Colchis & Iberia in Antiquity

Colchis & Iberia in Antiquity

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Colchis (western Georgia) and Kartli/Iberia (eastern and southern Georgia) were important regions in the Caucasus area of Eurasia from the Bronze Age of the 15th century BCE. Prospering through agriculture and trade, the region attracted Greek and then Roman colonists. The success of several cities is indicated by the minting of their own coinage. The languages, religion and arts of the region reflect the cosmopolitan political reality through the Hellenistic and Roman periods.


Georgia extends southwards from the Caucasian range and eastwards from the Black Sea, which has served as a highway to the rest of the world since antiquity. Georgia contains all the principal landforms like plains, hills, plateaus and mountains. Climate varies across the country. Much of the Black Sea coast has a humid subtropical climate with warm winters and plentiful rainfalls. Having a semiarid climate, East and South Georgia receive little rainfall and so farmers have to rely on irrigation. The mountains possess a highland climate. People make their living by herding and cutting timber. Some rivers are navigable, while fast-flowing streams provide effective power. Georgia had rich deposits of iron, copper and other minerals although now they are mostly emptied. Deposits of oil seem not to be prominent.

Names & Languages

The West was Colchis; and the East and the South Kartli, the Greeks called it Iberia. The native name "Kartli" is of Indo-European provenance and means "citadel". When a lord of this "citadel" near the Georgian city of Mtskheta became a ruler of the whole country, this term spread over the entire territory. And for the Greeks living in the neighbouring Trebizond, the closest Kartlian province was that of Speri (now Ispir in Turkey). The Greeks used various names for these peoples, calling the Kartlians "Sasperians", then "Hesperians", and then "Iberians". The term "Colchis" seems to be derived from the name of the mountainous province of Kola (now in Turkey) while Georgia (Sakartvelo) is an economic synthesis of the West and the East. The native name has been derived from Kartli.

Powerful clans set up small states like Diaokhi, Zabakha, Viterukhi & Colcha as far back as the 12th century BCE.

Georgians speak the languages of the Ibero-Caucasian family which are as follows: Georgian properly, Mingrelian and Svanetian. Ancient Georgia was formed by an economic synthesis of the East (Iberia) and the West (Colchis), and since then the Mingrelian (i.e. Colchian) language has been transferred to a position of a family language. A bit earlier the Svanetian and the Abkhasian languages were put on the same position by the Mingrelian language.


Rich soil, rivers like the Rioni, Chorokhi and Mtkvari (Kura) filled with fish, and besides a ready source for irrigation, helped the early settlers to raise grains. The most successful farming settlements had grown into powerful clans. Crafts and trade flourished across wide areas. In the early centuries of the 2nd millennium BCE two principal economic systems were created. Later they will be called Colchis and Kartli. The Georgian clans are best known in history for their mastery of bronze and iron. The Bronze Age civilizations, which endured and developed over two millennia, gave place to Iron Age communities c. 1000 BCE.

The prosperity of the Georgian clans was linked with the possession of the rich valleys of the rivers Mtkvari (Kura), Chorokhi (Aphsaros/Acampsis) and Rioni (Phasis). Agriculture was important and could find a market for its produce in the small towns scattered around. Wherever irrigation had to be maintained (Kura-river valley), channels were built.

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Contact with Greece

A well-planned system of defence – small states like Diaokhi (Tao) and Colcha etc. being allied – lessened the risk of enemy raids. Corn-fields were cultivated, flocks of sheep and herds of cattle roamed in the upland – on the slopes of the North and South Caucasian Mountains, which provided some more safety to the area. Still, the Greeks managed to arrange naval expeditions against the East Black Sea Coast, and those were augmented by the myth which told of how a brave Hellenic crew – the Argonauts – headed by Jason, stole the Golden Fleece, an obvious symbol of luxury and abundance, from Colcha/Colchis. Another violator in mythology was Prometheus, who seized fire from the gods and gave it to humanity. He was then punished and chained to a rock in the Caucasus. The Georgian version of the myth names Amiran as the hero who is reminiscent of Mithra, the Arian pagan deity or devi – indeed, the Arian clans came to the region at the dawn of the civilization and then mingled with the natives.

Early States

The powerful clans set up small states like Diaokhi, Zabakha, Viterukhi, Colcha etc. as far back as the 12th century BCE. Kings ruled and made the law, while wealthy landowners held public offices, and fought Assyrians and Urartians, moving northwards. At the bottom of the society were the common people. They worked on lands belonging to the aristocracy but were still free to leave this land, and yeomanry dwelt in the high-up mountains. Increased trade led to the growth of the towns. The merchants gained some wealth and began to form a middle class. Women were subordinated to men.

Two cultures, armed with iron, are established finally – East Georgian (Iberian), in the valleys of the rivers Mtkvari and Chorokhi; and West Georgian, Colchian (i.e. Mingrelian), in the valley of Rioni, in the plains between the cities of Pitius (Bichvinta/Pitsunda) in the Northwest, Aphsaros (Gonio) in the Southwest and Sarapanis (Shorapani) in the East. Tough mountain folks like the Svani and Lazi (West Georgians) lived in the wild regions above the cities of Dioscurias (Sokhumi) and Trapezus.

Greek Colonies

In the 7th-6th century BCE the Ionian city of Miletus possessed exceptional wealth and commercial enterprise. Miletus, the greatest trading city, organized the first Greek settlements in Colchis, daughters of the Ionian metropolis – Phasis (Poti), Dioscurias (Sokhumi) etc. Phasis and Dioscurias were splendid Greek cities dominated by mercantile oligarchies, although they were sometimes troubled by the Colchians from the hinterland. These Greek cities seem to have been completely assimilated by the Colchians.

Spices, precious woods & stones came from India via the cheap “Transcaucasian” river-route.

In subsequent centuries the same process happened with the settlement of Roman veterans near Phasis. To promote trade, Phasis issued its own silver money with the Graeco-Colchian type of coins. Trade of the peoples across the Black Sea thrived. The armament industry and ceramic production flourished in Pontus, mining was productive in Colchis, and agriculture in the Bosphorus area. Almost everywhere town increased in size and prosperity. Large and frequent issues of coins became necessary and their circulation increased. The age-old maritime route from Sinope towards Phasis was easily covered in three days. From the 3rd century BCE the Greeks flooded into and through Colchis and Iberia. Spices, precious woods and stones came from India via the cheap “Transcaucasian” river-route along the rivers of Indus – Balkh (Bactra) – Amu-Daria (Oxus), joining in the past, the Caspian Sea in the Southeast section, Mtkvari and Rioni.

Alexander the Great

Alexander of Macedon defeated the powerful Persian Empire in the 4th century BCE. His conquest paved the way for the penetration of the Greek civilization in many areas. The whole Black Sea area might be looked upon as a multicultural region of which the economic systems were ultimately based on the principle of Hellenism – Greeks settled everywhere. An idea of Hellenistic integration is reflected in the Colchian imitation of the gold coins of Alexander. More and more Greeks arrived in Colchis. Colchis was well packed with naval resources and the best sailors but in many lowland places there were terrible marshes, and the Greeks had no special idea about draining those marshlands. Ultimately, Hellenism in Colchis failed because the Hellenic communities first became bilingual and then completely assimilated into the local societies.

After the destruction of the Persian Empire, the Northern and Southern kingdoms of Kartli were united under Pharnavaz from Mtskheta (Northern kingdom), the first king of the Pharnavazid dynasty. Azo, the Southern sovereign, seems to have been killed in a skirmish. Pharnavaz gratefully adopted his sons and kept them within the native domains as dukes (eristavi). After many centuries those domains will provide Georgia with a new royal dynasty, the Bagratids (Bagrationi).

The Roman Empire

Starting from the 1st century BCE the Romans administered the old Hellenistic World. They promoted European unity by offering citizenship to their allied kings. Iberian rulers were among them. Roman citizenship was a traditional honorary degree passed from the European principal domains towards the provinces, the countries being tied up formally. A silver cup of the 2nd-3rd century CE records a name of the Iberian (Kartlian) king Flavius Dades (reign dates unknown). Evidently a Roman citizen, he inherited his citizenship from a predecessor upon whom either Vespasian or Domitian had conferred it. In another example, the citizenship of Publicius Agrippa, an Iberian commander-in-chief, derived from a grant of C. Publicius Marcellus, Hadrian's governor of Syria. Sometimes the high jobs in the Roman army went also to Iberians. For example, the appointment of a capable admiral is recorded in the times of Emperor Otho. His name was Moschus, and obviously, he was born in the Iberian province of Meskheti.

While sending the men to serve outside the land, Iberia welcomed some foreigners - already in the 2nd century BCE the capital Mtskheta had its mercantile Jewish quarter. And the Colchians faced Roman garrisons stationed along the Black Sea coast. Goths, dwelling in the Crimea and looking for new homes, raided Colchis in 253 CE. Still, the country was not against any reception, whenever demanded. Colchians were always watchful of the mountaineers North of the Caucasian Range but in the 1st century CE they did not reject the opportunity to gain more recruits for the feudal class. Thus Abasks and Aphsils appeared in Colchis, together with a sizeable Lazi population from South, who renamed the land Lazica. During this slight Roman hegemony the waves of Lazi clans from Trapezus, speaking the same Mingrelian language, swept Colchis to create a new feudal structure. Soon Iberia exercised the same system.


Artistically and intellectually the period is outstanding as a starting point. Greek style temples were built both in Colchis and Kartli (Iberia). In Ancient Colchis and Kartli folk believed that many gods controlled the forces of nature. Idols were worshipped but the latter's paganism is still imbued with a certain romanticism due to Aryan superstrata coming to Iberia at the dawn of civilization, bringing their pagan deities (devi – in Georgian) like Mithra-gayo-da (the life-giving one; Gaim – in Georgian) and Aredvi Sura Anahita (Ainina in Georgian). The next reception included already those who worshipped the Lord Wisdom, a pure idea – Ahuro Mazdao, which was paganized in Georgia and converted into the warrior-Armazi. So, this Armazi, together with Gaim and Ainina were worshipped in Kartli, before this country had been baptized. Colchian jewellery is also very multicultural and the Georgians used to write in Greek and Aramaic. Georgian records are accurate describing the crowded pagan festival in Mtskheta, with the king himself as a participant. Armazi was widely worshipped, while archaeology reveals plenty of skulls in burials with a coin set inside – a dead man is thought to be transferred to another world by the mystic paid boatman, Charon, and the normal place where people carried money was in the mouth.

Colchis & Iberia in Antiquity - History

Maps: Andrew Andersen, George Partskhaladze

In ancient geography, Colchis or Kolchis (Georgian: კოლხეთი Kolkheti Laz : Kolxa Greek — Κολχίς , kŏl´kĬs ) was an ancient Georgian kingdom and region [1] in the Caucasus, which played an important role in the ethnic and cultural formation of the Georgian nation [2] The Kingdom of Colchis as an early Georgian state contributed significantly in development of the medieval Georgian statehood after its unification with eastern Georgian Kingdom of Iberia -Kartli [3] .

Now mostly the western part of Georgia, it was in Greek mythology the home of Aeëtes and Medea and the destination of the Argonauts, as well as being the possible homeland of the Amazons. The ancient area is represented roughly by the present day Georgian provinces of Mingrelia , Imereti , Guria , Ajaria , Svaneti , Racha , Abkhazia and the modern Turkey’s Rize Province and parts of Trabzon and Artvin provinces. One of the most important elements in the modern Georgian nation, the Colchians were probably established in the Caucasus by the Middle Bronze Age [4] .


The Kingdom of Colchis, which existed from the sixth to the first centuries B.C.E., is believed to be the first Georgian state [5] .

A proto-Georgian tribal union that emerged at the eastern Black Sea coast by the end of the 13th century BC later on transformed itself into the Kingdom of Colchis [6] . According to most classic authors, Colchis was the country bounded on the southwest by Pontus, on the west by the Pontus Euxinus as far as the river Corax (probably the present day Bzybi River, Abkhazia, Georgia), on the north by the chain of the Greater Caucasus, which lay between it and Asiatic Sarmatia, on the east by Iberia and Montes Moschici (now the Lesser Caucasus), and on the south by Armenia. There is some little difference in authors as to the extent of the country westward: thus Strabo makes Colchis begin at Trapezus (Trebizond), while Ptolemy, on the other hand, extended Pontus to the river Phasis . Pityus was the last town to the north in Colchis.

The first ancient authors to mention the name of Colchis were Aeschylus and Pindar. The earlier writers only mention it under the name of Aea ( Aia ), the residence of the mythical king Aeetes . The main river was the Phasis (now Rioni ), which was according to some writers the south boundary of Colchis, but more probably flowed through the middle of that country from the Caucasus west by south to the Euxine , and the Anticites or Atticitus (now Kuban).

Arrian mentions many others by name, but they would seem to have been little more than mountain torrents: the most important of them were Charieis , Chobus or Cobus , Singames , Tarsuras , Hippus , Astelephus , Chrysorrhoas , several of which are also noticed by Ptolemy and Pliny. The chief towns were Dioscurias or Dioscuris (under the Romans called Sebastopolis , now Sukhumi ) on the sea-board of the Euxine , Sarapana (now Shorapani ), (now PhasisPoti ), Pityus (now Pitsunda ), Apsaros (now Gonio ), Surium (now Surami ), Archaeopolis (now Nokalakevi ), Macheiresis , and Cyta or Cutatisium (now Kutaisi ), the traditional birthplace of Medea . Scylax mentions also Mala or Male, which he, in contradiction to other writers, makes the birthplace of Medea .

The area was home to the well-developed bronze culture known as the Colchian culture, related to the neighbouring Koban culture, that emerged towards the Middle Bronze Age. In at least some parts of Colchis the process of urbanization seems to have been well advanced by the end of the second millennium BC, centuries before Greek settlement. 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 agricultural techniques.

Colchis was inhabited by a number of related, but still pretty different tribes whose settlements lay chiefly along the shore of the Black Sea. The chief of those were the Machelones , Heniochi , Zydretae , Lazi , Tibareni , Mossynoeci , Macrones , Moschi , Marres , Apsilae (probably modern-day Abkhaz-speakers), Abasci (possibly modern-day Abaza ), Sanigae , Coraxi , Coli, Melanchlaeni , Geloni and Soani ( Suani ). These tribes differed so completely in language and appearance from the surrounding nations that the ancients originated various theories to account for the phenomenon. Herodotus, who states that they, with the Egyptians and the Ethiopians, were the first to practice circumcision, believed them to have sprung from the relics of the army of Pharaoh Sesostris III (1878-1841 BC), and thus regarded them as Egyptians. Apollonius Rhodius states that the Egyptians of Colchis preserved as heirlooms a number of wooden tablets showing seas and highways with considerable accuracy. Though this theory was not generally adopted by the ancients, it has been defended – but not with complete success, by some modern writers. There seems to have been a Negroid component (which predates the Arab slave trade) along the Black Sea region, whose origins could very well be traced to an Ancient Extra-African expedition, although this cannot be verified by archaeological evidence.

Modern theories suggest that the main Colchian tribes are direct ancestors of the Laz-Mingrelians , and played a significant role in ethnogenesis of the Georgian and Abkhazian peoples.

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 Diaokhi 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 [7] .

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 Dioscurias 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 Dioscurias 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 Mithradates VI of Pontus .

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 Mithradates 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 was induced by Emperor Nero to abdicate the throne, and both Pontus and Colchis were incorporated into the Province of Galatia and later into Cappadocia.

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 St. Andrew, St. Simon the Canaanite, and St. 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 , Lazica , 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 Pityus . 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 ).


Christianity began to spread in the early 1st century. Traditional accounts relate the event with St. Andrew , St. Simon the Canaanite , and St. 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 , Lazica , 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 Pityus . 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 ).


Little is known of the rulers of Colchis. Below is the list of some of them:

Aeetes mentioned in Greek legends as a powerful King of Colchis is thought by some historians to be a historic person, though there is no evidence to support the idea.

Kuji , a presiding Prince ( eristavi ) of Egrisi under the authority of Pharnavaz I of Iberia (ca302-237 BC) (according to the medieval Georgian annals).

Akes ( Basileus Aku ) (end of the 4th century BC), King of Colchis his name is found on a coin issued by him.

Saulaces , "the King" in the 2nd century BC (according to some ancient sources).

Mithradates Chrestus (fl 83 BC), under the suzerainty of Pontus.

Machares (fl 65 BC), under the authority of Pontus.

Note: During his reign, the local chiefs, sceptuchi , continued to exercise some power. One of them, Olthaces , was mentioned by the Roman sources as a captive of Pompey in 65 BC.

Aristarchus (65-47 BC), a dynast under the suzerainty of Pompey


According to the Greek mythology, Colchis was a fabulously wealthy land situated on the mysterious periphery of the heroic world.

Here in the sacred grove of the war god Ares, King Aeetes hung the Golden Fleece until it was seized by Jason and the Argonauts.

Colchis was also the land where the mythological Prometheus was punished by being chained to a mountain while an eagle ate at his liver for revealing to humanity the secret of fire. Amazons also were said to be of Scythian origin from Colchis.

The main mythical characters from Colchis are Aeetes , Medea , Apsyrtus , Chalciope , Circe, Eidyia , Pasiphaë .

Allen, David. A History of the Georgian people. London / 1932.

Braund , David. 1994. Georgia in Antiquity: A History of Colchis and Transcaucasian Iberia 550 BC-AD 562. Clarendon Press, Oxford / 1996.

Burney, Charles and Lang, David Marshal. The Peoples of the Hills: Ancient Ararat and Caucasus.

Clavel-Lévêque , E. Geny , P. Lévêque . Paris: Presses Universitaires Franc- Comtoises / 1999.

Lang, David Marshal. The Georgians. Frederich A. Praeger Publishers, New York / 1965

Lordkipanidze , Otar . Phasis : The River and City of Colchis. Geographica Historica 15, Franz Steiner / 2000.

Melamid , Alexander. Colchis today. (North-eastern Turkey): An article from: The Geographical Review. American Geographical Society /1993.

Tsetskhladze , Gocha R.. Pichvnari and Its Environs, 6th c BC-4th c AD. Annales Littéraires de l'Université de Franche-Comté, 659, Editeurs :

Urushadze , Akaki . The Country of the Enchantress Media, Tbilisi / 1984 (in Russian and English)

Van de Mieroop , Marc. A History of the Ancient near East, C. 3000–323 BC. Oxford / 2006

Wardrop , Oliver. The Kingdom Of Georgia: Travel In A Land Of Women, Wine And Song ( Kegan Paul Library of History and Archaeology)

[1] Marc Van de Mieroop , A History of the Ancient near East , C. 3000–323 BC (2003), p 265

[2] Charles Burney and David Marshal Lang, The Peoples of the Hills: Ancient Ararat and Caucasus (1973), p. 38

Oliver Wardrop , The Kingdom Of Georgia: Travel In A Land Of Women, Wine And Song ( 1888)

[3] David Braund , Georgia in Antiquity: A History of Colchis and Transcaucasian Iberia, 550 BC-AD 562 (1994)
W.E.D. Allen, A history of the Georgian people (1932), p. 123

[4] David Marshal Lang, The Georgians (1965), p 59

[5] Stuart J. Kaufman, Modern Hatreds, Symbolic Politics of Ethnic War (2001), p. 91.

[6] David Braund , Georgia in Antiquity: A History of Colchis and Transcaucasian Iberia, 550 BC-AD 562 (1994)

[7] Marc Van de Mieroop , A History of the Ancient near East , C. 3000–323 BC (2003)

Braund , Georgia in Antiquity: A History of Colchis and Transcaucasian Iberia, 550 BC-AD 562 (1994)

Georgia in antiquity : a history of Colchis and Transcaucasian Iberia, 550 BC-AD 562

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Ancient Colchis


The present book considers the military history of ancient Georgia. Particularly, it’s based on written and archaeological sources, which convey B.C. 5th – A.D. 5th centuries Georgian military, political and armament history. In this book there are artistic reconstructions from written sources and archaeological data. See - & & &

In this work for Théâtres du Monde, Avignon University, France, I have tried to reconstruct and unknit one of the most mysterious mergers in mythology and culture in Europe between the Ancient Greek Indo-European arriving culture, language, religion, agriculture, military art and political organization and on the other hand the old European tradition, Turkic by language and hunters gatherers just starting to move to some kind of agricultural sedentary stability.

The Turkic Old European population is still 75% of our modern DNA and the new arriving Indo-European population only represent 25% of our modern DNA. There was no demographic invasion or conquest because the two cultures merged and the new culture integrated some elements of the old culture to keep the local population comfortable under the new rule, new organization, new economy, new religion and new languages.

That cultural integration is a model that was implemented in many other places in the world between old human civilizations based on hunting and gathering and the animist belief in spirits, good and bad, animating the whole world on one hand and the new culture, agriculture, metal weapons and tools, cities built in stone, religions believing in gods and little by little moving from many to a few and finally to only one non-created creator of the cosmos on the other hand.

This study is thus a case study of this merging movement that must have taken place some time after the last ice age probably starting around 12,000 years BCE and strangely enough this myth has lasted far beyond a few thousand years and is still pregnant in our minds.

Colchis & Iberia in Antiquity - History

Lordkipanidze Otar D. The Greco-Roman World and Ancient Georgia (Colchis and Iberia). In: Modes de contacts et processus de transformation dans les sociétés anciennes. Actes du colloque de Cortone (24-30 mai 1981) Rome : École Française de Rome, 1983. pp. 123-144. (Publications de l'École française de Rome, 67)


The Greco-Roman world and Ancient Georgia (Colchis and Iberia) constitute an extremely complex, vast and many-faceted problem, for it involves not only the interrelationship of differing polities and structures (felt already by the Ancient Greeks, as evidenced by their characteristic opposition of "Greek home" to "barbarian land"), but also diverse contacts (political, social, economic, cultural) that developed or occurred under varying conditions — but regularly — for almost ten centuries, beginning with mid-6th century B.C. till the 3rd-4th centuries A.D.

In the present paper an attempt is made to focus attention on some aspects of the interrelationships established by modern archaeology, and to determine the response ("behaviour") of the local cultures at different stages of their contacts with the Greco-Roman civilization.

I - The Greek World and Colchis in the 6th-4th centuries B.C.

Greek literary tradition dates the first contacts of the Greeks with the population of the Eastern Black Sea littoral to the Achaean period,

1 Euripides (Medea, 1329-1335), in Jason's words addresses Medea : " Now ruin seize thee ! — clear I see, who saw not Then, when from halls and land barbarian To a Greek home I bare thee, utter bane, Traitress to sire and land that nurtured thee! Thy guilt's curse-bolt on me the Gods have launched For thine own brother by his hearth thou slewest Ere thou didst enter fair-prowed Argo's hull".

Colchis & Iberia in Antiquity - History

By Alexander Mikaberidze and George Nikoladze

Maps: Andrew Andersen,

I beria (Georgian — იბერია , Latin: Iberia or Iberi and Greek: Ἰ βηρία ) also known as Iveria (Georgian: ივერია ) was a name given by the ancient Greeks and Romans to the ancient Georgian kingdom of Kartli (4th century BC-5th century AD) corresponding roughly to the eastern and southern parts of the present day Georgia.

The term “Caucasian Iberia” (or Eastern Iberia) is used to distinguish it from the Iberian Peninsula, where the present day states of Spain, Andorra and Portugal are located. The Caucasian Iberians provided a basis for later Georgian statehood and formed a core of the present day Georgian people (or Kartvelians ).

The area was inhabited in earliest times by several related tribes, collectively called Iberians (the Eastern Iberians) by ancient authors. Locals called their country Kartli after a mythic chief, Kartlos .

The Moschi mentioned by various classic historians, and their possible descendants, the Saspers (who were mentioned by Herodotus), may have played a crucial role in the consolidation of the tribes inhabiting the area. The Moschi had moved slowly to the northeast forming settlements as they migrated. The chief town of these was Mtskheta , the future capital of the Iberian kingdom. The Mtskheta tribe was later ruled by a chief locally known as Mamasakhlisi (“the father of the household” in Georgian).

The medieval Georgian source Moktsevai Kartlisai (“Conversion of Kartli ”) speak also about Azo and his people, who came from Arian- Kartli - the initial home of the proto-Iberians, which had been under Achaemenid rule until the fall of the Persian Empire - to settle on the site where Mtskheta was to be founded. Another Georgian chronicle Kartlis Tskhovreba (“History of Kartli ”) claims Azo to be an officer of Alexander’s armies, who massacred a local ruling family and conquered the area, until being defeated at the end of the 4th century, BC, by Prince Pharnavaz , who was a local chief at that time.

Pharnavaz I and His Descendants

Pharnavaz , victorious in power struggle, became the first King of Iberia (ca. 302 - 237 BC). Driving back an invasion, he subjugated the neighbouring areas, including significant part of the western Georgian state of Colchis (locally known as Egrisi ), and seems to have secured recognition of the newly founded state by the Seleucids of Syria. Pharnavaz then focused on social projects, including the construction of the citadel in the capital, the Armaztsikhe , and erection of an idol of a god named Armazi . He also reformed the Georgian written language, and created a new system of administration subdividing the country into several counties called saeristavos . His successors managed to gain control over the mountainous passes of the Caucasus Range with Daryal (also known as the Iberian Gates) being the most important of them.

The period following this time of prosperity was marked with incessant warfare though. Iberia was forced to defend itself against numerous invasions. As a result, the country lost some of its southern provinces to Armenia, and the Colchian lands seceded to form separate princedoms ( sceptuchoi ). At the end of the 2nd century BC, the Pharnavazid king Farnadjom was dethroned by his own subjects and the crown given to an Armenian prince Arshak who ascended the Iberian throne in 93 BC, establishing the Arshakid dynasty.

This close association with Armenia brought upon the country an invasion (65 BC) by the Roman general Pompey, who was then at war with both Mithradates VI of Pontus, and Tigran II of Armenia. However, Rome failed to establish its permanent power over Iberia. Nineteen years later, the Romans again marched into Iberia (36 BC) forcing King Pharnavaz II to join their campaign against Caucasian Albania.

While another Georgian kingdom of Colchis was turned into a Roman province, Iberia accepted Roman Imperial protection. A stone inscription discovered at Mtskheta speaks of the first-century ruler Mihdrat I (A.D. 58-106) as "the friend of the Caesars" and “the King of Roman-loving Iberians." It was at that period when Emperor Vespasian fortified the ancient Mtskheta site of Arzami for the Iberian kings in 75 A.D.

The next two centuries saw a continuation of Roman influence over the area, but by the reign of King Pharsman II (116 – 132) Iberia had regained some of its former power. Relations between the Roman Emperor Hadrian and Pharsman II were strained, though Hadrian is said to have sought to appease Pharsman . However, it was only under Hadrian's successor Antoninus Pius that relations improved to the extent that Pharsman was said to have even visited Rome, where Dio Cassius reported that a statue was erected in his honor and that rights to sacrifice were granted to him. The period brought a major change to the political status of Iberia with Rome recognizing the kingdom as an ally rather than subject state as its former status was. That political situation remained the same for quite a while, even during the period of the Empire's conflict with the Parthians .

Decisive for the future history of Iberia was the foundation of the Sassanian Empire in 224. By replacing the weak Parthian realm with a strong, centralized state, it changed the political orientation of Iberia drifting it away from Rome. During the reign of Shapur I (241-272) Iberia became a tributary of the Sassanian state. Relations between the two countries seem to have been friendly at first as Iberia cooperated in Persian campaigns against Rome, and the Iberian king Amazasp III (260-265) was listed as a high dignitary of the Sassanian realm, not a vassal who had been subdued by force of arms. But the aggressive tendencies of the Sassanians were evident in their propagation of Zoroastrianism, which was probably established in Iberia between the 260s and 290s. However, in accordance with the Peace Teaty of Nisibis (298) Rome was acknowledged the dominant power over the whole area, but recognized Mirian III, the first of the Chosroid dynasty, as the King of Iberia. Roman [1] dominance proved crucial, since King Mirian II and leading nobles converted to Christianity around 317. The event is related with the mission of a Cappadocian woman, Saint Nino , who in the year of 303, started preaching Christianity in Iberia.

The religion became a strong tie between Iberia (since them also known as Kartli ) and Rome / Byzantine Empire and had a large-scale impact on the state's culture and society. However, after the emperor Julian was slain during his failed campaign in Persia in 363, Rome ceded control of Iberia ( Kartli ) to Persia, and King Varaz-Bakur I ( Asphagur ) (363-365) became a Persian vassal, an outcome confirmed by the Peace of Acilisene in 387. Although a later ruler of Iberia/ Kartli , Pharsman IV (406-409), preserved his country's autonomy and ceased to pay tribute to Persia, Persian influence still prevailed in the region, and Sassanian kings soon began to appoint their Viceroys ( pitiaxae/bidaxae ) to keep watch on Iberia/ Kartli . The Persians eventually made Viceroyal office hereditary in the ruling house of Lower Kartli , thus inaugurating the Kartli pitiaxate bringing under their control quite an extensive territory. Although it remained a part of the kingdom of Kartli , its viceroys turned their domain into a center of Persian influence. Sassanian rulers put the Christianity of the Georgians to a severe test. They promoted the teachings of Zoroaster, and by the middle of the 5th century, Zoroastrianism became a second official religion in eastern Georgia alongside Christianity. However, efforts to convert the common Georgian people were generally unsuccessful.

The early reign of the Iberian king Vakhtang I also known as Gorgasali (447-502) was marked by relative revival of the kingdom. Formally vassal of the Persians, he secured the northern borders by subjugating the Caucasian mountaineers, and brought the adjacent western and southern Georgian lands under his control. He established an Autocephalic Patriarchate at Mtskheta , and made Tbilisi his capital. In 482, Vakhtang Gorgasali led a general uprising against Sassanian Persia. A desperate war for independence lasted for twenty years, but the kingdom failed to gain active Byzantine support and was finally defeated in 502 when King Vakhtang was slain in battle.

The continuing rivalry between Byzantium and Persia for supremacy in the Caucasus, and an abortive insurrection of the Iberians under Gurgen that followed (523), had tragic consequences for the country. Thereafter, the kings of Iberia had nominal power only while the country was effectively ruled by the Persians. In 580, Hormizd IV (578-590) abolished the monarchy after the death of King Bakur III, and Iberia became a Persian province ruled by a marzpan (governor). In the late 6 th century, Iberian nobles urged Byzantine Emperor Maurice to recreate the Kingdom of Iberia, and the independence was temporarily restored in 582. However in 591, Byzantium and Persia agreed to partition Iberia with Tbilisi being assigned to Persian while Mtskheta remainoing under Byzantine control.

At the beginning of the 7th century, the truce between Byzantium and Persia collapsed. The Iberian Prince Stephanoz I (ca. 590-627), decided in 607 to join forces with Persia in order to reunite all the provincess of Iberia under one crown, a goal he seemed to have accomplished. But the of offensive Emperor Heraclius' armies in 627 and 628, resulted in the defeat of both Iberians and Persians and secured Byzantine dominance in the South Caucasus until the beginning of the Arab invasion .


The Arab armies reached Iberia about 645 and forced its Crown Prince Stephanoz II ca 637-650), to abandon his allegiance to Byzantium and recognize the Caliph as his suzerain. Iberia thus became a tributary state and an Arab Emir was appointed to Tbilisi around the year of 653.

At the beginning of the 9th century, Ashot I (813-830) of the new Bagrationi dynasty, took advantage of the weakening of the Arab rule in the area and expanded his domain in the southwestern province of Speri to establish himself as hereditary ruler ( Curopalates ) of the whole of Iberia. His successor, Adarnase II of Tao, formally vassal of Byzantium, was crowned as the “king of Iberians” in 888. His descendant Bagrat III (975-1014), brought several smaller states together under one crown to form the first united Georgian state .


The similarity of the name with the old inhabitants of the Iberian peninsula, the 'Western' Iberians, has led to an idea of ethno-genetic kinship between them and the people of Caucasian Iberia (called the 'Eastern' Iberians).

It has been advocated by various ancient and medieval authors although they differed in approach to the problem of the initial place of their origin. The theory seems to have been popular in medieval Georgia. The prominent Georgian religious writer Giorgi Mthatzmindeli (George of Mt Athos) (1009-1065 )[ 1] writes about the wish of certain Georgian nobles to travel to the Iberian peninsula and visit the local “Georgians of the West”, as he called them .


Click on the crown for the list of rulers

Allen, David, A History of the Georgian people, London / 1932.

Braund , David, Georgia in Antiquity: A History of Colchis and Transcaucasian Iberia 550 BC-AD 562, Oxford / 1996.

Burney, Charles and Lang, David Marshal. The Peoples of the Hills: Ancient Ararat and Caucasus, Journal of the American Oriental Society , Vol. 93, No. 4 (Oct. - Dec., 1973), pp. 578-579

Lang, David Marshal, The Georgians, New York / 1965

Thompson, R.W., Rewriting Caucasian History, Oxford / 1996

Van de Mieroop , Marc, A History of the Ancient near East, C. 3000–323 BC, Oxford / 2006

Wardrop , Oliver, The Kingdom Of Georgia: Travel In A Land Of Women, Wine And Song, London / 1888

Colchis & Iberia in Antiquity - History


Most historians of the Caucasus as well as anthropologists, archeologists and linguists tend to agree that the ancestors of modern Georgians inhabited southern Caucasus and northern Asia Minor since neolith. Experts usually refer to them as Proto- Kartvelian tribes (from the word Kartveli which is the Georgians’ own name for themselves) whose origins are quite unclear. Some of European historians of the 19 th century ( eg , Humboldt, Krettschmer ) came to the conclusion that Proto- Kartvelians were closely related linguistically and culturally to Pre-Aryan (in thus context “Aryan” means Indo-European) aboriginal peoples of ancient Europe among them Etruscans and Proto-Basques.

Proto- Kartvelians were bordered by Zykh tribes to the north-west (those were Proto- Adygh ancestors of modern Adygh and Apsua ), Proto- Nakhs (ancestors of modern Chechens and some Daghestani peoples) to the north-east, Proto-Armenians to the south-east and Aramaeic -speaking tribes to the south and south-west.

Between 2100 and 750 B.C., the area survived the invasions by the Hittites, Celts, Medes, Proto-Persians and Cimmerians. At the same period, the ethnic unity of Proto- Kartvelians broke up into several branches, among them Svanian , Zanyan and East- Kartvelian ones.

That finally led to the formation of modern Kartvelian languages: Georgian (originating from East Kartvelian vernaculars), Svan , Megrelian and Laz (the latter two originating from Zan dialects).

By that time Svans were dominant in modern Svanetia and Abkhazia while Zans inhabited modern Georgian province of Samegrelo , north-eastern coast of Turkey between the rivers of Coruh and Kizil-Irmak, and partially Georgian provinces of Imereti and Guria . As of today, most of Abkhazian Georgians speak Megrelian together with Georgian while those living in Kodori canyon, still speak Svan .

As a result of cultural and geographic delimitation, two core areas of future Georgian culture and statehood formed in western and eastern Georgia by the end of the 8 th century B.C. The first Georgian state was the Kingdom of Colchis that covered modern western Georgia (including Abkhazia) and modern Turkish provinces of Coruh & Rize . The Kingdom of Colchis has been mentioned in ancient chronicles at least since the middle of the 6 th century B.C.

There is little or no exact information about the ethnic composition of Colchis and Iberia. Since 2 000 B.C., north-western Colchis (modern Abkhazia and part of Krasnodar territory of Russia) was inhabited not only by the Svan and Zan/Sanygh but partially also by the Apsyl people whose origins are unclear. It is assumed but not proven that the Apsyls could be the ancestors of today’s Apsua (one of the ethnic groups of modern Abkhazia speaking distinct language belonging to Adygh group). In any case though, the Apsyls made up less than a quarter of the whole population of north-western Colchis (modern Abkhazia) of that time.

Another important ethnic element of ancient Colchis were Greeks who between 1000 and 550 B.C., established quite a few trade colonies in the coastal area among them Naessus , Pitiys (modern resort town of Pitsunda ), Dioscurias , Guenos , Phasis (modern Poti ), Apsaros and Rhizos (modern Rize in Turkey). Most of the local Greeks called Pontic Greeks, used to live in the coastal cities where they dominated culturally while their influence in the rural area was quite limited.

Between 653 and 333 B.C., both Colchis and Iberia were successfully surviving in fight against Median and later Persian empires. At the end of the 3d century, southern Iberia saw the armies of Alexander the Great who established a vast Greco-Macedonian empire to the south of the Caucasus dominating both west- and central Asia as well as Greece, Egypt and partially India. Neither Iberia, nor Colchis were incorporated into the empire of Alexander or any of the successor Ellinistic states of the Middle East. However, all ancient Georgian kingdoms especially Colchis, were greatly influenced by ancient Greek culture. Greek was widely spoken all over the country and for a while was one of the official languages.

Between the early 2 nd century, B.C.and the late 2 nd century A.D., the Kingdom of Colchis together with the neighbor countries, become an arena of long and devastating conflicts between major local powers Rome, Armenia and the short-lived Kingdom of Pontus.

Between 120 and 63 BC, King Mithridate VI Eupator of Pontus, conquered all the Colchis including modern Abkhazia, and incorporated it into his domain that for a while embraced a considerable part of Asia Minor as well as eastern and northern Black Sea coastal areas.

From 187 to 70 B.C., the coalition of greater Armenia and Pontus was actively expanding at the expense of Rome taking over its East Mediterranean

possessions. However, the success of anti-Roman alliance did not last long.

As a result of brilliant Roman campaigns of Pompeus and Lucullus, the Kingdom of Pontus was completely destroyed by the Romans and all its territory including Colchis (with modern Abkhazia as its part), were incorporated into Roman Empire as her provinces.

The former Kingdom of Colchis was re-organized by the Romans into the province of Lazicum ruled by Roman legati . The Roman period was marked by further Hellenization of the country in terms of language, economy and especially culture. For example, since the early 3d century, Greco-Latin Philosophical Academy of Phasis (present-day Poti ) was quite famous all over the Roman Empire.

The following 600 years of West Georgian/Abkhazian history were marked with manipulation between Rome and Parthia (Iran) who were fighting long wars against each other for the domination in the Middle East including Syria, Mesopotamia, Armenia, Albania (territory of modern Azerbaijan) Iberia and Lazicum .

Persian invasions of Georgian lands touched predominantly Iberia (Eastern Georgia) and less Lazicum (Western Georgia with Abkhazia) where Roman and later Byzantine (East Roman) positions were quite stable until the very end of the 3d century.

In the early 3d century, Roman province of Lazicum was given certain degree of autonomy that by the end of the century developed into full independence and formation of a new Kingdom of Lazica-Egrisi on the basis of smaller principalities of Zans , Svans , Apsyls and Sanyghs . That new West-Georgian state survived more than 250 years until in 562 it was absorbed by East Roman (Byzantine) Empire.

In the middle of the 4h century, Lazica adopted Christianity as her official religion. That event was preceded by the arrival of St. Simon the Kananites (or Kananaios in Greek) who was preaching all over Lazica and met his death in Suaniri (Abkhazia). According to Moses of Chorene , the enemies of Christianity cut him in two halves with a saw.

The re-incorporation of Lazica with Abkhazia into East Roman Empire in 562 was followed by ca 150 years of relative stability that ceased in the early 7 th century when the Arabs appeared in the area as a new regional if not global power.

R 4,200.00

This is the first full history of the ancient Georgia ever to be written outside Georgia itself. It is also an introduction to the substantial archaeological work that has been carried out in Georgia in recent decades. The principal purpose of this book is to open up ancient Georgia for the world of scholarship at large. It is not only the history of a neglected region, but also a sustained attempt to inform topics and issues that are more familiar to the historians of antiquity: myths of the periphery, Caucasian mountains and their passes, Greek colonization, the Persian, Athenian, and Selecuid empires, Pompey's conquest of Mithridates' empire, the development of the Roman frontier in the eastern Black Sea region, Roman diplomancy in Iberia, the Christianization of Iberia, Sassanian ambitions in Transcaucasia and Byzantine warfare there.

The author has lived in Georgia for substantial periods during the last decade: he has made extensive use of scholarship in Georgian and Russian, and has first-hand knowledge of most of the sites which he discusses.

The specification in this catalogue, including without limitation price, format, extent, number of illustrations, and month of publication, was as accurate as possible at the time the catalogue was compiled. Due to contractual restrictions, we reserve the right not to supply certain territories.

The lost Chimú culture

Chimú pottery and ceramics, Chan Chan, Gold ceremonial dress, A map of Chimu cultural influence within Peru. Photo by Trustsongs CC BY-SA 3.0

According to myth, Chimú was founded by Taycanamo, the king who came from the seas where he was born out of a golden egg.

Chimú charted its borders in what is nowadays north Peru. The kingdom, also known as Chimor, made the second most powerful empire chronicled in the ancient Andes. It thrived for several centuries before the rise of the Incas.

Its capital Chan Chan, perhaps the biggest city on the South American continental plateau at the time, controlled a far-flung trade network.

Carvings of fish in the Tschudi Complex, Chan Chan.

Its arts and culture were powered by thousands of artists and crafts makers who lived within the city’s boundaries. With its marvelous architecture, Chan Chan would have stunned any visitor.

When the Inca began their dominion in the region they plundered the palaces of Chan Chan and backed rebellious groups.

Chimú Tapestry Shirt, 1400–1540, Camelid fiber and cotton. Dumbarton Oaks.

The glorious Chimú culture was finished by the end of the 15th century, though its artifacts and architectural styles now survived in Cusco, the new power center of South America and soon the capital of the largest empire in pre-Columbian America.

Colchis in the Greek mythology

According to the Greek mythology, Colchis was a fabulously wealthy land situated on the mysterious periphery of the heroic world. Here in the sacred grove of the war god Ares, King Aeetes hung the Golden Fleece until it was seized by Jason and the Argonauts. Colchis was also the land where the mythological Prometheus was punished by having to perpetually push a rock up a mountain while an eagle ate at his liver for revealing to humanity the secret of fire. Amazons also were said to be of Scythian origin from Colchis.

Watch the video: Ancient History: Iberians and Celts. History for Primary Education (December 2022).

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