TRAVEL IN THE COUNTRY OF GOLDEN FLEECE
At the end of XX century Georgian archaeologists and paleonthologists
discovered remains of skeletons of "Homo Erectus" - one of the most ancient race
of our planet, aged up to two million years. The French anthropologists restored
the ancient human's habitus according to the discovered parts of the skeletons
and gave them Georgian names; Mzia - to the woman and Zezva - to the man. Mzia
and Zezva are the oldest residents of Eurasia continent.
Even earlier, there were discovered different cultures of stone age starting
from lower paleolith to neolith on the territory of Georgia. Thus the long
evolution process of human development is presented here by all cultural periods
of stone age, similar to the West Asian cultures of the same epoch. That defines
geografic area of settlements of the primitive people. The scientists included
the Georgian territory into the list of the regions of our planet, where
presumably the human formation and development took place and from where
aborigines moved to other regions of Eurasia.
The improvement of stone tools in neolite epoch, development of agriculture
and live stock breeding have facilitated transition to the housing life-style.
Georgia, and generally the whole West Asia was a rich Biome therefore creating a
favourable environment for conception and development of a new type of farming -
since there were plenty of edible herbs. that's why this region is beleived to
be a homeland of indigenous sorts of wheat.
Since the IV milenium BC the development of copper-bronze metallurgy had
caused social and economic progress of the society. The plough has been
invented, and with that live-stock started to be used as draught power. At the
same time the development of mining and metallurgical industries increased the
role of the Man, which facilitated transition from matriarchy to partiarchy.
In later bronze and early iron ages new Colch civilization developed in the
West Georgia. In the second part of II millenium BC there developed a
consolidation of Georgian tribes: Svans, Karts and Megrel-Chans forming a
powerfull Kingdom of Colchis having a common culture.
The glory and magnificence of Colchis is described in the ancient Myth about
Argonauts. In multiple ancient Greek and Roman versions of the Myth one could
find very interesting and rich information about the union of Georgian tribes in
Colchis, their life-style, culture, and the geographic area where they lived.
The Myth of Argonauts is the oldest - it antedates the Tale of Troy (the
first part of the II millenium BC).
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
Plinius (I century) says that in Caucasian highland there live insubordinate
Svans who are skillful in gold mining are well known by their golden fleeces.
Appian (II century) in his XII volume of the "Roman History" (Mithridatic
Wars) writes: some currents in Caucasus bring down invisible gold wash. The
local settlers put sheep skins into the water and gather the gold sediment. The
Ayeti's Golden Fleece was the same sheep skin.
The theme of Argonauts was represented in Svanetian mythology too. Nowadays
Svaneti is located between the canyons of the two rivers Inguri and
Tskhenistsqali. In antique era, according to legends, Svans occupied the North
part of Colchis lowland and South slopes of Caucasus, from the basin of river
Rioni to the canyon of the river Kodori. As a result of archaeologic excavations
at the elevation of 2000 meters above sea level there have been found many sites
of ancient mountain-metallurgy, that supplied their production not only to the
kingdom of Colchis, but also to other regions of Caucasus. Among the rich
archaeological materials we can see plenty of locally produced tools, such as:
Colch axes, lances and arrows, wood curving and cutting tools, agricultural
tools, variety of gold and bronze artefacts, jewellery, pins, bracelets, chains,
amulets etc. At the same time there have been found other exponents - glass
beads, jewellery, silver vessels and pottery produced in other centres of the
Hellenistic world, such as Phoenicia, Syria and Egypt, as well as the numismatic
items of different countries - gold coins of Alexander the Great and Lisimachos,
also Byzantine gold coins of later periods, local silver coins called "Colch
Tetri" etc. It is also noteworthy that the majority of the gold coins of
Alexander the Great excavated in Georgia were found in Svaneti. This is the
evidence of tight contacts between Colchis and Svaneti on one side and the
outside world. This suggestion is supported by the findings of archaeologic
excavations conducted in Crimea, Turkey (near Trabzon), Central Asia, Fergana
Valley, where there have been found Colch coins. This means that Colch money has
been circullated internationally.
The mentioned archaeological exponents are displayed in the regional museum
of the town of Mestia in Svaneti.
There is some other evidence showing a link with the Argonauts; in different
villages of Svaneti the archaeologists have found miniature bronze images of
stylized combination of a ram's head and a bird's body. Such things are often
associated with Totem beleives, however this time, there is no doubt that this
is a reflection of the legend of the Golden Fleece.
In 1984 the expedition called "New Argonauts" led by Tim Severin, an English
scientist followed the same route which Jason and his crew covered three
thousand years ago. Tim Severin started his voyage from the Greek city of Volos
and sailed through the Aegean Sea, the Dardanelles, the Marble Sea, the Bosporus
and the Black Sea and approached the city of Poti (Phasis) from where he sailed
the Rioni river up to the city of Kutaisi (Kutaia). Tim Severin's voyage was a
strong argument in favor of the Myth of Argonauts. The New Argonauts also
visited Svaneti on their way as a home place of the legendary Golden Fleece,
still guarding a secret of gathering gold dust.