Colchis, or Aea-Colchis
(Georgian form - Kolkheti), in ancient geography district of
Asia Minor, at the
eastern extremity of the Black Sea, bounded on the N. by the Caucasus. The name
of Colchis first appears in Aeschylus and Pindar. It was inhabited by a number
of tribes whose settlements lay chiefly along the shore of the Black Sea.
Colchis (Kolkha, Kolkheti) is old name of Western Georgia.
Ancient countries of Caucasus: Armenia, Iberia, Colchis and Albania
Since ancient Colchian tribes maintained very close, in some cases even genetic,
contacts with the ancient inhabitants of the Aegean Basin (Pelasgians) and Asia
Minor. Homer was well aware not only of the myth of the Argonauts, he knew about
the existence of Aea-Colchis and ancient Colchian tribes. In the Iliad (II,
856), Halysones, a Pelasgo-Colchian tribe is mentioned for the first time. "Halysones
came from the eastern silver-making town Halyb". Strabo identifies the tribe of
Halysones with the ancient west-Georgian (Colchian) tribe of Halybes (or Khalib/Khaldi).
The capital of Colchis was the city Aea (now Kutaisi).
At the end of the 2nd millennium BC and in the first centuries of the 1st
millennium BC, the oldest Georgian Kingdom of Kolkha (Colchis) was located on
the territory of Western Georgia, in the 6th century BC-7th century AD Georgian
Kingdom Egrisi. The other ancient Georgian State was Diaokhi (end of the 2nd
millennium BC-4th century BC. Later Kingdom of Iberia). In the 7th-9th centuries
AD Kolkheti was under ruling of the Byzantine Empire. In the 10th-15th centuries
this territory was a part of the united Georgian Kingdom, in the 15th-16th
centuries part of the Westgeorgian Kingdom of Imereti. In the 16th
century-1860's, a major part of this territory was ruled by the autonomous
Principality of Samegrelo (Mingrelia). In the 1860's this Principality was
abolished by the Tsarist Russian Empire. In 1918-1921 Kolkheti was a part of the
Democratic Republic of Georgia. On February 25, 1921, Georgia was occupied by
Soviet Russia. From 1921 to 1991 Kolkheti was part of the Georgian Soviet
Socialist Republic. On April 9, 1991, the independence of Georgia was restored
by the authority of the first President of the Republic of Georgia, Dr. Zviad
Colchis was celebrated in Greek mythology as the destination of the Argonauts,
the home of Medea and the special domain of sorcery. The legend of the Argonauts
relates that once upon a time in Aea-Colchis there ruled the mighty King Aeetes,
son of Helios, father of Medea. Alongside with other numerous riches he
possessed the Golden Fleece (Okros Satsmisi in Georgian) - the skin of a sheep
with golden fleece.
Ancient authors (Palephatus, Dionysius of Miletus, Strabo, Appian, Charaxes of
Pergamon and others) give a different interpretation of the Golden Fleece.
Evidently, by this notion we should mean a whole complex of cultural
achievements of ancient tribes, and mainly sheep-breeding which was widespread
among the ancient west-Georgian tribe of Tibareni (Tibaren) and highly developed
metallurgy among the Halybs (Khalib/Khaldi) and Mossynici (Mosiniks). Ancient
Greeks considered Halybes to be "the inventors of iron". Materials of material
culture discovered in Georgia dating back to the 3rd-2nd millennia BC speak of
the high level of development of metal processing, gold in particular, thus
corroborating the reality of the historic basis of the myth of the Golden
At the time of the Roman invasion it seems to have paid a nominal homage to
Mithradates the Great and to have been ruled over by Machares, his second son.
On the defeat of Mithradates by Pompey, it became a Roman province. After the
death of Pompey, Pharnaces, the son of Mithradates, rose in rebellion against
the Roman yoke, subdued Colchis and Armenia, and made head, though but for a
short time, against the Roman arms. After this Colchis was incorporated with
Pontus (64 BC).
In the 13th century BC, the Kingdom of Colchis was formed as a result of the
increasing consolidation of the tribes inhabiting the region. This power,
celebrated in Greek mythology as the destination of the Argonauts, the home of
Medea and the special domain of sorcery, was known to Urartians as Qulha (aka
Kolkha, or Kilkhi). Being in permanent wars with the neighbouring nations, the
Colchians managed to absorb part of Diauehi in the 750s BC, but lost several
provinces (including the “royal city” of Ildemusa) to the Sarduris II of Urartu
following the wars of 750-748 and 744-742 BC. Overrun by the Cimmerians and
Scythians in the 730s-720s BC, the kingdom disintegrated and came under the
Achaemenid Persian Empire towards the mid-6th century BC. The tribes living in
the southern Colchis (Tibareni, Mossynoeci, Macrones, Moschi, and Marres) were
incorporated in the 19th Satrapy of the Persia, while the northern tribes
submitted “voluntarily” and had to send to the Persian court 100 girls and 100
boys in every 5 years. The influence exerted on Colchis by the vast Achaemenid
Empire with its thriving commerce and wide economic and commercial ties with
other regions accelerated the socio-economic development of the Colchian land.
Subsequently the Colchis people appear to have overthrown the Persian Authority,
and to have formed an independent state. According to Ronald
Suny: This western Georgian state was federated to Kartli-Iberia, and its kings
ruled through skeptukhi (royal governors) who received a staff from the king.
Statuette of goddess Nike found in Vani, Georgia.
The advanced economy and favorable geographic and natural conditions of the area
attracted the Milesian Greeks who colonized the Colchian coast establishing here
their trading posts at Phasis, Gyenos, and Sukhumi in the 6th-5th centuries BC.
It was considered "the farthest voyage" according to an ancient Greek proverbial
expression, the easternmost location in that society's known world, where the
sun rose. It was situated just outside the lands conquered by Alexander the
Great. Phasis and Sukhumi were the splendid Greek cities dominated by the
mercantile oligarchies, sometimes being troubled by the Colchians from
hinterland before seemingly assimilating totally. After the fall of the Persian
Empire, significant part of Colchis locally known as Egrisi was annexed to the
recently created Kingdom of Iberia (Kartli) in ca. 302 BC. However, soon Colchis
seceded and broke up into several small princedoms ruled by sceptuchi. They
retained a degree of independence until conquered (circa 101 BC) by Mithridates
VI of Pontus.
Golden statuette found at Gonio, Adjara.
Mithradates VI quelled an uprising in the region in 83 BC and gave Colchis to
his son Mithradates Chrestus, who was soon executed being suspected in having
plotted against his father. During the Third Mithridatic War, Mithridates VI
made another his son Machares king of Colchis, who held his power but for a
short period. On the defeat of Mithridates VI of Pontus in 65 BC, Colchis was
occupied by Pompey, who captured one of the local chiefs (sceptuchus) Olthaces,
and installed Aristarchus as a dynast (65-47 BC). On the fall of Pompey,
Pharnaces II, son of Mithridates, took advantage of Julius Caesar being occupied
in Egypt, and reduced Colchis, Armenia, and some part of Cappadocia, defeating
Domitius Calvinus, whom Caesar subsequently sent against him. His triumph was,
however, short-lived. Under Polemon I, the son and successor of Pharnaces II,
Colchis was part of the Pontus and the Bosporan Kingdom. After the death of
Polemon (after 2 BC), his second wife Pythodoris retained possession of Colchis
as well as of Pontus itself, though the kingdom of Bosporus was wrested from her
power. Her son and successor Polemon II of Pontus was induced by Emperor Nero to
abdicate the throne, and both Pontus and Colchis were incorporated in the
Province of Galatia (63) and later in Cappadocia .
Under the Roman rule
Golden earrings from Colchis.
Despite the fact that all major fortresses along the seacoast were occupied by
the Romans, their rule was pretty loose. In 69, the people of Pontus and Colchis
under Anicetus staged a major uprising against the Romans which ended
unsuccessfully. The lowlands and coastal area were frequently raided by the
fierce mountainous tribes with the Soanes and Heniochi being the most powerful
of them. Paying a nominal homage to Rome, they created their own kingdoms and
enjoyed significant independence. Christianity began to spread in the early 1st
century. Traditional accounts relate the event with Saint Andrew, Saint Simon
the Zealot, and Saint Matata. However, the Hellenistic, local pagan and Mithraic
religious beliefs would be widespread until the 4th century. By the 130s, the
kingdoms of Machelons, Heniochi, Egrisi, Apsilia, Abasgia, and Sanigia had
occupied the district form south to north. Goths, dwelling in the Crimea and
looking for their new homes, raided Colchis in 253, but they were repulsed with
the help of the Roman garrison of Pitsunda. By the 3rd-4th centuries, most of
the local kingdoms and principalities had been subjugated by the Lazic kings,
and thereafter the country was generally referred to as Lazica (Egrisi).
Greek Colonies in
Iron Age Caucasia
Greek Colonies in
Greek Penetration of
the Black Sea