How Did an Ancient Greek Kingdom Emerge in Crimea?

How Did an Ancient Greek Kingdom Emerge in Crimea?

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The ancient Greeks founded numerous cities in far-flung places, from Spain in the west to Afghanistan and the Indus Valley in the east. Because of this, many exotic cities have their historical origins in a Hellenic foundation: Marseilles, Herat and Kandahar for instance.

Another such city is Kerch, one of the most important settlements in Crimea. But how did an ancient Greek kingdom emerge in this far-flung region?

Archaic Greece

Ancient Greece at the start of the 7th century BC was very different to the popular image usually presented of this civilisation: of Spartans standing supreme in scarlet cloaks or of Athens’ acropolis gleaming with marble monuments.

The Mediterranean and the Near East was just one part of a much larger, interconnected ancient world. Professor Michael Scott discusses the immense age of the Silk Road and its importance to Imperial Rome.

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Back in the 7th century BC, both of these cities were still in their infancy and were not central pillars of the Greek world. Instead other cities were prominent: Megara, Corinth, Argos and Chalcis. Yet powerful Greek cities were not restricted solely to the western side of the Aegean Sea.

Further to the east, situated on the western shoreline of Anatolia, several powerful Greek cities resided, prospering from their access to fertile lands and the Aegean Sea.

Although Greek poleis dotted the length of this coastline the lion’s share of settlements were located in Ionia, a region famed for the rich fertility of its soil. By the seventh century BC many of these Ionian cities had already thrived for decades. Yet their prosperity also brought problems.

Greek colonisation of Asia Minor between 1000 and 700 BC. The lion’s share of Hellenic settlements were situated in Ionia (Green).

Enemies at the borders

During the seventh and sixth centuries BC, these cities attracted the attention of unwelcome peoples seeking plunder and power. Initially this threat came from nomadic raiders called the Cimmerians, a people who originated from north of the Black Sea but who had been expelled from their homeland by another nomadic tribe.

After bands of Cimmerians sacked many Ionian cities for several years, their threat was replaced by the Lydian Empire, situated directly east of Ionia.

For many decades, Greek settlers in Ionia thus found their lands pillaged and crops destroyed by Cimmerian and Lydian armies. This caused a great influx of Greek refugees, fleeing westwards away from danger and towards the Aegean coastline.

Many fled to Miletus, the most powerful stronghold in Ionia that had its roots back in Mycenaean times. Although Miletus did not escape the Cimmerian scourge, it kept control of the sea.

Many Ionian refugees gathered in the city thus decided to board boats and sail north, through the Hellespont to the Black Sea, in their search for new lands to settle – a fresh start.

Dan chats to Dr Helen Farr about how the Black Sea’s anaerobic waters have preserved ancient ships for many centuries, including a Greek ship very similar to one on an urn in the British Library. Listen Now

The Inhospitable Sea

During the seventh century BC, the Greeks believed this great Sea was highly-dangerous, filled with marauding pirates and shrouded in myth and legend.

Yet overtime, groups of Milesian refugees started overcoming these myths and began to found new settlements along the length and breadth of the Black Sea’s shores – from Olbia in the north-west to Phasis at its furthest-east edge.

They selected settlement locations primarily for their access to fertile lands and navigable rivers. Yet one place was notably richer than all others: the Rough Peninsula.

The Rough Peninsula (Chersonesus Trachea) is what we know today as the Kerch Peninsula, on the eastern edge of Crimea.

This Peninsula was a lucrative land. It boasted some of the most fertile terrain in the known world, while its proximity to Lake Maeotis (the Sea of Azov) – a lake abundant in marine life – also ensured the land was rich in resources.

Strategically too, the Rough Peninsula had many positives for the Milesian colonists. The aforementioned Cimmerians had once inhabited these lands and, although they had long departed, evidence of their civilisation remained – defensive earthworks constructed by the Cimmerians stretched the length of the peninsula.

These works provided the basis for sound defensive structures that the Milesians could take advantage of. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, the Rough Peninsula commanded the Cimmerian straits, the vital narrow waterway that linked Lake Maeotis with the Black Sea.

The Greek settlers arrive

During the 7th century BC, Milesian colonists reached this far-flung peninsula and established a trading port: Panticapaeum. More settlements soon followed and by the mid-6th century BC, several emporiae had been established in the area.

Quickly these trading ports developed into rich independent cities, prospering as their exports found willing buyers not only throughout the Black Sea region, but also in places further afield. Yet as their Ionian forefathers had discovered centuries earlier, prosperity also brought problems.

There was regular contact between the Greeks and Scythians in eastern Crimea, attested to in both archaeological and literary evidence. In this episode, Dan discusses the Scythians and their extraordinary way of life with St John Simpson, the Curator of a major exhibition at the British Museum about these ferocious nomads.Watch Now

A principle worry for these new urban developments was their evident contact with the neighbouring Scythians, nomadic warriors originating in Southern Siberia.

Regular demands by these ferocious warriors for tribute very likely plagued the cities for many years; yet in c.520 BC, the citizens of Panticapaeum and several other settlements decided to fight this threat when they united and forged a new, joined domain: the Bosporan Kingdom.

Scythian contact with this kingdom would remain throughout its existence: many Scythians lived within the kingdom’s borders which helped influence the domain’s Greco-Scythian hybrid culture – most evident in some remarkable archaeological discoveries and in the composition of Bosporan armies.

Electrum vase from the Kul-Oba kurgan, 2nd half of 4th century BC. Scythian soldiers are visible on the vase and served in Bosporan armies. Credit: Joanbanjo / Commons.

The Bosporan Kingdom went on to experience its golden age at the end of the 4th century BC – when not only did its military strength dominate the northern shoreline of the Black Sea, but its economic power made it the breadbasket of the Mediterranean World (it possessed abundant surpluses of grain, a commodity that always remained in high demand).

This Greco-Scythian domain remained the jewel of the Black Sea for many years; it was one of antiquity’s most remarkable kingdoms.

Top Image Credit: The prytaneion of Panticapaeum, second century BC (Credit: Derevyagin Igor / Commons).

During the Mycenaean period, the Greeks learned various arts and skills, like gate-building and golden mask-making. This was the palatial period when people at least like -- if not the actual -- Trojan War heroes lived. The Mycenaean period was followed by the "Dark Age," which is called dark because of a lack of written records. It is also called the Early Iron Age. Linear B inscriptions stopped. Between the palatial urban civilizations of the Mycenaean period and the Dark Age, there may have been environmental disasters in Greece, as well as elsewhere in the Mediterranean world.

The end of the Mycenaean period/Dark Age is characterized by geometric design on pottery and the emergence of Greek alphabetic writing.

Archaeologists excavate Roman-era manor and Greek ‘Barbie doll’ figurines in Crimea

Last year, we talked about how archaeologists had excavated the ruins of a Greek fortress in Crimea belonging to the Bosporan Kingdom (Basileion tou Kimmerikou Bosporou), dated from circa 1st century BC. This year in March, it was followed by the discovery of a Greek terracotta sculpture off the Crimean coast. And now Crimea can boast another cultural legacy in its rich tapestry of history, with researchers from the Institute of Archeology at the Russian Academy of Sciences unearthing the remains of a countryside Roman-era domus (manor) on the peninsula. This was accompanied by the discovery of what the researchers have termed as ‘”Hellenistic Barbie dolls’.

The Roman manor in question here dates back to 1st century AD. Its ruins are situated around 9.3 miles from the city of Kerch, one of the largest cities in modern Crimea that also bears its ancient legacy in the form of Panticapaeum – the royal residence of the Bosporan kings. According to Sergey Vnukov Doctor of Historical Sciences and the expedition leader –

Such manors are common for that period of time, this one shows what the everyday life of an average resident of the Bosporan Kingdom was like. During our excavations, we came across neither expensive foreign items, nor gold and silver coins, no luxury items, but we did find crockery, various tools, inexpensive jewelry and figurines, particularly puppets made of terracotta, which can be called Hellenistic ‘Barbie dolls’ because they were children’s toys.

Now in terms of history, during circa early 1st century AD, following the disastrous wars of Mithridates VI of Pontus, the Bosporan kingdom was incorporated as a client state of Rome. The lull in large-scale battles, skirmishes, and rebellions actually brought forth a period of prosperity in the region, which is rather reflected by the bucolic setting of this ancient Roman-era domus. Vnukov explained –

Slightly well-off landlords and tenant farmers lived here, sort of a countryside middle class of that era. They might have had a few house slaves and could have been able to afford hiring casual workers to cultivate their land, but they were in no way like large Roman landowners.

Interestingly enough, beyond the scope of Greeks, Bosporans, and Romans, the archaeologists also came across a dwelling site that possibly harks back to mid-Bronze Age. This site revealed a plethora of fascinating items, ranging from crockery fragments, pieces of stone tools, structural ruins to gravesites and anthropomorphic steles. And currently, the researchers are looking forward to continuing their excavations in conjunction with the construction of the Tavrida highway along the area.


The whole area was dotted with Greek cities: in the west, Panticapaeum (Kerch)—the most significant city in the region, Nymphaeum and Myrmekion on the east Phanagoria (the second city of the region), Kepoi, Hermonassa, Portus Sindicus and Gorgippia. [4]

These Greek colonies were originally settled by Milesians in the 7th and 6th centuries BC. Phanagoria (c. 540 BC) was a colony of Teos, and the foundation of Nymphaeum may have had a connection with Athens at least it appears to have been a member of the Delian League in the 5th century. [4]

The Bosporan Kingdom was centred around the Kerch Strait between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, known in antiquity as the Cimmerian Bosporus from where the kingdom's name derived.

Archaeanactidae dynasty Edit

According to Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (xii. 31) the region was governed between 480 and 438 BC by a line of kings called the Archaeanactidae, probably a ruling family, usurped by a tyrant called Spartocus (438–431 BC), who was a Thracian. [4]

Spartocid dynasty Edit

Spartocus founded a dynasty which seems to have endured until c. 110 BC, known as the Spartocids. The Spartocids left many inscriptions, indicating that the earliest members of the house ruled under the titles of archons of the Greek cities and kings of various minor native tribes, notably the Sindi (from central Crimea) and other branches of the Maeotae. Surviving material (texts, inscriptions and coins) do not supply enough information to reconstruct a complete chronology of kings of the region. [4]

Satyrus (431–387 BC), successor to Spartocus, established his rule over the whole region, adding Nymphaeum to his kingdom and besieging Theodosia, which was wealthy because, unlike other cities in the region, it had a port which was free of ice throughout the year, allowing it to trade grain with the rest of the Greek world, even in winter. Satyrus' son Leucon (387–347 BC) eventually took the city. He was succeeded jointly by his two sons, Spartocus II, and Paerisades Spartocus died in 342 BC, allowing Paerisades to reign alone until 310 BC. [4] After Paerisades' death, a war of succession between his sons Satyrus and Eumelus was fought. Satyrus defeated his younger brother Eumelus at the Battle of the River Thatis in 310 BC but was then killed in battle, giving Eumelus the throne. [5]

Eumelus' successor was Spartocus III (303–283 BC) and after him Paerisades II. Succeeding princes repeated the family names, so it is impossible to assign them a definite order. The last of them, however, Paerisades V, unable to make headway against increasingly violent attacks from nomadic tribes in the area, called in the help of Diophantus, general of King Mithridates VI of Pontus, leaving him his kingdom. Paerisades was killed by a Scythian named Saumacus who led a rebellion against him. [4]

The house of Spartocus was well known as a line of enlightened and wise princes although Greek opinion could not deny that they were, strictly speaking, tyrants, they are always described as dynasts. They maintained close relations with Athens, their best customer for the Bosporan grain exports: Leucon I of Bosporus created privileges for Athenian ships at Bosporan ports. The Attic orators make numerous references to this. In return the Athenians granted Leucon Athenian citizenship and made decrees in honour of him and his sons. [4]

Mithridates VI Edit

After his defeat by Roman General Pompey in 66 BC, King Mithridates VI of Pontus fled with a small army from Colchis (modern Georgia) over the Caucasus Mountains to Crimea and made plans to raise yet another army to take on the Romans. His eldest living son, Machares, regent of Cimmerian Bosporus, was unwilling to aid his father, so Mithridates had Machares killed, acquiring the throne for himself. Mithridates then ordered the conscriptions and preparations for war. In 63 BC, Pharnaces, the youngest son of Mithridates, led a rebellion against his father, joined by Roman exiles in the core of Mithridates's Pontic army. Mithridates VI withdrew to the citadel in Panticapaeum, where he committed suicide. Pompey buried Mithridates VI in a rock-cut tomb in either Sinope or Amasia, [6] the capital of the Kingdom of Pontus.

After the death of Mithridates VI (63 BC), Pharnaces II (63–47 BC) supplicated to Pompey, and then tried to regain his dominion during Julius Caesar's Civil War, but was defeated by Caesar at Zela and was later killed by his former governor and son-in-law Asander. [4]

Before the death of Pharnaces II, Asander had married Pharnaces II's daughter Dynamis. Asander and Dynamis were the ruling monarchs until Caesar commanded a paternal uncle of Dynamis, Mithridates II to declare war on the Bosporan Kingdom and claimed the kingship for himself. Asander and Dynamis were defeated by Caesar's ally and went into political exile. However, after Caesar's death in 44 BC, the Bosporan Kingdom was restored to Asander and Dynamis by Caesar's great nephew and heir Octavian. Asander ruled as an archon and later as king until his death in 17 BC. After the death of Asander, Dynamis was compelled to marry a Roman usurper called Scribonius, but the Romans under Agrippa intervened and established Polemon I of Pontus (16–8 BC) in his place. Polemon married Dynamis in 16 BC and she died in 14 BC. Polemon ruled as king until his death in 8 BC. After the death of Polemon, Aspurgus, the son of Dynamis and Asander, succeeded Polemon.

The Bosporan Kingdom of Aspurgus was a client state of the Roman Empire, protected by Roman garrisons. Aspurgus (8 BC – 38 AD) founded a dynasty of kings which endured with a couple of interruptions until 341 AD. Aspurgus adopted the Imperial Roman names "Tiberius Julius" when he received Roman citizenship and enjoyed the patronage of the first two Roman Emperors, Augustus and Tiberius. All of the following kings adopted these two Roman names followed by a third name, of Thracian (Kotys, Rhescuporis or Rhoemetalces) or local origin (such as Sauromates, Eupator, Ininthimeus, Pharsanzes, Synges, Terianes, Theothorses or Rhadamsades).

The Roman client kings of the dynasty had descended from King Mithridates VI of Pontus and his first wife, his sister Laodice, through Aspurgus. The kings adopted a new calendar (the "Pontic era") introduced by Mithridates VI, starting with 297 BC to date their coins. Bosporan kings struck coinage throughout its period as a client state, which included gold staters bearing portraits of both the Roman emperor and Bosporan king. Like the Roman, Bosporan coinage became increasingly debased during the 3rd century. The coinage makes their lineages fairly clear to historians, though scarcely any events from their reigns are recorded.

The Bosporan Kingdom covered the eastern half of Crimea and the Taman peninsula, and extended along the east coast of the Maeotian marshes to Tanais at the mouth of the Don in the north-east, a great market for trade with the interior. Throughout the period there was perpetual war with the native tribes of Scythians and Sarmatians, and in this the Bosporan Kingdom was supported by its Roman suzerains, who lent the assistance of garrisons and fleets.

In 62 AD for reasons unknown, Roman emperor Nero deposed the Bosporan king Cotys I. [7] It is possible that Nero wanted to minimise the power of local client rulers and wanted the Bosporans to be subsumed into the Roman empire. The Bosporan Kingdom was incorporated as part of the Roman province of Moesia Inferior from 63 to 68. In 68, the new Roman emperor Galba restored the Bosporan Kingdom to Rhescuporis I, the son of Cotys I.

Following the Jewish diaspora, Judaism emerged in the region, and Jewish communities developed in some of the cities of the region (especially Tanais). The Jewish or Thracian influence on the region may have inspired the foundation of a cult to the "Most High God", a distinct regional cult which emerged in the 1st century AD, [2] which professed monotheism without being distinctively Jewish or Christian. [8]

The balance of power amongst local tribes was severely disturbed by westward migration in the 3rd–4th centuries. In the 250s AD, the Goths and Borani were able to seize Bosporan shipping and even raid the shores of Anatolia. [9]

With the coins of the last king Rhescuporis VI in 341, constructing a chronology becomes very difficult. The kingdom was probably finally overrun by the Huns, who defeated the nearby Alans in 375/376 and moved rapidly westwards towards the Roman empire. [4]

A few centuries after the Hunnic invasion, the Bosporan cities enjoyed a revival, under Byzantine and Bulgarian protection. The ancient Greek city of Phanagoria became the capital of Old Great Bulgaria between 632 and 665. [ citation needed ] From time to time Byzantine Greek officers built fortresses and exercised authority at Bosporus, which constituted an archbishopric.

A relevant Byzantine usage of the term is found in a newly discovered seal of a general of the early 11th century as of " Πο⟨σ⟩φορ(ου) ", i.e., of the Cimmerian Bosporos. [10]

They also held Tmutarakan on the eastern side of the strait, a town which in the 10th and 11th centuries became the seat of the Kievan Rus principality of Tmutarakan, which in turn gave way to Tatar domination. [4]

Although considered rare among collectors prior to the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991, Bosporan coins are now well known on the international coin markets, hinting at the quantities produced. Several large series were produced by Bosporan cities from the 5th century BC, particularly in Panticapaeum. Gold staters of Panticapaeum bearing Pan's head and a griffin are especially remarkable for their weight and fine workmanship.

There are coins with the names of the later Spartocids and a complete series of dated solidi issued by the later or Achaemenian dynasty. In them may be noticed the swift degeneration of the gold solidus through silver and potin to bronze. [11]

The early Archaic period

The period between the catastrophic end of the Mycenaean civilization and about 900 bce is often called a Dark Age. It was a time about which Greeks of the Classical age had confused and actually false notions. Thucydides, the great ancient historian of the 5th century bce , wrote a sketch of Greek history from the Trojan War to his own day, in which he notoriously fails, in the appropriate chapter, to signal any kind of dramatic rupture. (He does, however, speak of Greece “settling down gradually” and colonizing Italy, Sicily, and what is now western Turkey. This surely implies that Greece was settling down after something.) Thucydides does indeed display sound knowledge of the series of migrations by which Greece was resettled in the post-Mycenaean period. The most famous of these was the “ Dorian invasion,” which the Greeks called, or connected with, the legendary “return of the descendants of Heracles.” Although much about that invasion is problematic—it left little or no archaeological trace at the point in time where tradition puts it—the problems are of no concern here. Important for the understanding of the Archaic and Classical periods, however, is the powerful belief in Dorianism as a linguistic and religious concept. Thucydides casually but significantly mentions soldiers speaking the “Doric dialect” in a narrative about ordinary military matters in the year 426. That is a surprisingly abstract way of looking at the subdivisions of the Greeks, because it would have been more natural for a 5th-century Greek to identify soldiers by home cities. Equally important to the understanding of this period is the hostility to Dorians, usually on the part of Ionians, another linguistic and religious subgroup, whose most-famous city was Athens. So extreme was this hostility that Dorians were prohibited from entering Ionian sanctuaries extant today is a 5th-century example of such a prohibition, an inscription from the island of Paros.

Phenomena such as the tension between Dorians and Ionians that have their origins in the Dark Age are a reminder that Greek civilization did not emerge either unannounced or uncontaminated by what had gone before. The Dark Age itself is beyond the scope of this article. One is bound to notice, however, that archaeological finds tend to call into question the whole concept of a Dark Age by showing that certain features of Greek civilization once thought not to antedate about 800 bce can actually be pushed back by as much as two centuries. One example, chosen for its relevance to the emergence of the Greek city-state, or polis, will suffice. In 1981 archaeology pulled back the curtain on the “darkest” phase of all, the Protogeometric Period (c. 1075–900 bce ), which takes its name from the geometric shapes painted on pottery. A grave, rich by the standards of any period, was uncovered at a site called Lefkandi on Euboea, the island along the eastern flank of Attica (the territory controlled by Athens). The grave, which dates to about 1000 bce , contains the (probably cremated) remains of a man and a woman. The large bronze vessel in which the man’s ashes were deposited came from Cyprus, and the gold items buried with the woman are splendid and sophisticated in their workmanship. Remains of horses were found as well the animals had been buried with their snaffle bits. The grave was within a large collapsed house, whose form anticipates that of the Greek temples two centuries later. Previously it had been thought that those temples were one of the first manifestations of the “monumentalizing” associated with the beginnings of the city-state. Thus, that find and those made in a set of nearby cemeteries in the years before 1980 attesting further contacts between Egypt and Cyprus between 1000 and 800 bce are important evidence. They show that one corner of one island of Greece, at least, was neither impoverished nor isolated in a period usually thought to have been both. The difficulty is to know just how exceptional Lefkandi was, but in any view it has revised former ideas about what was and what was not possible at the beginning of the 1st millennium bce .

Democracy (Ancient Greece)

Democracy in ancient Greece served as one of the first forms of self-rule government in the ancient world. The system and ideas employed by the ancient Greeks had profound influences on how democracy developed, and its impact on the formation of the U.S. government.

Social Studies, Ancient Civilizations

The ancient Greeks were the first to create a democracy. The word &ldquodemocracy&rdquo comes from two Greek words that mean people (demos) and rule (kratos). Democracy is the idea that the citizens of a country should take an active role in the government of their country and manage it directly or through elected representatives. In addition, it supports the idea that the people can replace their government through peaceful transfers of power rather than violent uprising or revolution. Thus, a key part of democracy is that the people have a voice.

The first known democracy in the world was in Athens. Athenian democracy developed around the fifth century B.C.E. The Greek idea of democracy was different from present-day democracy because, in Athens, all adult citizens were required to take an active part in the government. If they did not fulfill their duty they would be fined and sometimes marked with red paint. The Athenian definition of &ldquocitizens&rdquo was also different from modern-day citizens: only free men were considered citizens in Athens. Women, children, and slaves were not considered citizens and therefore could not vote.

Each year 500 names were chosen from all the citizens of ancient Athens. Those 500 citizens had to actively serve in the government for one year. During that year, they were responsible for making new laws and controlled all parts of the political process. When a new law was proposed, all the citizens of Athens had the opportunity to vote on it. To vote, citizens had to attend the assembly on the day the vote took place. This form of government is called direct democracy.

The United States has a representative democracy. Representative democracy is a government in which citizens vote for representatives who create and change laws that govern the people rather than getting to vote directly on the laws themselves.

How Did an Ancient Greek Kingdom Emerge in Crimea? - 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)


The later Greeks saw this period as a Heroic Age, and much of our information about Greek society and culture in the Dark Ages comes from legends preserved in later literature. The exploits of these heroes formed three “cycles”: The Theban Cycle, supposedly occurring two generations before the Trojan War and concerning Oedipus and his family the Cycle of Heracles and his sons, the Heraclidae and, the Trojan Cycle, the war of the Achaeans against Troy, led by Agamemnon, Achilles, and Odysseus. These legends are preserved in Attic drama of the fifth century B.C.E. and in the epic poems called the Iliad and the Odyssey. The epics were ascribed to the blind poet, Homer, who probably lived sometime between 850 and 650 B.C.E. Both works may have been composed by the same individual, but it is more likely that the Iliad predates the Odyssey by about a century. The poems contain some reliable traditions dating back to the Mycenaean Age: the use of chariots and bronze weapons, large royal palaces, and the Catalog of Ships (Iliad 2.484 ff), which reflects the importance of Mycenaean, not Dark Age, states. Other elements clearly belong to the 10th and 9th centuries: the use of the dipylon or “figure 8” shield, the ritual gift of tripods, and the cremation of the dead. In both epics, the Mycenaean world and the Dark Ages are blended together, and it is difficult to distinguish the date of various elements of the poems.

Did ancient Greece overlap ancient Rome?

The Greeks came first, some 1,000 years before the Romans. Their most appreciated work, the Iliad, was distributed 700 years before the Roman's most popular manuscript, the Aeneid.

Furthermore, how did the Romans conquer the Greeks? The Roman era of Greek history began with the Corinthian defeat in the Battle of Corinth in 146 BC. However, before the Achaean War, the Roman Republic had been steadily gaining control of mainland Greece by defeating the Kingdom of Macedon in a series of conflicts known as the Macedonian Wars.

One may also ask, how did ancient Greece influence ancient Rome?

In addition to literature, art, and architecture the Romans were also heavily influenced by Greece in regards to religion. Like that of the Greeks, early Roman religious beliefs implemented a polytheistic system of worship based around gods and goddesses.

What did the Romans take from the Greeks?

Two groups who greatly influenced Roman culture were the Etruscans and the Greeks. Romans learned a great deal about engineering from the Etruscans. They also adopted some Etruscan sporting events. Greek civilization had a huge influence on Roman culture.

Power to the people

One distinctively Athenian democratic practice that aroused the special ire of the system's critics was the practice of ostracism - from the Greek word for potsherd. In this reverse election to decide which leading politician should be exiled for ten years, voters scratched or painted the name of their preferred candidate on a piece of broken pottery. At least 6,000 citizens had to 'vote' for an ostracism to be valid, and all the biggest political fish risked being fried in this ceremonious way. For almost 100 years ostracism fulfilled its function of aborting serious civil unrest or even civil war. At the end of the fifth century it was replaced by a legal procedure administered by the jurors of the people's courts. Power to the people, all the people, especially the poor majority, remained the guiding principle of Athenian democracy.


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