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Kingdom of colchis – the first georgian state

Zurab Papaskiri

Abstract: The first state formations on the territory of Georgia started to rise at least from the end of the 2nd Millennia BC. The oldest Assyrian cuneiform inscriptions about Daiaeni (Diaukhi of Urartian sources) and Kilkhi (Kulkha) give us information about the state system in Southern and South-Western Georgia. The scholars have more and more certainty regarding the strong organization of those political formations. The Urartian cuneiform inscription of the 8th c. BC and the Greek mythological tradition make it especially true regarding Kulkha-Kolkha kingdom. Around 7th-6th cc. BC the Ancient Greek written sources confirm the existence of the state formation in Western Georgia. It is known as Colchis. Xenophon’s “Country of Pasians,” where the “descendant of Aeetes,” the legendary king of Colchians, is also identified with Colchis. According to Cyril Toumanoff, Colchis was the “first Caucasian State to have achieved the coalescence of the newcomer and the autochthon” and it could be “justly regarded as not a proto-Georgian, but a Georgian (West-Georgian) kingdom...”.There is no consensus among the scholars regarding the extent of the statehood in Colchis. Most of them (Simon Janashia, Otar Lordkipanidze, Teimuraz Mikeladze, Meri Inadze, Nodar Lomouri, Guram Lordkipanidze, etc.) do not doubt that Colchis was highly established state formation with a king as a ruler. The Russian scholars (Anna Boltunova-Amiranashvili, Yuri Voronov, Viktor Schnirelmann, Valery Yaylenko) oppose this view and refute the existence of a state in Colchis even in the 6th-2nd cc. BC. At the same time, there is no unanimity among the Georgian historians too. Nikoloz Berdzenishvili had expressed some kind of scepticism in the state organization of Colchis. As for Guram Koranashvili, he fervently opposes any kind of statehood in Colchis.It is not correct to hyperbolize the Colchian statehood, but denial of any kind of statehood in Colchis is senseless. It is impossible to ignore the fact that the Classical written sources, for nearly five centuries, are mentioning only Colchis at the Eastern Black Sea shore in a vast region from Trapezous (Trebizond) to the north of Dioskurias and Pitius. Byzantine sources consider the kingdom of Lazika as a direct successor to the Ancient Colchis. Such a continuous unity could only be based on the political hegemony of the Colchians, “the leading… ethnical element” of this state formation, according to S. Janashia. It is impossible to imagine that the “the unity of the Colchian universe… throughout the whole Colchis” could be maintained by “tribal union” or military democracy. The Colchian political hegemony definitely would need a more sophisticated state system even if it were imperfect. The above-said does not mean that the 6th-2nd cc. BC Colchis was a centralized state. It is highly probably that it was not able to become “a Great Nation” and full-fledged national state. The scarce information regarding the Colchian kings proves this. There are few exceptions. First of all, it is Akes, whose coins are found inside the borders of Historical Colchis, namely in Trapezund (1865) and in village Kinchkha of Khoni municipality (1946). Scholars think that the geography of coins proves that the inscription on the coin – ΒΑΣΙΛΕΩΣ ΑΚΟΥ – belongs to the king of Colchis, who reigned after 195 BC.There is also known Saulaces, “descendant of Aeetes.” According to Pliny the Elder, he “reigned in Colchis” and “is said to have come on a tract of virgin soil in the country of the Suani and elsewhere and to have dug up from it a great quantity of gold and silver, his realm being moreover famous for golden fleeces.” The numismatic material supports Pliny’s note. There are coins minted by Saulaces, who, according to number of scholars, is supposed to be the Colchian king mentioned by Pliny. Although, some scholars read the inscription as Saumakos and presume that the coins were minted by the king of Bosphorus, but the recent finding of similar coin in Crimea (2006) with clearly eligible word ΣΑΥΛΑΚΟΥ leaves no doubt that those coins belong to Saulaces, the king of Colchis.Those are all the notes given in the Classical sources regarding the Colchian kings. The fact that we do not have the local Colchian narrative sources (even in Greek) strengthens the argument about the imperfection of the Colchian statehood. Meanwhile, the Eastern-Georgian state of Kartli-Iberia has such historical narration. According to it, there was no separate state in Western Georgia, and the historical Colchis/Egrisi was part of the state structure of Kartli.Nevertheless, it is impossible to ignore the fact that there definitely was a unified state organism in Colchis in the 6th-2nd cc., the so-called political Colchis of N. Berdzenishvili. Both Greek and Georgian historical traditions correlate regarding the borders of the Colchis. According to the Greek authors, the vast territory populated by the Colchians was beginning near Trapezous in the south and ending at the Caucasus range in the North. As for the Georgian sources, they put the extreme north-western border of Egrisi at the “river of Little Khazaria in the north, which is the Caucasus mountain border”. The Ancient Greek and Medieval Georgian sources are strengthened by the already mentioned 5th c. “Periplus” of the anonymous author and mentioning of “Old Lazika” nearby the “river called Tofsida”, at the mouth of the present-day r. Negopsukho north-west to Tuapse.
Keywords: sup / Western Georgia / inscription / Colchian / Colchis / coins / Georgian state / territory / south

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