collapse of basic
Kristin M. Romey is assistant managing editor at ARCHAEOLOGY. She would like to thank Otar Lordkipanadze, Vakhtang Licheli and the members of Tbilisi's Center for Archaeological Studies for their inestimable assistance and generosity.