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In ancient geography, Colchis or Kolkhis (Georgian and Laz: კოლხეთი, k'olxeti; Greek: , Kolkhís) was an ancient Georgianmarker , state kingdom and region in the Western Georgia (Caucasus region), which played an important role in the ethnic and cultural formation of the Georgian nation and its subgroups. 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. The term Colchians is used as the collective term for early Georgian tribes which populated the eastern coast of the Black Seamarker.

Its geography is mostly ascribed to what is now the western part of Georgiamarker. Colchis 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. This ancient area is represented roughly by the present day Georgian provinces of Samegrelo, Imeretimarker, Guriamarker, Atchara, Abkhazetimarker, Svanetimarker, Racha, the modern Turkeymarker’s Rizemarker, Trabzonmarker and Artvinmarker provinces (Lazistan, Tao-klarjeti) and the mothern Russiamarker’s Sochimarker and Tuapsemarker districts. One of the most important elements in the modern Georgian nation, the Colchians were probably established in the Caucasus by the Middle Bronze Age.

Geography and toponyms

The kingdom of Colchis, which existed from the sixth to the first centuries BCE is regarded as the first Georgian state and the term Colchians was used as the collective term for early Georgian tribes which populated the eastern coast of the black sea.

According to the scholar of the Caucasian studies Cyril Toumanoff:

A second Georgian tribal union emerged in the 13th century BC on the Black Sea coast under creating the Kingdom of Colchis in the western Georgia. This kingdom was a first state formation of the early Georgians. According to most classic authors, a district which was bounded on the southwest by Pontus, on the west by the Black Seamarker as far as the river Corax (probably the present day Bzybi River, Abkhaziamarker, Georgiamarker), on the north by the chain of the Greater Caucasusmarker, which lay between it and Asiatic Sarmatia, on the east by Iberia and Montes Moschici (now the Lesser Caucasusmarker), and on the south by Armeniamarker. There is some little difference in authors as to the extent of the country westward: thus Strabo makes Colchis begin at Trabzonmarker, while Ptolemy, on the other hand, extends Pontus to the Rioni River. Pitsundamarker was the last town to the north in Colchis.

The name of Colchis first appears in Aeschylus and Pindar. The earlier writers only speak of 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. 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 Dioscuriasmarker or Dioscuris (under the Romans called Sebastopolis, now Sukhumimarker) on the seaboard of the Euxine, Sarapana (now Shorapanimarker), Phasis (now Potimarker), Pityus (now Pitsundamarker), Apsaros (now Gonio), Surium (now Suramimarker), Archaeopolis (now Nokalakevimarker), Macheiresis, and Cyta or Cutatisium (now Kutaisimarker), the traditional birthplace of Medea. Scylax mentions also Mala or Male, which he, in contradiction to other writers, makes the birthplace of Medea.


Earliest times

The eastern Black Sea region in antiquity 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. The Colchian Late Bronze Age (15th to 8th Century BC) saw the development of significant skill 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 with a mild climate promoted the growth of progressive agricultural techniques.

Colchis was inhabited by a number of related but distinct tribes whose settlements lay chiefly along the shore of the Black Sea. The chief of those were the Machelones, Heniochi, Zydretae, Lazi, Chalybes, Tabal/Tibareni/Tubal, Mossynoeci, Macrones, Moschi, Marres, Apsilae, Abasci , Sanigae, Coraxi, Coli, Melanchlaeni, Geloni and Soani marker. These tribes differed so completely in language and appearance from the surrounding nations that the ancients provided various theories to account for the phenomenon.

For example, Herodotus states that the Colchians, with the Egyptians and the Ethiopiansmarker, were the first to practice circumcision, a custom which he claims the Colchians themselves inherited from remnants of the army of Pharaoh Senusret III (1878-1841 BC). He thus regarded them as Egyptians. Apollonius of Rhodes states that the Egyptians of Colchis preserved as heirlooms a number of wooden tablets showing seas and highways with considerable accuracy. Though the 'Egyptian' theory of origin was not generally adopted by the ancients, it has been defended – but not with complete success, by some modern writers . A small population of black people in the area existed in the early 20th Century, so it is possible there was a black component (which predates the Arab slave trade) in the Black Sea region, whose origins could conceivably be traced to an ancient expedition into the region by blacks from Africa. However, in the absence of any conclusive archeological evidence, this claim is speculative. [12393]

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

Qulha (Kolkha)

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.

Greek colonization

The advanced economy and favorable geographic and natural conditions of the area attracted the Milesian Greeksmarker who colonized the Colchian coast establishing here their trading posts at Phasismarker, Gyenos, and Sukhumimarker 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. Phasismarker and Sukhumimarker 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

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, Armeniamarker, and some part of Cappadociamarker, defeating Gnaeus 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 Cappadociamarker (81).

Under 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 fierce mountain tribes, with the Soanesmarker and Heniochi being the most powerful of them. Paying a nominal homage to Romemarker, 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 Machelons, Heniochi, Egrisi, Apsilia, Abasgia, and Sanigia had occupied the district from south to north. Goths, dwelling in the Crimeamarker and looking for new homes, raided Colchis in 253, but were repulsed with the help of the Roman garrison of Pitsundamarker. 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;
  • Aeëtes, celebrated 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 (ca 302-237 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, "king" in the 2nd century BC (according to some ancient sources).

  • Mithradates Chrestus (fl 83 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

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. The main mythical characters from Colchis are Aeëtes, Medea, Absyrtus, Chalciope, Circe, Eidyia, Pasiphaë.

See also


  1. Georgia in Antiquity: A History of Colchis and Transcaucasian Iberia, 550 BC-AD 562, David Braund Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994. Pp. 359
  2. The Making of the Georgian Nation, Ronald Grigor Suny, p. 13
  3. Modern Hatreds: The Symbolic Politics of Ethnic War, Stuart J. Kaufman, p. 91
  4. Cyril Toumanoff, Studies in Christian Caucasian History, p 69
  5. One Europe, Many Nations: A Historical Dictionary of European National Groups, James Minahan, p. 282
  6. Marc Van de Mieroop, A History of the Ancient near East, C. 3000–323 BC, p 265
  7. Charles Burney and David Marshal Lang, The Peoples of the Hills: Ancient Ararat and Caucasus, p. 38
  8. Oliver Wardrop, The Kingdom Of Georgia: Travel In A Land Of Women, Wine And Song (Kegan Paul Library of History and Archaeology)
  9. Modern Hatreds: The Symbolic Politics of Ethnic War, Stuart J. Kaufman, p. 91
  10. David Braund, Georgia in Antiquity: A History of Colchis and Transcaucasian Iberia, 550 BC-AD 562, Oxford University Press, USA (September 8, 1994)
  11. W.E.D. Allen, A history of the Georgian people (1932), p. 123
  12. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia:Значение слова "Колхи" в Большой Советской Энциклопедии
  13. Andrew Andersen, History of Ancient Caucasus, p. 91
  14. David Marshal Lang, the Georgians, Frederich A. Praeger Publishers, New York, p 59
  15. Modern Hatreds, Symbolic Politics of Ethnic War, Stuart J. Kaufman p. 91.
  16. Modern Hatreds: The Symbolic Politics of Ethnic War, Stuart J. Kaufman, p. 91
  17. Georgia in Antiquity: A History of Colchis and Transcaucasian Iberia, 550 BC-AD 562, David Braund Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994. Pp. 359
  18. The Making of the Georgian Nation, Ronald Grigor Suny, p. 13
  19. Modern Hatreds: The Symbolic Politics of Ethnic War, Stuart J. Kaufman, p. 91
  20. Cyril Toumanoff, Studies in Christian Caucasian History, p 69
  21. One Europe, Many Nations: A Historical Dictionary of European National Groups, James Minahan, p. 282
  22. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia:Значение слова "Колхи" в Большой Советской Энциклопедии
  23. D. Braund, Georgia in Antiquity: A History of Colchis and Transcaucasian Iberia 550 BC–562 AD, Oxford University Press, 1996.
  24. James Stuart Olson, An Ethnohistorical Dictionary of the Russian and Soviet Empires, p. 242
  25. Apollonius, Argonautica, II.417.
  26. 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). 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)
  27. Miniature Empires: A Historical Dictionary of the Newly Independent States, James Minahan, p. 116
  28. Cyril Toumanoff, Studies in Christian Caucasian History, p 80
  29. The Making of the Georgian Nation: 2nd Ed, Ronald Grigor Suny, p 13

Further reading

  • 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)

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