Colchis

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Kingdom of Colchis
Kingdom
 

XII BC–II BC
Colchis and Iberia
Capital Aia
Ildamusa
Phasis
Languages Georgian
Government Monarchy
Historical era Iron age
 -  Established XII BC
 -  Qonquest of Diauehi 750 BC
 -  Disestablished II BC
Today part of  Georgia
 Turkey
 Russia
Warning: Value specified for "continent" does not comply

In Greco-Roman geography, Colchis (/ˈkɒlkɪs/; Georgian: კოლხეთი Kolkheti; Greek Κολχίς Kolkhis, presumably from Kartvelian ḳolkheti or ḳolkha) was the name for a region in the Southern Caucasus. Colchis was located on the eastern coast of the Black Sea, centered on present-day western Georgia.

The Colchians were the population native to Colchis. They are assumed to have been early Kartvelian-speaking tribes, ancestral to the contemporary groups of Svans, Mingrelians and Lazs.[1] Ancestors of the Colchians were probably established on the Black Sea coast from as early as the Middle Bronze Age.[2]

For centuries, until its annexation by Pontus in 164 BC, Colchis was an independent kingdom. This kingdom has been described in modern scholarship as "the earliest Georgian (political) formation".[3] Colchis (also known in late Antiquity as Lazica, or Egrisi) would later contribute significantly to the development of medieval Georgian statehood, alongside Iberia.[4][5]

Colchis is also an important land in Greco-Roman mythology, most notably as the kingdom of Medea and the Golden fleece, destination of the Argonauts.

Geography and toponyms[edit]

The kingdom of Colchis, Kolkhis[6][7][8][9] or Qulha[10][11][12] which existed from the sixth to the first centuries BC is regarded as an early ethnically Georgian polity; the name of the Colchians was used as the collective term for early Kartvelian tribes which populated the eastern coast of the Black Sea in Greco-Roman ethnography.[13]

According to the scholar of the Caucasian studies Cyril Toumanoff:

A second South Caucasian tribal union emerged in the 13th century BC on the Black Sea coast.[clarification needed][14][15] According to most classic authors, a district which was bounded on the southwest by Pontus, on the west by the Black Sea as far as the river Corax (probably the present day Bzyb 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 Trabzon, while Ptolemy, on the other hand, extends Pontus to the Rioni River. Pitsunda was the last town to the north in Colchis.

Map of Colchis and Iberia by Christoph Cellarius printed in Leipzig in 1706

The name of Colchis first appears in Aeschylus and Pindar. The earlier writers only speak about it under the name of Aea (Aia), the residence of the mythical king Aeëtes: "Kolchian Aia lies at the furthest limits of sea and earth," wrote Apollonius of Rhodes.[16] 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 seaboard of the Euxine, Sarapana (now Shorapani), Phasis (now Poti), Pityus (now Pitsunda), Apsaros (now Gonio), Surium (now Vani), Archaeopolis (now Nokalakevi), Macheiresis, and Cyta or Cutatisium or Aia (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.

Physical-geographic characteristics[edit]

In physical geography, Colchis is usually defined as the area east of the Black Sea Coast, restricted from the north by south-western slopes of the Greater Caucasus Mountain Range, from the south by the northern slopes of the Lesser Caucasus in Georgia and Eastern Black Sea (Karadeniz) Mountains in Turkey, and from the east by Likhi Range, connecting the Greater and the Lesser Caucasus Mountain Ranges. The central part of the region is Colchis Plain, stretching between Sokhumi and Kobuleti; most of that lies on the elevation below 20 m above sea level. Marginal parts of the region are mountains of the Great and the Lesser Caucasus and Likhi Range.

Its territory mostly corresponds to what is now the western part of Georgia and encompasses the present-day Georgian provinces of Samegrelo, Imereti, Guria, Adjara, Abkhazeti, Svaneti, Racha; the modern Turkey’s Rize, Trabzon and Artvin provinces (Lazistan, Tao-Klarjeti); and the modern Russia’s Sochi and Tuapse districts.[17]

The climate is mild humid; near Batumi, annual rainfall level reaches 4,000 mm, which is the absolute maximum for the continental western Eurasia. The dominating natural landscapes of Colchis are temperate rainforests, yet degraded in the plain part of the region; wetlands (along the coastal parts of Colchis Plain); subalpine and alpine meadows.

The Colchis has a high proportion of Tertiary relict plants and animals, with the closest relatives in distant parts of the world: five species of Rhododendrons and other evergreen shrubs, wingnuts, Caucasian salamander, Caucasian Parsley Frog, eight endemic species of lizards from the genus Darevskia, Caucasian adder, Robert's vole, and endemic cave shrimps.

History[edit]

Colchian golden earrings, 4th century BC.
Colchian necklace, 5th century BC.
Colchian riders pendants
Colchian hairpin
Colchian coin of Dioscurias, Late 2nd Century BC. Obverse: Two pilei surmounted by stars Reverse: Thyrsos, ΔΙΟΣΚΟΥΡΙΑΔΟΣ

Prehistory and earliest references[edit]

The eastern Black Sea region in antiquity was home to the well-developed Bronze Age culture known as the Colchian culture, related to the neighboring 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. The Colchian Late Bronze Age (15th to 8th century BC) saw the development of significant skill in the smelting and casting of metals. Sophisticated farming implements were made, and fertile, well-watered lowlands and a mild climate promoted the growth of progressive agricultural techniques.

Colchis was inhabited by a number of related but distinct tribes whose settlements lay along the shore of the Black Sea. Chief among those were the Machelones, Heniochi, Zydretae, Lazi, Chalybes, Tabal/Tibareni/Tubal, Mossynoeci, Macrones, Moschi, Marres, Apsilae, Abasci,[18] Sanigae, Coraxi, Coli, Melanchlaeni, Geloni and Soani (Suani). These Kartvelian tribes differed so completely in language and appearance from the surrounding Indo-European nations that the ancients provided various wild theories to account for the phenomenon.

Herodotus regarded the Colchians as Ancient Egyptian[19][20][21][22] race.

Herodotus states that the Colchians, with the Ancient Egyptians and the Ethiopians, were the first to practice circumcision, a custom which he claims (without historical proof) that the Colchians inherited from remnants of the army of Pharaoh Sesostris. Apollonius of Rhodes states that the Egyptians of Colchis preserved as heirlooms a number of wooden tablets, which show, with considerable accuracy, seas and highways.

According to Pliny the Elder:

Many modern theories suggest that the ancestors of the Laz-Mingrelians constituted the dominant ethnic and cultural presence in the region in antiquity, and hence played a significant role in the ethnogenesis of the modern Georgians.[26][27]

Qulha (Kolkha) and Persian rule[edit]

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). The kingdom of Tabal was conquered by the Assyrian emperor Shalmaneser III in the 830's BC. 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 Sarduri 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 into the 19th Satrapy of Persia, while the northern tribes submitted “voluntarily” and had to send to the Persian court 100 girls and 100 boys every five 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[citation needed]. 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.[28]

Greek colonization[edit]

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 the hinterland before seemingly assimilating totally. After the fall of the Persian Empire, a 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.

Under Pontus[edit]

Mithradates VI quelled an uprising in the region in 83 BC and gave Colchis to his son Mithridates, 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,[29] 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 Gnaeus Domitius Calvinus, whom Caesar subsequently sent against him. His triumph was, however, short-lived. Under Polemon I, the son and heir of Zenon, Colchis was part of the Pontus and the Bosporan Kingdom. After the death of Polemon (8 BC), his second wife Pythodorida of Pontus 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 (81).

Under Roman rule[edit]

Despite the fact that all major fortresses along the seacoast were occupied by the Romans, their rule was relatively 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 fierce mountain 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. The Hellenistic, local pagan and Mithraic religious beliefs would however remain widespread until the 4th century. By the 130s, the kingdoms of Machelones, Heniochi, Egrisi, Apsilia, Abasgia, and Sanigia had occupied the district from south to north. Goths, dwelling in the Crimea and looking for new homes, raided Colchis in 253, but 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).

Rulers[edit]

Little is known of the rulers of Colchis;

  • Akes (Basileus Aku) (end of the 4th century BC), king of Colchis; his name is found on a coin issued by him.
  • Saulaces, "king" in the 2nd century BC (according to some ancient sources).
  • Mithridates (fl. 65 BC), under the authority 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, is mentioned by the Roman sources as a captive of Pompey in 65 BC.

  • Aristarchus (65-47 BC), a dynasty under the authority of Pompey.

Colchis in mythology[edit]

Jason and the Argonauts arriving at Colchis. Argonautica tells the myth of their voyage to retrieve the Golden Fleece. This painting is located in the Palace of Versailles.

In Greek mythology, Colchis was the home of Aeëtes, Medea, Golden Fleece, fire-breathing bulls Khalkotauroi[30][31] and the destination of the Argonauts.[32][33]

Colchis is also thought to be the possible homeland of the Amazons.[34][35][36][37][38][39]

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 Aeëtes 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.

Apollonius of Rhodes named Aea as the main city (Argonautica, passim). The main mythical characters from Colchis are:

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Antiquity 1994. p. 359. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia:Значение слова "Колхи" в Большой Советской Энциклопедии; The Cambridge Ancient History, John Anthony Crook, Elizabeth Rawson, p. 255
  2. ^ David Marshal Lang, the Georgians, Frederich A. Praeger Publishers, New York, p 59
  3. ^ a b CToumanoff. Cyril Toumanoff, Studies in Christian Caucasian History, p 69,84
  4. ^ David Braund, Georgia in Antiquity: A History of Colchis and Transcaucasian Iberia, 550 BC-AD 562, Oxford University Press, USA (September 8, 1994)
  5. ^ W.E.D. Allen, A history of the Georgian people (1932), p. 123
  6. ^ Castles of God: Fortified Religious Buildings of the World, Peter Harrison p196
  7. ^ Greek Tragedy, Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz p151
  8. ^ Dark of the Moon, Tracy Barrett p190
  9. ^ Ancient Epic, Katherine Callen King The Argonautica before Appolonius
  10. ^ The Pre-history of the Armenian People, Igor Mikhailovich Diakonov, p75
  11. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 1, p1040
  12. ^ Archaeology at the north-east Anatolian frontier, Claudia Sagona, p35
  13. ^ Georgia in Antiquity: A History of Colchis and Transcaucasian Iberia, 550 BC-AD 562, David Braund Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994. Pp. 359
  14. ^ D. Braund, Georgia in Antiquity: A History of Colchis and Transcaucasian Iberia 550 BC–562 AD, Oxford University Press, 1996.
  15. ^ James Stuart Olson, An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of the Russian and Soviet Empires, p. 242
  16. ^ Apollonius, Argonautica, II.417.
  17. ^ Andrew Andersen, History of Ancient Caucasus, p. 91
  18. ^ According to some scholars, ancient tribes such as the Absilae (mentioned by Pliny, 1st century CE) and Abasgoi (mentioned by Arrian, 2nd century CE) correspond to the modern Abkhazians (Chirikba, V., "On the etymology of the ethnonym 'apswa' "Abkhaz", in The Annual of the Society for the Study of Caucasia, 3, 13-18, Chicago, 1991; Hewitt, B. G., "The valid and non-valid application of philology to history", in Revue des Etudes Georgiennes et Caucasiennes, 6-7, 1990-1991, 247-263; Grand Dictionnaire Encyclopédique Larousse, tome 1, 1985, p. 20). However, this claim is controversial and no academic consensus has yet been reached. Other scholars suggest that these ethnonyms instead reflect a common regional origin, rather than emphasizing a distinct and separate ethnic and cultural identity in antiquity. For example, Tariel Putkaradze, a Georgian scholar, suggests, "In the 3rd-2nd millennia BC the Kartvelian, Abhaz-Abaza, Circassian-Adyghe and Vaynakh tribes must have been part of a great Ibero-Caucasian ethnos. Therefore, it is natural that several tribes or ethnoses descending from them have the names derived from a single stem. The Kartvelian Aphaz, Apsil, Apšil and north Caucasian Apsua, Abazaha, Abaza, existing in the 1st millennium, were the names denoting different tribes of a common origin. Some of these tribes (Apsils, Apshils) disappeared, others mingled with kindred tribes, and still others have survived to the present day." (Putkaradze, T. The Kartvelians, 2005, translated by Irene Kutsia)
  19. ^ Approaching Chaos: Could an Ancient Archetype Save 21st Century Civilization? Lucy Wyatt p208
  20. ^ The Blessing of Africa: The Bible and African Christianity, Keith Augustus Burton p73
  21. ^ African Presence in Early Asia, Runoko Rashidi, Ivan Van Sertima p59
  22. ^ Letters of certain Jews to Monsieur Voltaire, containing an apology for their own people, and for the Old Testament: Antoine Guénée p464
  23. ^ The Shrines and Sepulchres of the Old and New World: Records of Pilgrimages in Many Lands, and Researches Connected with the History of Places Remarkable for Memorials of the Dea, Or Monuments of a Sacred Character; Including Notices of the Funeral Customs of the Principal Nations, Ancient and Modern, Volume 1, Richard Robert Madden, Newby, 1851, p293
  24. ^ An Universal history, from the earliest account of time, Volume 10, George Sale, George Psalmanazar, Archibald Bower, George Shelvocke, John Campbell, John Swinton, p136 B.II.
  25. ^ Plin, I, xxxiii, c. 3.
  26. ^ Miniature Empires: A Historical Dictionary of the Newly Independent States, James Minahan, p. 116
  27. ^ Cyril Toumanoff, Studies in Christian Caucasian History, p 80
  28. ^ The Making of the Georgian Nation: 2nd Ed, Ronald Grigor Suny, p 13
  29. ^ Pompey, Nic Fields p29
  30. ^ The Origin of Pagan Idolatry, George Stanley Faber p409
  31. ^ The Facts on File Companion to Classical Drama, John E. Thorburn Colchian Bulls p145
  32. ^ The Routledge Handbook of the Peoples and Places of Ancient Western Asia: The Near East from the Early Bronze Age to the Fall of the Persian Empire, Trevor Bryce p171
  33. ^ World Mythology: An Anthology of Great Myths and Epics, Donna Rosenberg p218
  34. ^ Celebrate the Divine Feminine: Reclaim Your Power with Ancient Goddess Wisdom: Joy Reichard p169
  35. ^ John Canzanella: Innocence and Anarchy p58
  36. ^ Margaret Meserve: Empires of Islam in Renaissance Historical Thought p250
  37. ^ Diane P. Thompson: The Trojan War: Literature and Legends from the Bronze Age to the Present p193
  38. ^ Andrew Brown: A New Companion to Greek Tragedy p66
  39. ^ Mark Amaru Pinkham: The Return of the Serpents of Wisdom The Amazons, The Female Serpents

Further reading[edit]

  • Braund, David. 1994. Georgia in Antiquity: A History of Colchis and Transcaucasian Iberia 550 BC-AD 562. Clarendon Press, Oxford. ISBN 0-19-814473-3
  • Gocha R. Tsetskhladze. Pichvnari and Its Environs, 6th c BC-4th c AD. Annales Littéraires de l'Université de Franche-Comté, 659, Editeurs: M. Clavel-Lévêque, E. Geny, P. Lévêque. Paris: Presses Universitaires Franc-Comtoises, 1999. ISBN 2-913322-42-5
  • Otar Lordkipanidze. Phasis: The River and City of Colchis. Geographica Historica 15, Franz Steiner 2000. ISBN 3-515-07271-3
  • Alexander Melamid. Colchis today. (northeastern Turkey): An article from: The Geographical Review. American Geographical Society, 1993. ISBN B000925IWE
  • Akaki Urushadze. The Country of the Enchantress Media, Tbilisi, 1984 (in Russian and English)

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 42°N 42°E / 42°N 42°E / 42; 42