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Geographically, ancient Colchis comprised the land bounded by the Black Sea to the
west, the Caucasus Mountains to the north, the Surami Range to the east and the
Meskhetian Mountains to the south. In this fertile, sheltered area, Colchian civilization
flourished. Their Late Bronze Age (15th to 8th Century BC) saw the development of an
expertise in the smelting and casting of metals that began long before this skill was
mastered in Europe. Sophisticated farming implements were made and fertile, well-
watered lowlands blessed with a mild climate promoted the growth of progressive
It is likely that the Golden Fleece existed. Earlier in this century, remote mountain villagers
in Svaneti (a part of ancient Colchis) were observed using sheepskins to trap the fine
gold particles in the rivers that flowed from the Caucasus Mountains. The skins would
then be dried and beaten to shake out their contents. However, it is debatable as to
whether or not the legendary 'wealth' of Colchis referred only to gold. Archaeological
evidence dates the earliest Greek imports of painted pottery and amphorae to the end of
the 7th Century BC. In exchange, it is thought that Greeks sought the rich natural
resources of Colchis including wood and metal ores as well as textiles. The Ancient Greek
writer, Herodotus, referred to the superior quality of Colchian linen and today, the
mountain slopes remain heavily forested.
The Myth of Argonauts is the oldest - it antedates the Tale of Troy (the first part of the II
he legend of Jason and the Argonauts' heroic quest for the Golden Fleece may provide
a fascinating window into real Bronze Age society, say researchers who believe they
have found the earliest evidence of a trading gold mine.The adventure, which was set
about 1300 BC — a generation before the Trojan war described by Homer — involves
a mission to capture the precious fleece from Colchis, in modern-day Georgia.
COLCHIS, THE LAND OF THE GOLDEN FLEECE
REPUBLIC OF GEORGIA
Ancient Greek legends told of a fabulously wealthy land where Jason and the
Argonauts stole the Golden Fleece from King Aeetes with the help of his daughter
Medea. It was a distant land that was reached by the Black Sea and down the River
Phasis. The actual site of this legendary kingdom has never been found but the Greeks
must have been greatly impressed by the Colchis region of Georgia, through which the
River Phasis (currently the Rioni River) runs, for such stories to have been born.
The epic legend of Jason and his Argonauts, who sailed from Greece to the shores of the
Black Sea over three thousand years ago in search of the Golden Fleece, has won
legitimacy through the work of modern archaeologists. The 'Golden Fleece' was to be
found in the ancient kingdom of Colchis on the south-east shores of the Black Sea, where
rivers carried down alluvial gold dust from the high mountains of the Caucasus in what is
now Georgia. The specks of gold were trapped in the wool of sheepskins that local gold
miners spread in the beds of the streams. The technique is still understood by the
mountain people of Svanetia in the high country of the Caucasus, reports Professor Othar
Lordkipanidze of the Georgian Academy of Sciences.
The archaeological detective work by Professor Lordkipanidze reveals that the area of
Colchis was rich in gold in ancient times and that, in the city of Aeetes, there was a palace
of gold and the king had a golden helmet. Moreover, both there and in Greece there were
strong beliefs in the 'divine essence' of the fleece. "A golden ram or lamb belongs to
ancient strata of religion, a symbol of royal power and protection," he says. "Whoever
owned the fleece could reign."
Now in Greece, Jason, the story goes, had been cheated of his throne by his
half-uncle King Pelias. If he could secure the golden fleece he could win back the
throne. This was the motive for his 2,400 kilometres (1,500 miles) voyage. Perhaps, in
more real terms, if he came back with gold from Colchis he could finance an uprising to
overthrow the King.
The practicalities of the voyage itself were also proved in 1984 when the explorer Tim
Severin launched an expedition in a specially built wooden boat, designed on the lines
of an ancient Greek galley, to row and sail from Greece across the Aegean, up
through the Bospherus to the Black Sea and on to modern Georgia. The voyage was
accomplished in just over two months, ending up at the mouth of the Rhioni river
which, in ancient times, was known as the Phasis and along whose banks several
bronze age settlements have revealed wonderful gold ornaments.
So the voyage of Jason and his Argonauts was feasible. Professor Lordkipanidze has excavated ancient communities in Colchis
(although he is not sure which was the city of Aeetes) and uncovered wonderful gold diadems, rings and earrings. And he confirms
not only what writers over two thousand years go said about sheepskins being used to trap gold, but has tracked down similar
reports through the centuries. The geographer Strabo in the 5th century BC was explicit. "It is said in their country (Colchis) gold is
carried down the mountain torrents and that the barbarians obtain it by means of perforated troughs and fleecy skins and that this is
the origin of the myth of the Golden Fleece." The Roman historian Appian was more specific, noting that, "many streams issue from
the Caucasus bearing gold dust so fine as to be invisible. The inhabitants put sheepskin with soggy fleece into the stream and this
collects the floating particles".
The story was always the same. In the 19th century gold was being taken by skins from the Rioni and Tskhemnis-tsgadi rivers.
And a report for the Georgian Academy of Sciences in 1946 said geologists were finding 5.3 grams (0.17 troy oz) of gold per one
tonne (32,150 troy oz) of sand in the rivers. The description of recovery could have been written three thousand years ago. "Gold is
obtained by means of sheepskins. A sheepskin, stretched over a board or flattened in some way, was placed in the river, fixing it so
as not to be carried away by the stream, with the fleece on the upper side. The soaked fleece trapped the gold particles. After some
time the skin was withdrawn and spread on the ground to dry; the dried skin was beaten to shake out the grains of gold."
The technique that gave birth to the myth of the Golden Fleece has survived at least three thousand years unchanged. Jason and
his Argonauts were ancient gold prospectors.
According to the legend, (Phrixus) the son and (Helle) the daughter of Athamas - the King of Orchomenus were secretly sent away
from Greece by their mother - the Goddes Nephele in order to protect them from their perfidious stepmother. The children flew away
on a flying ram with gold fleece. Helle fell down into the sea and drowned, whereas Phrixus arrived on his flying ram to Aya i.e.
Colchis. He was welcomed and sheltered by the king of Colchis - Ayeti who married Phrixus to his elder daughter Chalciope. The
ram was sacrificed to the Gods and its stretched skin with golden wool - called the Golden Fleece was hung on a huge oak tree at
the bank of the river Phasis (Rioni) guarded by a dragon.
The king of Thessalia - Pelias offered his throne to his neece Jason in return to bringing back the Golden Fleece from Colchis to
Greece. Jason built a ship "Argo", selected a crew from the best heroes of Hellados and after a long voyage full of misfortunes and
troubles came up to the outfall of the river Phasis (Rioni). The Argonauts sailed up the river and approached the Kutaia (Kutaisi),
the castle of the king Ayeti
Ayeti required execution of hardest tasks from Jason in return of the Golden Fleece. Jason fulfilled all tasks of Ayeti assisted by
beautiful Medea -daughter of Ayeti, who was a sorceress, and who fell in love with Jason from the first sight. Jason managed to get
the Golden Fleece and went back home together with Medea. But, soon Jason betrayed Medea and married a daughter of the King
of Corinthos - Creont. Medea committed a severe revenge upon Jason. She prepared a magic drink and killed the King Creont and
his daughter, and hid her and Jason's two children in the temple of Hera. According to another version of the myth Medea even
killed her own children. There is one more late version of the legend with a happy end in which Ayeti and Medea reconciled and
went back to Colchis.
Nevertheless, the motive of Argonauts became immortal and is still a source of creative inspiration. The character of Medea - a
woman knowledgeable of almost all secrets of nature has been appearing in modern Georgian dramaturgy, prose and poetry; a
sculptural monument to Medea has been erected at Bichvinta (Pitsunda) beach in 1969.
The Myth of Argonauts became an endless source of inspiration for writers of antiquity. In parts or as a whole it was taken as a
basis for many literary creations; the most prominent among them are "Iliad" and "Odyssey" by Homer (XII-VII centuries BC), "Medea"
by Euripide (VI c. BC), "Argonautic" by Apollonius of Rodos (III c. BC), the poem under the same title by a Roman poet Valerius
Flaccus (I century) and many others. The Argonautic motives have been widely used in fine arts, music, and etc.
A constant interest is drawn towards the meaning of the Golden Fleece. According to the descriptive dictionary (SVIDA) of X
century and based on the Antique, Helenistic and Byzantine sources, the fleece with gold wool, stollen by the argonauts in Colchis is
just an allegoric form of creative narration. In fact it was a tabooed method of gold mining written on a ram's skin.
Strabo (I century BC) wrote in his geographic compositions that Svans were known for their bravery and vigour and they
dominated over the territories located above Dioscuria (Sokhumi), that they had their own "basileus" (a leader), a council consisting
of 300 people and could recruit 200,000 armed men. the rivers in Svaneti bear gold that is gathered by means of perforated
wash-tubs and sheep skins. This gave birth to the Myth of Golden Fleece - says Strabo.