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 services.
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.