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Monsieur Goca Revazovic

Tsetskhladze

Greek Colonization of the Eastern Black Sea Littoral (Colchis)


In: Dialogues d'histoire ancienne. Vol. 18 N2, 1992. pp. 223-258.

Citer ce document / Cite this document :


Tsetskhladze Goca Revazovic. Greek Colonization of the Eastern Black Sea Littoral (Colchis). In: Dialogues d'histoire ancienne.
Vol. 18 N2, 1992. pp. 223-258.
http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/dha_0755-7256_1992_num_18_2_2026

DHA

18,2

1992

223-258

GREEK COLONIZATION OF THE EASTERN BLACK


SEA LITTORAL (COLCHIS) *

Gocha R. TSETSKHLADZE
Oxford, Balliol College

One of the subjects which has been most actively discussed in


recent years in connection with the ancient history of the countries
around the Black Sea has been that of the Greek colonization of
Colchis (See map) l. This can be explained on the one hand by the
The author would like to thank Professor G.A. Koshelenko (Institute of
Archaeology, Moscow) who encouraged him to write this article and
Professor Sir John Boardman (Ashmolean Museum, Oxford) for his
invaluable comments and support.
Problems of the Greek Colonization of the Northern and Eastern
Coasts of the Black Sea Region : Materials of the I All-Union
Symposium on the Ancient History of the Black Sea Region, Tbilisi,
1979 (in Russian) ; The Demographic Situation in the Black Sea
Region in the Period of the Great Greek Colonization : Materials of the
All-Union Symposium on the Ancient History of the Black Sea
Region, Tbilisi, 1981 (in Russian) ; Local Ethno-Political Groups in the
Black Sea Region in the 7th-4th Centuries : Materials of the IV AllUnion Symposium on the Classical History of the Black Sea Region,
Tbilisi, 1988 (in Russian) ; O. LORDKIPANIDZE et P. LVQUE (Ed.),

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general interest in the actual phenomenon of Greek colonization and


on the other by the need to interpret those new materials which
have been discovered in the course of archaeological excavations in
this region. During discussions on Greek colonization of the region to
the east of the Black Sea (Colchis) two main positions have
emerged that are diametrically opposed to one another. According
to the first view, Greek colonization in Colchis did not differ
significantly, from Greek colonization to the North of the Black
Sea. The main reason for the colonization was a shortage of land in
Greece and therefore it was 'agrarian' in character. Greek poleis
were founded (Phasis - possibly modern Poti, Dioscuria - possibly
modern Sukhumi and Gyenos - possibly modern Ochamchire) which
had their own agricultural land - chora. They were absolutely
independent political entities, and life within them did not differ
in any way from the life in ordinary Greek cities.
According to the second view, the colonization of Colchis
differed fundamentally from what we find to the North of the Black
Sea. In the latter area the shores were, at the time colonization
began, for the most part unpopulated (since the Scythians, who
dominated that region, were not interested in establishing themselves
there). When Greek colonization began in Colchis, the situation had
been quite different. In the early centuries of the first millennium
the society of Colchis had attained a high level of development,
stemming in the main from the rapid progress achieved in
metallurgy and metal-working. This, in its turn, had resulted in the
emergence of a single powerful state. This would explain the unusual
nature of Greek colonization in this region. The Greek settlements
which grew up in Colchis did not possess an economic basis of their
own, making them self-sufficient. They had no farming territory of
their own, or virtually none. Their economy was based on trade
between Colchis and Greece. These settlements naturally did not enjoy
any political sovereignty or independence : they were small
settlements near local urban centres, or even mere quarters within
the local towns.
In recent years discussion relating to. this question has begun to
become monotonous and the arguments put forward by both sides are
repeated. This does not however mean that the question of Greek
Le Pont-Euxin vu par les Grecs : Sources crites et archologie (V
Symposium de Vani [Colchide]), Besanon-Paris, 1990. These works
contain exhaustive bibiliographies.

DIALOGUES D'HISTOIRE ANCIENNE

225

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colonization of the Black Sea Region has reached a dead end. The
question needs to be approached from a different angle. The reason
for disagreement is that the written sources are sketchy and
contradictory. Such important towns as Phasis and Dioscuria are still to be
found and excavated. It should also be borne in mind that epigraphic
sources are very scarce in Colchis, and even archaeological material,
because of its rather limited scope, cannot provide satisfactory
answers to a nupber of questions.
In this article I should like to try and look beyond the framework of
the usual arguments and research methods and put forward some
lines of approach that are new (in relation to the study of Colchis). I
should like to compare the Graeco-Latin traditions with regard to
the Greek cities of Colchis, on the one hand and those of the
neighbouring Bosporan Kingdom on the other, to review the archaological
material relating to the Greek cities of the eastern littoral of the
Black Sea, and outline my own view of the Greek colonization of
Eastern Pontus. The conclusions drawn in the course of this article are
not to be regarded as conclusive or such as to provide final answers to
all questions connected with Greek colonization of that region. I am,
however, firmly convinced that, until Phasis and Dioscuria have
been found and excavated, controversy over Greek colonization of
Colchis will continue, since the researchers of today unfortunately
have at their disposal only indirect, secondary and partially
contradictory sources.
The Classical Tradition with regard to the Greek Cities of Colchis
Although a good deal was written about Colchis in the
Graeco-Roman world, the works concerned have given us very little
reliable information. When we read them, the impression is often
that the authors were telling of some distant land that was unkvown to them, shrouded in myths and legends and renowned for its
riches.
For the examination of the classical tradition the works of
several authors can be grouped together, in the main following the
guidelines proposed by M.I. Rostovtsev 2.
M.I. ROSTOVTSEV, Scythia and the Bosporus, Leningrad, 1925, p. 1623 (in Russian) ; G.A. KOSHELENKO, V.D. KUZNETSOV, Colchis and
the Bosporus : Two Models of Colonization ? , a lecture delivered at the
Soviet-British symposium "Colchis and the Classical World", LondonOxford, May 1990.

DIALOGUES D'HISTOIRE ANCIENNE

227

The first of these groups is that which he defined as follows :


"Ionian authors and Herodotus" (which includes Hecataeus,
Herodotus, Hellanicus, Pseudo-Hippocrates, Damastes and
Eudochius).
The work of Hecataeus is known only from short extracts that
have been preserved in quotations by writers who came after him.
There is no information relating to the Greek cities of Colchis,
although Colchis itself and the people of Colchis are mentioned on
a number of occasions 3. Hecataeus was also familiar with the myth
of the Argonauts and their voyage to Colchis 4.
The situation regarding Herodotus is of particular interest. In
Herodotus' work Colchis is described in some detail and not merely
from a geographical point of view 5 but also in connection with the
local history - both legendary 6 and actual 7. Yet in his writings, as
in those of Hecataeus, there is no mention of Greek cities in this
region.
In the work of Pseudo-Hippocrates there is only description of
the country along the River Phasis (which paints a rather desolate
picture) 8. Neither in his work, nor in that of Hellanicus or
Damastes is there any mention at all of the Greek cities of Colchis.
All their attention was concentrated on the local peoples living
around the Black Sea.
Rostovtsev appears to have been quite right when he
maintained that for the Ionian writers (and Herodotus) who had
written about the lands around the Black Sea, the main focus of
attention had been the local peoples living there, rather than Greek
colonies. Even Olbia was only of interest for Herodotus in connection
with the history of the Scythians.
The next large group of writers than might be bracketed
together (following Rostovtsev) consisted of the Peroploi and the
Perioikoi of the 4th-lst centuries 9. Rostovtsev singles out as one
of the distinctive features of the writings in this group the fact that
they all view the Black Sea from an Athenian angle. This means
that they are particularly interested not in the north-western part
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.

FRV 185, 187, 188.


FR., 171, 187.
1, 104 ; IV, 45, 86 ; VI, 84.
1, 2 ; , 103-105.
, 97 ; VII, 79.
22.
M.I. ROSTOVTSEV, Scythia and the Bosporus, p. 23-42.

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of the region but in the eastern part - in the Bosporan Kingdom and
the eastern littoral of the Black Sea. For this reason this particular
group of writers is especially important from our point of view.
Unfortunately information of interest to us is only to be found in the
work of three authors : Pseudo-Scylax, Pseudo-Scymnus and Strabo.
In the work of Pseudo-Scylax mention is made of Dioscuria and
the Greek poleis Gyenos and Phasis 10.
In the Perioikoi of Pseudo-Scymnus mention is made only of
certain poleis in the Bosporan Kingdom (835-837), whereas
virtually all the territory to the south of the Bosporan Kingdom
(including the whole of Colchis) is ignored. It is difficult to say
whether this lacuna is a result of damage to the text or merely
reflects the fact that the writer in question had no interest in the area
or lacked all information about it. Strabo' s writings, on the other
hand, provide a huge amount of information relating to all the
questions of interest in the context of this article. The information
concerning Colchis is quite rich. Colchis and its inhabitants are
mentioned on several occasions. First and foremost it should be stressed
that Strabo was of the opinion that he knew Colchis quite well : he
emphasizes for instance the constant extension of geographical
knowledge and maintains among other things, that "the further
regions stretching as far as the Maotians and the shore on the edge of
which are the domains of the Colchi have been rendered famous by
Mithridates, known as Eupator, and his commanders" (I, 2, 10) n.
Strabo was proud of being well-informed. In his description of
Colchis much space is taken up with questions regarding the voyage
of the Argonauts : frequent mention is also made of Colchis and the
River Phasis 12.

10. 81.
11. Note that he places the extension of knowledge regarding Colchis on
the same level as such phenomena as Alexander the Great's
campaign, Rome's western conquests and the creation of the state of
Parthia in the East.
12. Strabo knew the opinions that were held on this subject by his
predecessors (I, 2, 38) and he actively defends Homer's authority and
the authenticity of the detail concerning Jason's voyage (I, 2, 39).
Colchis and the River Phasis are mentioned in connection with the
voyage of the Argonauts and as purely geographical phenomena
(apart from the places mentioned above see also : I, 3, 7 ; , 5, 31 ; VI, 4,
2 ; VII, 3, 6 ; , 4, 3 ; XI, 2, 1 ; XI, 2,13 and so on).

DIALOGUES D'HISTOIRE ANCIENNE

229

Of all the Greek cities in Colchis it is Dioscuria which is


mentioned most frequently, first of all as a geographical feature 13
and later information about the city as such is provided. Strabo
refers to the advantageous geographical situation of Dioscuria
which marks the beginning of the isthmus between the Caspian Sea
and the Black Sea. In this connection he refers also to Dioscuria's
importance for trade. It is the emporium for those people who live in
the immediate vicinity of the city and also in the mountains above
it. There were seventy such peoples, according to Strabo (XI, 2,
16) 14. Later he specifies that the most important of the articles
traded there was salt (XI, 5, 6).
Strabo also provides some information on the subject of Phasis.
He points out that the city is situated on the banks of the river of
the same name and he refers to topographic features in the
surrounding area (XI, 2, 17 ; XI, 3, 4). Strabo defines the polis Phasis as the
emporium for the people of Colchis. Later there follows a
description of the natural riches of the countryside around Phasis, which in
the context of this whole account are presented as wares for
trading 15.
Other information is also included in Strabo's description of
Colchis, however this article is confined to the information
provided on the subject of the Greek cities 16.
Comparison of information contained within this particular
group of writings, relating for instance to the Bosporan Kingdom and
Colchis, enables us to draw some conclusions. Rostovtsev was right
when he maintained that by this time it was the north-eastern and
the eastern shores of the Black Sea that preoccupied ancient
13. Dioscuria is mentioned as a geographical point of reference (I, 3, 2 ; II,
5, 22 ; XI, 2, 14). Moreover Strabo (XI, 2, 16) points out that the
expressionis often
shipping"
not quite
usedaccurate,
in poetry
because
"in Phasis,
in factthethefurthermost
easternmostrun
point
for
of Pontus is Dioscuria.
14. Here the opinion of those who give the number 300 is questioned.
Somewhat later Strabo (XI, 2,19) names the Phtaeirophagi as one of
the peoples who had made their way to Dioscurja.
15. Mention is made here specifically of the timber essential for the
building of ships. This, according to Strabo, can only be obtained in the
environs of the city or by way of the rivers. Later he specifically
emphasised that the timber was exported beyond the confines of the
country. It is Strabo who first mentions Pityus, to which he gives the
epithet "Great" (XI, 2, 14).
16. Plato. Phaed. LVIII, 109 b - the River Phasis.

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authors. The volume of available information had indeed increased


to a striking degree. Yet as this supply of information increased, so
the difference between that regarding the Bosporan Kingdom and
Colchis became more strikingly evident. The Bosporan Kingdom was
described in more detail than Colchis. This fact can be elucidated as
follows : the life of those peopling the Bosporan Kingdom was more
active and of more interest to the world outside than the life of
Colchis, and therefore the Bosporan Kingdom attracted more
attention on the part of the ancient authors. Yet there is one fact
that should be remembered : Strabo attached special importance to
his knowledge of Colchis and it is important that this detail should
not be forgotten when comparisons are being made.
Another occurrence that should not go unnoticed is the
disappearance of references to the Greek city Gyenos. This can,
perhaps, be explained by the actual disappearance of the city, or
that there was no mention of it in the sources that Strabo used. Yet
there is no denying this fact. Nothing similar is to be observed in
relation to the cities of the Bosporan Kingdom. Here not only are all
centres of population mentioned that had been referred to earlier in
the available sources, but many new ones are added. It is important
in this connection to turn our attention to yet another point. In the
writings of Pseudo-Scylax particular attention is paid to the
definition of the "ethnos" of the inhabitants of a particular city, not
only in the Bosporan Kingdom, but also in Colchis. The same does not
apply in Strabo's case. Nevertheless, references to the Greek
character of the poleis is made fairly frequently in the description
of specific examples. It is revealing to note, that there are no such
specifications in relation to the Greek cities of Colchis.
Another significant detail is that in this group of sources
another factor is mentioned which applies to the Bosporan Kingdom
and not to Colchis. What we have in mind here can be referred to as
"internal colonization", i.e. the spreading of Greek influence from a
relatively small group of its first apoikoi over wider territory.
Direct reference is made for instance to the harbour at Sind as a polis
inhabited by Greeks who had moved there from other localities a
short distance away, to Gorgippia as a polis founded by the
Bosporan tyrants and to Tanais as a polis that had been founded by
Hellenes reigning over the Bosporan Kingdom. This means that all
these sources refer in the same terms to the extension of the zone of
Greek settlement in the Bosporan Kingdom. Nothing of this kind is
to be found in the description of Colchis.

DIALOGUES D'HISTOIRE ANCIENNE

231

Another factor leads on from this. It is recorded in these


sources that there were many different types of centres of population
in the Bosporan Kingdom. Reference is even occasionally made to
the transition of a centre of population from one type to another. No
similar diversity with regard to centres of population is recorded in
relation to Colchis.
A similar great distinction can be noted between references to
the Bosporan Kingdom and Colchis when it comes to the description
of economic activity. Common to both areas was the important role
that trade played in the life of the Greek poleis. With regard to
the Bosporan Kingdom reference is also made to agriculture (the
fertile plains near Theodosia and between Theodosia and
Pantikapaion) and, possibly, to craft manufacture (the docks in
Pantikapaion). In addition reference is also made in the sources
under discussion to the active cultural and religious life as expressed
in Greek forms (mention is frequently made of shrines dedicated to
Greek deities), while information of this sort in relation to the
poleis of Colchis is not to be found.
There is one last group of sources, which Rostovtsev did not
single out as a special entity, but which deserve our attention in
particular. What we have in mind here are the references made to
the Bosporan Kingdom, for example, in the speeches of Athenian
orators in the late 5th and 4th centuries . The essential need to
mention this group of writers at this point is dictated by the fact
that their works are chronologically close to those sources which we
have just been considering.
The information provided in these speeches is important
above all because it testifies to the real, rather than theoretical,
close acquaintance of the inhabitants of Athens with the Bosporan
Kingdom at that time. There is no similar source of references
shedding light on Colchis in this respect.
There is one more group of writers, who were not singled out by
Rostovtsev but who are nevertheless important in relation to this
article. These include Plato, Aristotle, Heraclides and
Theophrastus, i.e. writers of philosophical works. Chronologically
speaking they are close to the other two groups.
In Plato Colchis is only referred in a geograpical (16) or
mythological context 17. The same can also be said of Aristotle 18. In
17. Plato. Euth. XIII, 289 - Medea, Woman of Colchis.
18. In the geographical context - the River Phasis (Meteorologgy, I, 13,
17) ; On Wondrous Rumours, 158 ; in fragments : Fr. 72 in Athen. Epit.

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Theophrastus1 writings Colchis is only referred to in the treatise


entitled "On Stones" in connection with cinnabar (VIII, 58).
The information provided by Heraclides is most important 19.
There is an excerpt in one of his works which describes the
constitution of the Phasians 20.
Consideration of these sources of evidence reveals that
Colchis hardly attracted the attention of Greek philosophers,
though the fragment of Heraclides testifies beyond doubt to the
Greek nature of the political structure of Phasis.
Significant information is contained in the next large group of
works by classical authors - in the Periploi and Periokoi of the
Roman period. Rostovtsev picked out as one of the main features of
this range of sources the following characteristic 21 : these authors
based themselves, in the main, on the tradition of the Hellenistic
period, but at the same time they often supplemented it with
additional information, reflecting the situation pertaining to the
Roman period, and moreover information sometimes appears that
can be traced back to extremely early sources.
In Pomponius Mela the information on the cities of Colchis is
rather brief. He mentions the town of Phasis in the land of Colchis.
Additional data relate to the founding of the city (by
Phemistagoras os Miletus) and religious ceremonies 22. A further city
was mentioned lying between Phasis and Dioscuria - Kiknos, which
had been founded by Greek merchants. Mela recounts the legend that
serves to explain its name (I, 110). Finally there is a reference to
Dioscuria 23.
Some information regarding the cities of Colchis is to be found
in Pliny's "Naturalis Historia". The main geographical point of
reference for him was the River Phasis, at the mouth of which lay

19.
20.
21.
22.
23.

I, p. 6ed) ; in the mythological context - in the work "Heroes' Epitaphs"


(43 - Epitaph of Aetes).
Excerpts from Heraclides constitute in their surviving form a very
incomplete, fragmentary list of various constitutions drawn up in the
school of Aristotle, but not linked together by any common principle.
FGH II, p. 218, XVIII.
M.I. ROSTOVTSEV, Scythia and the Bosporus, p. 42-83.
1,109.
1,111.

DIALOGUES D'HISTOIRE ANCIENNE

233

the city of Phasis (VI, 12) 24, and also Cygnus 25 (all these cities
were later declared to have been non-existent) 26. Further along the
shore to the North he also records some more cities (oppida), among
which Cygnus is mentioned again, and also Penius (VI, 14) 27. In
addition he mentions that on the morthern shore there was a
fortress (castellum) Sebastopolis. He regards Dioscuria as an entity
of a different kind, referring to it as a Colchian city (urbe Colchorum
Dioscuriade) that was now deserted (nunc dserta) 28. He then
proceeds to describe the city 29.
Futher to the North Pliny sited the city of Heracleus and the
unusually rich city Pityus (oppidum opulentissimum), which
however we are informed had been plundered by Heniochoi (VI, 16).
The Periplus of Arrian is another most important source. This
text consists of two parts : one is based on autopsy or critical
analysis, and the other totally on literary sources. Colchis is described in
the first of them. The descriptions of Colchis is detailed and vivid.
It is pointed out, in particular, that there was a fortress with a
Roman garrison on the site of the city of Phasis : the fortress is
described in some detail - its composition and size, the nature of the
fortifications, and reference is also made to the adjacent area where
the retired soldiers live and a certain number of traders as well 30.

24. The River Phasis is referred to as 'clarissimus'. On its shores several


cities were to be found.
25. It would seem that Pliny's Cygnus coincides in this respect with the city
of Kiknus mentioned by Pomponius Mela.
26. There now exists only the city lupiov situated at the same spot, where
the river of the same name flows into the River Phasis ; we are also told
that large ships can sail this far (VI, 13-14).
27. Here there is a blatant error in Pliny, since Cygnus was previously
referred to as situated on the banks of the Phasis River.
28. Pliny's text is composed in such a way that he leaves us in no doubt
with regard to the fact that for him Dioscuria and Sebastopolis were
different cities, since between them there laty Cygnus and Penius.
29. Pliny refers to his source, Timotheus, and cites him as writing that in
this city earlier there were 300 tribes speaking different languages.
Later information is added, which appears to have come from a
different source, to the effect that the Romans had to conduct their
business there with the help of 130 interpreters; Finally, the legendary
account of the founding of this city is provided (VI, 15-16).
30. Arr. Peripl. Pont. Eux. 12. Arrian calls for the suburbs to be fortified as
well.

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The local sights are mentioned separately 31. The next port of call
during Arrian's voyage is Sebastopolis, which the reader is told was
earlier known as Dioscuria (14 ; 25) and had been a colony of the
Milesians. From the description that follows it is clear that this
was the point which marked the extreme border of Rome's
possessions (26). Pityus was the point beyond those borders which is
mentioned.
The next source was the Periplus of Pseudo-Arrian : the first of
the Greek cities of Colchis to be mentioned was Phasis, defined as a
polis that had been founded by the Milesians. Information is also
provided to the effect that sixty tribes had come together in this
polis including barbarians from India and Bactriana (44). Reference
is also made to the polis of Dioscuria, now known as Sevastopolis,
which contained a port (47-48).
Claudius Ptolemaeus mentionne the following centres of
population in Colchis : Dioscuria (referred to as v xfj KoXx^S , ia
anfi fjLO)v nXeoov), and the polis Phasis 32.
Let us finally consider the data provided by Ammianus
Marcellinus. In that part of his writings devoted to a general
description of Pontus, Ammian makes another remark that is
important in connection with the subject-matter treated in this
article : "over these spacious expanses Greek cities (oppida) are
scattered, all of which, with only very few exceptions, had been
founded at various times by the Milesians" (XXII, 8, 10). The
following information is also provided : the city of Phasis is
mentioned and also Dioscuria "now most celebrated" and in addition
the myth is recounted, according to which the founders of that city
were the brothers Castor and Pollux (XXII, 8, 24) 33.
It is quite difficult to draw conclusions in relation to the above
group of writers. There is every reason to accept Rostovtsev's
argument that in their writings pieces of information relating to
different periods are included, often it would seem in an automatic,
unthinking way. Yet it should also be noted that new pieces of infor31. The most important among them is the statue of the goddess of
Phasis, which Arrian holds to be Rhea. Moreover, two anchors were
shown to him as evidence of the voyage of the "Argos".
32. V,8,2,6;VIIU9,3-4.
33. In Eustathius' "Commentaries" Dioscuria is mentioned and the
surrounding lands (687). At the same time Colchis is described in
some detail as the scene of the deeds of the Argonauts, Medea and
her kin.

DIALOGUES D'HISTOIRE ANCIENNE

235

mation are provided as well, ones that had not been given in early
sources : reference was made to Kignus (Pomponius Mela) or Cygnus
(Pliny) and so on. The appearance of new names and new centres of
population reflected the situation obtaining during the Roman era.
Thus Cygnus is often referred to by certain authors as non-existent.
Consequently at least some of the cities mentioned for the first time
by these authors were old towns, that had not been recorded by other
writers and that should therefore be treated with the utmost
caution. Blatant mistakes such as are to be found in Pliny in his
description of the cities of Colchis make such caution most wise.
Among the writers of this group there is one who stands out as
something of an exception among all other writers who turned their
attention to the Black Sea region. In Arrian's work information
regarding Colchis is more vivid and precise. The information he
provides (in conjunction with that provided by Pliny) compels us to
conclude that by his time, and perhaps in Pliny's day, all the Greek
poleis (precisely in their capacity as Greek poleis) in Colchis had
ceased to exist. This means that all information of a later date in
which the names Dioscuria and Phasis figure, is information
gleaned from earlier sources. It is essential to note as well that these
sources contain information regarding the founding and the early
history of the Greek poleis of Colchis, the value of which is
impossible to belittle. Sometimes these details relating to Colchis
are of unique importance, for example the information provided by
Pomponius Mela on the leader of the colonists in Phasis.
The range of authors discussed above also allows conclusions
regarding the difference between the historic destinies of the poleis
in the Bosporan Kingdom, as an example of one of Colchis' neighbour
states, and of the poleis in Colchis itself in several respects : inner
colonization was one of the main factors in the early history of the
Bosporan Kingdom, while this phenomenon was virtually absent in
Colchis ; the diversity of types of Greek centres of population in the
Bosporan Kingdom (as one of the consequences of that process) and
the uniformity of those found in Colchis ; the dominant role of trade
in the life of the Greek cities of Colchis in comparison to that found
in the poleis of the Bosporan Kingdom.
Particulary interesting for us is that group of writings which
Rostovtsev referred to as historical 34. Admittedly, he deliberately
narrowed down the range of classical writers, excluding from it
34. M.I. ROSTOVTSEV, Scythia and the Bosporus, p. 115-144.

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certain writers of the Roman period. The first of these was Diodorus,
who provided details about Colchis, but whose work shed no light
on the Greek cities 35.
In the work of Pompeius Trogus mention is made of Colchis
several times, but mainly in a mythological context, while there is
no information to be found relating to the Greek cities) (XXXII, 3, 13 ;
XXXVII ; XXXVIII, 7, 3 ; XL II, 2, 9).
In one of the works by Appianus, which contains a description
of the last period of the struggle waged by Mithridates Eupator, it
is of course natural that Colchis is mentioned. This applies in
particular to the moment when Mithridates, after being defeated by
Pompey, left the Bosporan Kingdom by way of Colchis (101). It was
precisely in this connection that Dioscura was mentioned, since it
was there that Mithridates spent the winter. There is only one
detail in this account which allows us to assume that this city had
links with Greek culture : "this city is regarded by the people of
Colchis as a proof that the Dioscuri embaraked on a journey with
the Argonauts" (101). Colchis is also mentioned in the descriptions
of Pompey's activities, yet once again without any allusion to the
fact that there might have been any Greek cities there (103 ; 107).
Dio Cassius writes only of Colchis as a land, providing no
information regarding its Greek cities (XXXVI, 50 ; XXXVII, 3 ; XI,
II, 45).
Paulus Orosius mentions Colchis in his writings more than
once. The most important account concerns the former consul, Publius
Servilius, who had destroyed the city of Phasis (V, 23, 22 ; 1, 2, 39 ;
VI, 4, 6).
If an attempt is made to summarize the conclusions that can be
drawn from an examination of the group of authors outlined above,
here as before the Bosporan Kingdom is described in a much more
comprehensive and informative way than Colchis. The Greek cities
of the Bosporan Kingdom are mentioned on many occasions, while
those of Colchis are not mentioned to any significant degree. Yet it is
not just a question of quantitative indices that we should be
considering : this particular body of evidence enables us to assume
that the Greek cities of the Bosporan Kingdom preserved their
35. Some of the information is contained in the mythological section of
Diodorus' work and is concerned with the voyage of the Argonauts. It
is interesting to note that the capital of Colchis is referred to as Sibaris
(IV, 44, 7-48). Colchis is mentioned a second time in the account of the
campaign of the "Ten Thousand" (XIV, 27-30).

DIALOGUES D'HISTOIRE ANCIENNE

237

status as poleis for several centuries. As for Colchis there is evidence


to the effect that Phasis was destroyed, which fits in well with the
evidence from sources mentioned earlier.
An interesting summary of the knowledge possessed by ancient
authors on the subject of Colchis, and indeed of the Bosporan
Kingdom itself, is provided by the geographical dictionary of
Stephanus of Byzantium, which includes significant information on
the various centres of population gleaned from a variety of sources.
It is precisely this last fact which made it particularly attractive.
He mentions Dioscuria and Phasis 36. He also refers to those cities
which he defines as Colchian 37.
He provides no really new information, or different from that
which had been obtained through analysis of the preceding groups
of authors. Yet the value of his work lies precisely in the fact that
what he writes matches data from earlier sources.
When drawing general conclusions from our study of this
material, we have to note first and foremost one thing. The Bosporan
Kingdom occupies only a very modest place in Greek mythology,
while the voyage of the Argonauts to Colchis, or Jason and Medea,
provided over many centuries material for dozens of authors and
have inspired epic poems, of which the most famous is that of
Apollonius Rhodius.
This comparison can be revealing. For the Greeks Colchis
always remained a country that was far less famous than the Bosporan
Kingdom : the air of mystery and mythological associations always
meant more to the Greeks than actual knowledge. The Bosporan
Kingdom was something infinitely more familiar to them and
therefore it was seen as a far more prosaic land. The reasons for this
would seem to lie in the fact that even when Greek cities had
existed in Colchis, they had not played such an important role in the
destinies of the Greek world, and life there meant far less to Greeks
than myth. It was only a relatively small proportion of the
classical authors who were acquainted with the actual history of these
poleis or, more likely still, specific episodes from that history. This
means that comparison of information regarding the history of the
Greek cities of the Bosporan Kingdom on the one hand and those of
36. Dioscuria is defined as the city on the Black Sea that is also called
Sebastopolis ; Phasis is defined as the polis Tj Afa on the River
Phasis and it is pointed out that it had been founded by the Milesians.
37. ATa , FloXi KoX/cuv , built by Aetes is 300 stages from the sea ;
FIoXi KoXywv ; , FloXi KoXyix^ , the home of Medea.

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Colchis on the other is virtually always weighted in favour of the


Bosporan Kingdom. Only a very limited range of authors knew more
about Colchis. And when this was the case, it was when the Greek
poleis were already dead. If we compare the two traditions
(concerning the Bosporan Kingdom and Colchis) as two bodies of
evidence, then it is possible to single out what the destinies of the
Greek poleis had in common and in what respects they differed.
First of all it should be noted that Greek colonization took place
both in the Bosporan Kingdom nd in Colchis : Although legends of
the Golden Fleece constantly overshadowed reality, there can be
little doubt that colonization did in fact take place in Colchis as
well. Yet even at this stage of the comparison it is necessary to
mention a difference : the scale of colonization. It would appear that in
Colchis three poleis had appeared - Phasis, Gyenos and Dioscuria,
while the number in the Bosporan Kingdom was far larger 38. is
clear that there are few grounds for accepting the idea that the
colonization of Colchis differed significantly right from the start. All
the evidence that we do have (references to the Ionian character of
the apoikiai, the terms used to designate them, the name of the
commander and references to the citizens of the people of Phasis)
oblige us to assume that the colonization of Colchis proceeded
according to the usual pattern and was not radically different from what
took place in the Bosporan Kingdom. Nevertheless it was not long
before differences began to emerge. In the first place, mention of
Gyenos came to a very abrupt end. At the same time the number of
Greek poleis in the Bosporan Kingdom mentioned by the classical
authors was on the increase. This could be regarded as a reflection of
actual developmentsin both regions. Secondly, let us remember that
tradition lends another feature to the Bosporan Kingdom which is
quite unknown in Colchis, namely internal colonization. In the
Bosporan Kingdom the zone settled by Greeks was constantly
growing, while in Colchis, it was inchanged if not decreasing in size.
Finally, there is the observation made during the analysis of
various groups of sources : there was a diverse range of types in the
Greek centres of civilization in the Bosporan Kingdom, while there
was only one type to be found in Colchis.
There would appear to be one more conclusion to draw from the
written tradition - namely, the difference in economic basis. While
38. G. KOSHELENKO, V. KOUZNETSOV, La colonisation grecque du
Bosphore cimmrien, in Le Pont-Euxm vu par les Grecs, p. 67-84.

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239

the economy of the Bosporan Kingdom consisted of many different


branches (classical writers refer to trade, agriculture and even
industry), in the Greek poleis in Colchis only one activity is ever
mentioned and that is trade. Moreover, the main emphasis is always on
trade with the cities' hinterland. It is not impossible that the
literary tradition did to some extent reflect the real state of affairs.
Finally, we can assume that the Greek cities of Colchis existed for a
far shorter period than those of the Bosporan Kingdom. One thing at
least is certain - that Arrianus provides irrefutable evidence
regarding their demise. The centres of population which later emerged
where they had once stood, represented phenomena that were quite
different and new. Continuity in the cities' development had been
interrupted, while in the Bosporan Kingdom this does not appear to
have been the case.
Greek Cities of Colchis : Archaeology and Written Sources
PHASIS. "On the River Phasis () stands a city of the
same name, the emporium of the Colchians, which has before it on
the one side the river and on the other a lake and on the third side
the sea", writes Strabo (XI, 2, 17), while in another source we read :
"at the entrance to the river Phasis on the left side lies a Greek city
founded by the Milesians and called Phasis" (Anon. PPE. 44).
Agathias writes : "I assume that it is well known to all that the
city of Phasis was named after the river. This river flows round the
city and flows into the Euxine Sea. The city is situated on the
seashore and the estuary" (III, 19). Despite such a detailed reference to
the geographical situation of the city of Phasis in ancient written
sources, it has still not been discovered.
The mention of a lake by Strabo and Agathias, identified as
the lake now known as Paliastomi, makes it quite obvious that the
city should be looked for in the environs of the present-day town of
Poti. Search for the city of Phasis and precise definition of its
situation involve major difficulties because of frequent changes in
the bed of the River Rioni (ancient Phasis) and the changing
contours of the shore line. Over many centuries the land-mass has
been spreading and pushing out the shore-line as a result of the
alluvial deposits of the River Rioni. Geological drilling at a depth
of 10-12 metres carried out during archaeological exploration has
made it quite clear that the present site of the town of Poti and its
eastern outskirts, roughly 5-7 kilometres from the centre, were under
water in the far from distant past : at a depth of 5-10 metres sands of

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marine origin are to be found together with remains of marine fauna.


Archaeological exploration that was carried out in conjunction with
the geological drilling determined the direction in which searches
for ancient Phasis were concentrated.
Archaeological finds testify 39 to the fact that the line of the
sea-shore in the classical and even earlier periods more or less
coincided with the present one. On the other hand, geological
reconnaissance has shown that the sea had covered the territory
both of present-day Poti and beyond it to the east. The earliest signs
of material culture have been recorded approximately 20 kilometres
east of Poti. Furthermore the age of the archaeological finds is
"younger" as we move from east to west. It can be assumed that by
the time Phasis appeared on the scene and in the early period of its
history (6th-5th centuries ) there existed a large gulf over the
site of present-day Poti and east of it : later this gulf grew smaller
in the wake of the advance of the mainland, which in its turn gave
rise to a corresponding shift in settlement patterns. As a result the
remains of ancient Phasis should be probably looked for to the east
of present-day Poti.
According to written sources, Phasis was founded by the
Milesians in the mid-6th century . We even know the name of the
leader of the colonists - Phemistagoras of Miletus. The name of the
city is clearly not Greek. "Phasis" is a mountain in the upper reaches
of the River Rioni (Phasis), from which more likely than not both
the river andcity derive their name. The poet Theocritus points out
that "Mnaseas states, how 'the Colchians derive their name from
Colch, son of Phasis'. "This means that Phasis would appear to bear
the name of the supreme deity in the Colchian pantheon. This is far
from surprising, for the name of many Greek cities in the colonies can
be traced back to pre-Greek place-names (Pantikapaion, Tiritaka,
Tiramba and so on).
In Phasis there had been a temple of Apollo, as is
demonstrated by the find of a silver cup dating from the late-5th or early 4th
century bearing a Greek inscription and which was discovered in
the Kuban (Northern Caucasus) in a burial mound dating from the
39. .. MIKELADZE, Archaeological Investigations in the Lower
Reaches of the River Rioni (Materials on the History of Ancient
Phasis), Tbilisi, 1978 (in Georgian) ; D.D. KACHARAVA,The Town of
Phasis as described in Greco-Roman and Byzantine Literary Sources,
Tbilisi, 1991 (Preprint).

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241

1st century . "I belong to Apollo Hegemon, who is in Phasis" reads


the inscription that is written in Ionian dialect 40. This provides
documentary evidence of the fact that there was in Phasis a cult of
Apollo Hegemon, forefather and patron of cities and settlers. The
silver cup had been a votive gift made to Apollo. The decoration of
the cup - a snake in a coil -, is closely associated with that cult. The
fact tha this cup was found in the Northern Caucasus and not in
Phasis indicates that the temple of Apollo had been plundered by
tribes then living in the Kuban in the 1st century and the bowl
seized.
After the 5th-4th century other gods from the Greek pantheom began to be venerated as well : Athena of Asia, Ares, Hecate.
In Eastern Pontus the cult of Hecate was closely linked with the cult
of the fertility goddess - Great Mother (Kybele of Asia Minor), who
was the patron of Nature and Queen of animals. The existence of
this cult in Phasis is confirmed by written sources. Arrian wrote :
"On entering Phasis there is a statue to the goddess of Phasis. To
judge by its outward appearance, this goddess is, most likely
Rhea...". Zosimius calls her "Artemis of Phasis" and says that a
table in the name of this goddess has been built in Phasis (Zos.,
Hist, nova, I).
The surviving fragment of Heraclides' "On the Constitution of
the Phasians" is of particular importance. It can most likely be
traced back to Aristotle and the 4th century : "Phasis was
originally inhabited by Heniochoi, a cannibal tribe which skinned its
victims and later by the Milesians. They were so hospitable that
they would reequip shipwreck victimes and the latter would, in
their turn, give the Milesians three mnai and then sail away".
Despite the fragmentary nature of this piece and the fact that
some of it is based on legendary material (the information concerning
the Heniochoi) the following conclusion may still be drawn : it
testifies not only to the presence of a definite organization for the selfgovernment of the city, but also to the city's unusual and significant
character which, for some reason, attracted the attention of
Aristotle, who elsewhere described the state structure of such
famous city-states as Athens, Sparta, Miletus, Crete. Unfortunately,
we know no specific details of the political organization of Phasis.
The fragment does not tell us anything about the occupations of the
40. K.E. DUMBERG, Excavations at Lubovsky Hamlet in the Kuban
District, in Bulletin of the Imperial Archaeological Commission, 1901,
Vol. 1, p. 98-99 (in Russian).

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Milesians either. It is highly unlikely that their activities were


confined to charitable care for the "victims of shipwrecks"...
Archaeology sheds no light here either - the discovery and
excavation of Phasis all belong to the future.
Only settlements of the local population have been the subject
of archaeological study, in the area where it is assumed the site of
ancient Phasis lies, in the lower reaches of the River Rioni or
Phasis. Here numerous settlements and levels dating from the second
half of the the second millenium and the first half of the first have
been found. These multi-level sites testify to the uninterrupted and
intensive economic life of the local population over the course of
several centuries. Numerous finds of richly decorated black pottery
point to the level of development of the potter's craft. Stone moulds
for casting miniature Colchian axes, arrow-heads and even clay
nozzles for furnaces found in these settlements are also of great
interest. Frequent finds of fragments of sickles and mill-stones etc. also
point to well-developed agriculture.
These settlements continued to exist and develop in the
classical era. Colchian settlements of the 6th-5th centuries are
recorded all along the lower reaches of the Rioni River. The settlement
dating from the late 6th century and early 5th in Simagre is of
particular interest. Here quite an extensive residential complex has
been found built of wood. The basis of some of the walls made of
wooden beams, the floors of interwoven branches and boards, and the
outer fence made of wattle are very well preserved. Colchian
pottery and articles made in Ionian centres have also been found.
Important information is provided by Colchian coins, the socalled kolkhidki, that are held to have been minted in Phasis. On
the early nommais (tetradrachms) dated to the end of the 6th
century can be seen a depiction of a civil emblem, the symbol of Miletus
- a lion with turned head and open jaws. This is yet another clear
pointer to the fact that Phasis was founded by Miletus and was a
polis 41.
In 1985 the Black Sea Coastal Underwater Archaeological
Expedition organized by the Centre for Archaeological Research
affiliated to the Georgian Academy of Sciences carried out work in the
neighbourhood of Poti (the sea-port and Paliastomi Lake) 42. At a
distant of 1.5 kilometres from the spot where Lake Palilastomi
41. G. DOUNDDUA, Les Kolkhidki, DHA, 1982, 8, p. 53-60.
42. G. GAMKRELIDZE, Travaux hydroarchologiques de localisation de
l'ancienne Phasis, in Le Pont-Euxin vu par les Grecs, p. 223-226.

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243

flows into the Black Sea, in the north-western part of the lake,
remains of a settlement were found dating from the 3rd-8th centuries
AD. A large amount of pottery fragments was brought up from the
floor of the lake, in particular fragments of amphorae. It can be
assumed that these were from the city of Phasis, as mentioned in
Byzantine sources. Among the materials recovered only one piece of
a black-glaze vessel was found, dating from the 3rd-2nd centuries
. This would point to the fact that there is hope of finding Greek
Phasis under the water of the lake or the sea...
GYENOS. Gyenos () is referred to only by PseudoScylax : "The Colchians. Beyond them is found the people of
Colchis... Gyenos is a Hellenic polis and there is a River Gyenos..."
(Asia, 81). This city lies near the present-day town of Ochamchire
by the mouth of the River Djikimur. Excavations have established
that the city had been situated on three arificial hills. The western
hill had been made first 43. Excavations in recent years have
revealed that a settlement had grown up here on the flat sea-shore no
later than the first half of the 6th century . Its founders, after
cutting down the trees and bushes, burned them. This is brne out by the
large amounts of charcoal, ash and charred tree-trunkos found at the
base of the lowest level. A ten centimetre level of charcoal
separated the cultural level of the archaic period from virgin soil. Wooden
buildings reminiscent of dug-outs, the upper part of which above the
ground consisted of logs, are associated with the initial period of
settlement.
The excavation provides evidence about the composition of
the population of Gyenos in the classical period. In the lower level
of the site a large amount of imported pottery has been found. Among
the fragments of pottery articles, 71.5 % were locally produced,
28.5 % were ported : moreover there are 413 examples of local
pottery (identified by profile) and 776 of imported.
In the very bottom level of the settlement striped Ionian
pottery predominates. In addition there is a large assortment of articles
made of local clay in imitation of certain imported articles (lamps,
sieves), if we take into account that among the kitchen rubbish
shells, mussels and oysters are often found, which are not
encountered in local sites before and after Greek colonization (i.e. that were
not part of the local population's diet). It would appear to follow
that Greek, probably Ionians colonists founded the settlement. At
43. S.M. SHAMBA, GYENOS-1, Tbilisi, 1988 (in Russian).

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the same time in the immediate vicinity, there existed a local


population which, from the earliest stage of the Greek colony's existence,
had been actively drawn into the life of the city. Contacts between
the local people and the colonists must have led to a mixed
population and possibly to mixed marriages. Many of the customs and mores
of the local population strongly influenced the population of Gyenos.
This is clearly reflected in the archaeological finds, since the
shapes of the pottery vessels and their decoration are not typical for
imported clay ware. This is also illustrated by the model for a small
wooden axe that was found in a refuse pit, which echoes well-known
types of small bronze axes of a Colchian type. The available
material makes it possible to ascertain with a good degree of probability
some of the occupations of the city's population - craft production
(remains of a clay nozzle from a furnace), agriculture (grain), animal
husbandry (bones of large and small domestic animals), hunting
(bones of wild animals), fishing (fish bones, stone weights for nets).
Life appears to have been lived to the full : a cultural level of
the 6th-5th centuries was laid down that was more than 3.5m thick.
This was the time of the most intense urban activity in Gyenos. Yet
we should not lose sight of the fact that what has just been
investigated is perhaps not the settlement itself but its the
oustkirts. Naturally when the dwellings of the colonists were being
constructed, the material that nature provided in such abundant
supply was used - wood. These dwellings had of course been erected
by the colonists with the utmost haste and were modest in the
extreme. A similar picture is provided by the early settlements on
the northern coast of the Black Sea, where the colonists also used
dwellings that were like dug-outs or, at most, dug-outs with walls
made of stone. The main difference between these dwellings and
those which were found in Gyenos, consists in the material used for
walls. This is easily explained by the presence of thick woods and
the rare occurrence of building stone on the eastern shores of the
Black Sea, while the situation was quite the reverse on the northern
littoral. There is no reason to doubt that we are dealing here with a
polis that lacked any plans for the construction of typical
monumental edifices whatsoever. It has been demonstrated
archaeologically that the earliest, wide-scale types of dwelling
used by the Greek colonists were dug-outs and dwellings that were
half sunk into the ground.
In addition Greek authors who wrote about the polis
conceived of it first and foremost as a collective, as a community of people

DIALOGUES D'HISTOIRE ANCIENNE

245

organized in a specific way. This is how Pausanias describes one :


"Twenty stages from Chaeronea there is a Phocian city Panopea, if
it can indeed be called a city, since there are no government buildings
in it, no gymnasium, no theatre, no square, no reservoir in which to
collect water, yet the inhabitants live along the banks of a mountain
stream in dwellings half sunk into the ground, which resemble more
than anything mountain hovels. Yet their territory is marked off
from that of their neighbours and they also send their
representatives to the Phocian assembly" (X, 4).
At the beginning of the 4th century the life of the polis of
Gyenos which had begun so actively, comes to an abrupt end, and one
of the most carefully studied hills within the former city was used
as a place to bury horses' heads decorated with bronze ornaments
executed in the Scythian style.
The city ceased to exist at the end of the 2nd century . Its
rebirth dates from the 4th-5th centuries AD.
DIOSCURIA. Only Arrian informs us of the fact that
Dioscuria (Aioaxoupia) was founded by the Milesians (PPE, II) : he
wrote of this after he had visited the eastern coast of the Black Sea
in AD 134, when the city had long sunk into the sea and the Roman
fortress of Sebastopolis stood in what had once been its outskirts.
The city appears to have been situated near the present-day
Sukhumi Bay (built round the modern city of Sukhumi) and it was
founded by emigrants from Miletus at a time not later than the
middle of the 6th century . Yet the remains of the ancient city
(6th-5th centuries ) are almost completely covered over by the
waters of Pontus. Finds of Greek pottery from the late 6th and early
5th centuries , and from later on in the 5th century, (fragments of
amphorae from Chios) are extremely rare.
The Ionian settlers who came to these parts brought with
them their cults. In Miletus the cult of the Dioscuri had been
extremely popular, and this cult had in fact become widespread in
many Greek cities in the Black Sea region (Sinope, Amis, Istria,
Olbia, etc.) founded by Miletus or that were associated with it. This
was also the case in the city of Dioscuria, where the Dioscuri were
venerated as deities and eponyms. The copper coins which the city
began to issue at the very end of the 2 nd century , depicted the
two pilei of the twin-brothers with six or eight-pointed stars above
them as the emblem of the city.
According to Greek mythology, the Dioscuri took part in the
voyage of the Argonauts to Colchis in pursuit of the Golden Fleece

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and they are held to have removed from Colchis the statue of the
goddess, which was later installed in one of the temples of Laconia.
The Dioscuri were the patrons of horsemen, travellers and seafarers.
They were regarded as the patrons of the Milesians who set off to
distant Colchis in order to found a new city on the site of modern
Sukhumi, named Dioscuria in their honour. It is possible that a
temple to the Dioscuri was built in the city. It is interesting to note
in this connection that a locally produced gold signet ring from
Tagiloni (not far from Sukhumi) bears a depiction of an Ionian
temple complete with pillars (a temple in antis).
Yet the cult of the Dioscuri was not the only one. Demeter had
her followers among the citizens, as is borne out by the find of a terra
cotta figurine of her sitting on a throne (4th-3rd century ) which
is of local production and unique in the archaeology of Colchis 44.
The most striking indication of the presence of a Greek
population in the area of the Bay of Sukhumi is the marble grave stele,
found in 1953 in the town of Sukhumi near the underwater remains of
Dioscuria, at a distance of 7 metres from the shore. It stele is
rectangular in shape (157 x 92 cms). On the top edge of the marble slab, six
dowels have survived that would have made it possible to fix a
pediment. A composition consisting of three figures is depicted : the
deceased woman is sitting on a throne and embracing with her right
hand a naked boy leaning up against her knees. In the background is
a statue of a young girl wearing a belted Athenian peplos without
sleeves and holding a casket in her left hand. This should be
regarded as a scene of parting from the deceased, portrayed surrounded by
her relatives - a child and the girl, attending the dead woman on
her last journey and bearing a special funerary gift. The stele is
dated to 430-420 .
The question as to the place where the Sukhumi relief was
made is complex. There is no denying the strong Attic influence and
in general the Attic appearance of the piece, but at the same time a
number of features make possible links with Ionian sculpture. One
thing is certain - that it is a strictly Greek piece and was brought
from Greece and erected over the grave of a Greek 45.

44. G.R. TSETSKHLADZE, In the Footsteps of the Argonauts (Hellenic


Culture on the Eastern Shores of the Black Sea), Athens, 1992-93.
45. O.D. LORDKIPANIDZE, Ancient Colchis, Tbilisi, 1979, p. 136-139 (in
Russian).

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247

The settlements in the vicinity of Sukhumi have been the


subject of fairly detailed study. What stands out is the fact that the
local population was drawn to the Greek poleis, and while in the
6th-5th centuries there were about ten settlements of local tribes, in
the 4th-3rd centuries their number had doubled.
One of the most important factors in the changing
demographic situation around the Greek poleis was their commercial
activity. Dioscuria was particularly well known in the Hellenistic
world on account of its market. Representatives of 300 tribes would
gather there. Strabo wrote : "... Dioscuria marks the beginning of
the isthmus between the Caspian Sea and the Pontus and it is the
general trading centre for those living higher up and for the
neighbouring peoples. In any case 70 peoples come together in this city
(according to others, who have no concern for truth, it is even 300).
They all speak different languages, since they live separately here,
each group locked in its savage pride..." (XI, II, 16).
Somewhat later, but not before the 3rd century , the polis
Pityus () was founded, probably a result of colonization by
people of Dioscuria. Unfortunately nothing is known about the city,
which was on the site of the modern town of Pitsunda. Only the
Roman city has been the subject of archaeological study. Written
sources only inform us of its name (Strabo).
Ten kilometres from Dioscuria and more than one kilometre
from the sea-shore is a city-site at Eshera, one of the most important
sites on the eastern coast of the Black Sea, flourishing from the 6thlst centuries . It occupies an area of 4 hectares across one of the
hills by the sea 46.
The settlement grew up there in the middle of the 6th century
. Among the earliest finds are many fragments of imported
blackfigure Attic skyphoi and of the Rhodos-Ionian style, alongside
locally produced handmade pottery. Between the 5th and the early
4th century the size of the city-site gradually increased. Notable
finds are the Attic and Corinthian helmets from burials. Helmets,
whole or fragments, are frequent finds in the vicinity of Dioscuria.
They belonged to the Greek hoplites who defended Greek cities and
settlements against the local tribes of the Heniochoi, the Zygoi and
the Achaioi who engaged in piracy and, according to Strabo, lived
in primitive conditions (XI, 2,16).

46. G.K. SHAMBA, The City-site of Eshera, Tbilisi, 1980 (in Russian).

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While Colchis was part of the state ruled over by Pithridates


VI, whose residence and base on the eastern coast of the Black Sea
was Dioscuria, the city-site at Eshera was fortified : a moat was
dug, it was ringed with a stone wall and towers, water pipes were
laid and monumental buildings were erected from trimmed limestone
blocks. The buildings had tiled roofs.
Strabo writes that when Mithridates became the ruler of
Colchis (end of the 2nd century ), he built 75 fortified sites, in
which he kept the greater part of his treasures (XII, III, 28). One of
these fortresses was the city at Eshera. In the middle of the 1st
century the town suffered from a great fire and was completely
destroyed. These events should be linked with the bloody war that was
unleashed in all the lands of Mithridates1 former empire. Not long
before his death he spent the winter of 66/65 in Dioscuria and it
was from there that he fled to the Bosporan Kingdom to escape the
Roman commander Pompey.
The inhabitants of the city used the Greek alphabet : Greek
letters are often found scratched onto local pottery. Stone styli
reminiscent of those used for writing in Greece have also been found here.
An important find made in 1975 during the excavations of
Eshera in the ruins of a monumental building destroyed at the end of
the 2nd or beginning of the 1st century was of nineteen fragments
of a bronze stele bearing a Greek inscription, which had been
shattered 47.
Near the city-site, 100-120 metres to the north-west, there
was a burial ground, now completely destroyed. It proved possible to
investigate only two burials. Not far away, one further burial was
excavated in the spring of 1977. The grave-pit was a rounded square
in shape. In the middle of the pit were found remains of human
bones. Amongst them were one gold and two silver pendants,
fragments of local vessels and daggers. The skeleton was oriented
towards the north-east. To the left of the central burial lay a male
skeleton with a well preserved head pointing towards the
northwest. To the east of this lay skeletons of horses, other faunal
remains and also numerous pieces of jewellery. In the same burial was
found an Athenian black-figure amphora.

47. The inscription was extremely fragmentary and it has not been
possible to reconstruct the text. It has been published in Georgian.
Professor Y.G. Vinogradov is preparing a publication of this inscription
in English.

DIALOGUES D'HISTOIRE ANCIENNE

249

The height of the amphora complete with lid was 70 cms. The
lower part was decorated with rays. On one side is depicted
Dionysos in a long chiton accompanied by two maenads and two
satyrs moving forward to meet each other. The space between the
figures is filled by scattered branches of ivy - one of the attributes of
Dionysos. A similar plant motif in the form of a shoot with leaves
had been applied to the handles of the amphora. On the opposite
side is a scene showing warriors preparing for battle. Four horses are
harnessed to a chariot. In front are four warriors wearing Corinthian
helmets and holding long spears, and before the chariot a figure in a
long chiton. He was facing the warriors before him. Above, between
the horses and the chariot, is a painted inscription NIKON. The
date is third quarter of the 6th century .
Here we have a complex burial ritual, in which a man was
buried together with his servants, horses and other animals. The
grave belonged to a representative of the local (Heniochoi) nobility,
possibly to a tribal leader or, to use Strabo's terminology - the
Skhptouchos (XI, 2,181) of the region, of the second half of the 6th
century . The amphora may have been a gift from Greek
merchants who had won the favour of the local nobility 48.
PICHVNARI. The settlement at Pichvnari deserves special
attention, as do its burial grounds. It is 10 kilometres to the North of
the town of Kobuleti in a swampy area which makes excavation of
this site, unique in Colchis, much more difficult 49.
By the 6th century a large Colchian settlement of an urban
type was taking shape in the territory of Kobuleti-Pichvnari,
which was evolving as a political and economic centre for the
surrounding territory. Excavation of this site, dating from the 6th to
2nd centuries has provided evidence for the intensive
development of certain types of trade, in particular iron-working and
pottery production, the output of which spread through the immedia48. G.K. SHAMBA, A 6th-Century Burial near Sukhumi, in Short
Bulletins from the USSR Academy of Sciences' Institute of
Archaeology, 1983, 174, p. 33-37 (in Russian).
49. G.A. KAKHIDZE, Cities of the Georgian Black Sea Coast in the
Classical Era (Kobuleti-Pichvnari), Tbilisi, 1971 (in Georgian) ; idem,
Classical Monuments on the Eastern Black Sea Coast (the Greek
Burial Ground at Pichvnari), Batumi, 1975 (in Georgian) ; idem, The
Eastern Black Sea Coast in the Classical Era (Colchian Burial
Grounds), Batumi, 1981 (in Russian).

250

Gocha R.

Tsetskhladze

tly adjacent territory. Remains of this site occupy an area of


approximately 30 hectares. Gradually the town grew with the erection
of more wooden structures. The levels relating to the 6th-3rd
centuries were a source of extremely diverse material : local Colchian
pottery for commercial, household and cult purposes - pithoi, jugs
with hollow handles, drinking cups, bowls, etc. Greek settlement
began in this area in the mid-6th century but only the burial ground is
currently being studied.
Investigation has revealed the Greek necropolis of the 5th4th centuries , a Colchian burial ground dating from the 5th
century and burials of the hellenised local population dating from
the end of the 4th and the 3rd centuries .
In the Greek necropolis (5th century ) virtually all the
burials were inhumations, only three were for cremations with the
ashes placed in special vessels.
All the burials were oriented to the east. The large iron nails
that survived in the burials show that the bodies had been buried in
wooden coffins - rectangular boxes fastened with nails. Some of them
also had wooden lids. The skeletons have not survived, but judging
by the way the grave goods were laid out it is clear that the bodies
had been lying supine with arms and legs straight, although in some
instances the arms had been folded on the chest. Over some of the
burials there was enough space for a funeral feast.
The Greeks who lived in the Kobuleti-Pichvnari area
adapted to local conditions, and instead of the usual stone
sarcophagi they used wooden coffins to bury their dead and they did
not erect monuments or stelae above their graves. In the country
roundabout there were no sources of building stone, but timber was
accessible everywhere. Only in one isolated case was a burial found
that had a stone cover. Among the scattered pieces of basalt and
fragments of white limestone a metal clamp was found, with which
a limestone stele had been attached to drystone work.
Unfortunately, this burial had been plundered and the wall with
the stele destroyed by treasure-hunters. In the open area where the
funeral feast had been laid out fragments of numerous Ionian and
Attic vases were found, dating from the last third of the 5th century
. Stone for the construction of this burial had been imported from
Central Colchis, where there are some stone quarries.
The assortment of grave goods was rich. As a rule bronze
mirrors were found in the burials and black-glaze vessels for drinking
wine (kylikes, skyohoi, drinking bowls), salt-cellars, lekythoi,

DIALOGUES D'HISTOIRE ANCIENNE

251

strigils (these finds point to the fact that sporting contests were
held in Pichvnari), etc. Very delicate gold jewellery was also
found : ear-rings, necklaces, buttons. Gold signet-rings were often
encountered, gold and silver rings, bracelets, beads, gold and silver
cups. In some burial complexes whole amphorae from Chios and
Thassos were often found, and in one case (in a complex of the third
quarter of the 5th century ) an amphora from Heraklei, which
came as a surprise at such an early period.
In some burials there are gold coins of the 5th century from
the town of Cyzicus as well as examples from Pantakapaion and
Nymphaion. The burials in the Greek necropolis dating from the 4th
century all contained corpses in wooden coffins and had had
spaces above them for the funeral feast. The skeletons here too were
all oriented to the east. The grave goods, in comparison with those
found in the 5th-century burial, were far less rich. In the burials and
also in the spaces set aside for the funeral feasts black-glaze and
net-patterned Attic lekythoi and small amphoriskoi were found,
also kylikes, skyphoi, salt-cellars, amphorae from Herakleia,
fish-plates, cups, beads, iron bracelets and signet-rings.
Poleis or trading stations ?
From the written sources discussed above it becomes clear that
the Ionian Greeks who sailed to Colchis in the middle of the 6th
century , founded their cities and gleaned rather vague and
unreliable impressions of the country. Their knowledge of the region to
the east of the Black Sea was confined to the myth about the
Argonauts and for all the period of occupation this land remained
for them a land of legend : virtually all Greek writers devote a good
deal of attention to the myth in their works and do not concern
themselves with the history of Colchis. The region was not particularly
important to the Greeks and they took little interest in it.
The colonists founded poleis according to the customary
pattern : we at least know the name of the leader who founded Phasis
and that this town had its own constitution.
Soon after the Greeks were established, their poleis lost their
original significance and their goal became trading with the local
population. If we turn to the reasons for and the process of the
transformation of the poleis in Colchis, attention must be focused on the
climate and environmental conditions in Colchis, which the Greek
writers themselves mention.

252

Gocha R.

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Pseudo-Hippocrates, after visiting Colchis in the 5th century


, wrote: "... this land (Colchis) is swampy, hot, damp and
wooded. During any season of the year there is a great deal of heavy
rain. People spend their whole life in the swamps and their wooden
or reed huts are built on the water... They drink warm water that is
warm, stagnant, made rank by the heat of the sun and replenished
by the rains... The thick mist that rises from the waters envelops
the whole land" ( 22).
Strabo also stressed that the shores of Colchis by the mouth of
the River Phasis were sandy, low and swampy (I, III, 7 ; XI, II, 17).
Palaeographic and archaeological studies have confirmed
the information provided by ancient authors about the climate of
Colchis. In the 7th and 6th millennium in the Colchian coastal
strip the formation of turf proceeded at an intensive rate as a result
of the rise in the level of the Black Sea and the spread of swamps
near the coast. In the middle of the 3rd millennium the general
level of the world ocean rose by 1.5-2 metres (the so-called New
Black Sea Transgression). As a result of this a coastal terrace took
shape along the Black Sea coast which was to have tragic
consequences for the Early Bronze Age settlements situated in the coastal
strip to the east of the Black Sea. In the second half of the 4th
millennium the inhabitants had lived in wooden-framed houses
erected at ground level ; after the second half of the 3rd millennium
they began to build pile-dwellings ; and at the end of the
millennium they were compelled to leave their former homes and look for
new places in which to settle.
The New Black Sea Transgression was over by the middle of
the 2nd millennium and this was followed by the Phanagorea
Regression. The level of the ocean gradually began to fall, as a
result of which the narrow strip of marine shelf along the Black Sea
coast was laid bare, the erosion base of the river beds dropped, and
the swampy areas in the alluvial valleys began to dry out. Along
the eastern coast of the Black Sea the zone suitable for human
habitation had thus widened and the first permanent settlements
appeared. Although pleasant conditions for human habitation were
already to be found in the Colchian walley in the period between the
last quarter of the 2nd and the middle of the 1st millennium ,
swampy areas were still encountered in these parts. This has been
confirmed not only by information in written sources, but also by
archaeological investigations : the settlements dating from the 5th
century are situated on man-made hills and drainage canals

DIALOGUES D'HISTOIRE ANCIENNE

253

have been recorded, which had made it possible to win back from
the swamps areas suitable for crop cultivation.
The Phanagorean Regression lasted, in all probability, till
the 3rd-2nd millennium , after which ensued the so-called
Lazsky Transgression which has lasted until the present day. The
level of the ocean has risen by 4-5 metres. This Transgression again
proved disastrous for the settlements and cities of Colchis along the
Black Sea coast. Parts of the coastal towns found themselves under
the sea, and those parts of the alluvial valleys which had dried up
during the Phanagorean Regression, reverted to swampland. This
meant that the coastal cities of Colchis had lost the economic basis
for their very existence. For this reason they all grew markedly
weaker in the 2nd century and some ceased to exist (Pichvnari,
Gyenos).
The next factor, no less important, which we need to consider
is that of grain in Colchis. Virtually no grain was harvested in the
region on the east coast of the Black Sea. Archaeological and anthropoligical investigations have shown that the main cereal
culture in Western Georgia (Colchis) was millet, for which the natural
conditions pertaining in Colchis made possible large harvests
(Strabo, V, I, 2 ; XII, 3, 15).
Grain was imported into Colchis. A later author, Procopius of
Caesarea, remarked on this on more than occasion (BG, 15, 20). The
local inhabitants consumed millet, which the Romans could not
bring themselves toeat (BP. VIII, 13). This meant that when Romans
were living in Colchis, they had to import grain from the Bosporan
Kingdom 50.
We thus have grounds to assume that the Greek poleis in
Colchis, soon after they had been founded, developed into trade
centres as a result of the local conditions, and that they played first
and foremost the role of intermediaries in economic relations with
the Mediterranean metro poleis. This of course does not mean that
the Greek colonies to the east of the Black Sea should be regarded as
entities that were dependent on and subordinate to the Kingdom of
Colchis. They should be viewed as autonomous structures which
administered themselves like poleis, but which were called upon to act
50. G.R. TSETSKHLADZE, The Northern and Eastern Black Sea Littoral in
the 6th-lst Centuries (From the History of Trade Relations), in
Arkheologia (Kiev), 1990, 2, p. 86-97 (in Ukrainian); D.C. BRAUND,
Propcopius on the Economy of Lazica, Classical Quaterly 1991, 41 (1),
p. 221-225.

254

Gocha R.

Tsetskhladze

as trading centres, and this in turn influenced the nature of these


colonies. One graphic example can be used to illustrate this.
Naukratis, a large trading centre, had been founded by the Greeks in
Egypt on the territory of a state that had reached a far higher level
of political organization and power tha the Kingdom of Colchis, but
it nevertheless retained its autonomy.
The picture provided by trade relations between Colchis and
the Greek world was typical for the whole Black Sea region 51. in
the early period the productive and trading centres of east Greece
played an active role. From the last quarter of the 6th century
Attic imports also occur on the settlements of the eastern Black Sea
coast : in the 5th-4th centuries these become predominant. In
addition to Attic imports, amphorae are also found, which were
involved in the mediation of Athenian trade (Chios, Thasos, Mende,
Lesbos, etc.). In the Hellenistic period, the picture changes : first
Herakleia and then Sinope assume the leading role in trade with
Colchis. Trading relations also return with Rhodes, Cnidus and Cos
and, in the 2nd-lst centuries , with the production-centres of Asia
Minor. It is particularly important also to note that in the 5th-lst
centuries Colchis had close economic links with the cities of the
northern Black Sea coast (the Bosporus, Chersonesus and Olbia).
Colchis supplied the classical world with timber for
shipbuilding and with pitch, hemp, honey, wine (to the north coast of
the Black Sea), linen textiles (Hdt. 2.105 : Strabo 11.1.17) and
possibly also with gold and iron. The Greeks also exported slaves from
the east coast of the Black Sea, but their attested numbers are
insignificant 52. In exchange Colchis received fine pottery, jewellery,
wine, olive oil, salt (from Olbia and Chersonesus) and wheat (from
the Bosporus).
The importance for Colchis of trade with the Greek world is
also a major question that needs to be examined.
Unfortunately, during the excavations of the city-sites and
settlements of Colchis no statistical records were kept and it is
51. O.D. LORDKIPANIDZE, Ancient Colchis and the Classical World
Tbilisi, 1966 (in Georgian); G.R. TSETSKHLADZE, Kolkhis im
Handelssystem der Antike, in Miinstersche Beitrage zur Antiken
Handelsgeschichte, 1991, 2.
52. D.C. BRAUND, G.R. TSETSKHLADZE, The Export of Slaves from
Colchis, Classical Quaterly,
1989, 39 (1), p. 114-125 ;
G.R. CECCHLADZE (TSETSKHLADZE), Zu den kolchischen Sklaven
in der Griechischen Welt Klio, 1990, 72 (1), p. 151-159.

DIALOGUES D'HISTOIRE ANCIENNE

255

therefore impossible to gain an idea of the ratio of imported to local


pottery, which would enable us to establish the share of foreign
trade in the economy. The only solution is to establish a similar
ratio on the basis of the thoroughly studied burial grounds from
various parts of Colchis (see Table I, p. 48). Only burials of humble
producers have been taken into account, since they made up the major
part of the country's population. The burials of the nobility are
brimming over with grave goods, of which some are imported. In
Vani, for example, over 3,000 objects were found in the burial of a
Colchian noblewoman dating from the mid-5th century and
among these gold and silver jewellery and examples of Attic toreutics were the outstanding items of craftsmanship 53. It is worth
noting that all the examples of toreutics in Colchis come from burials
of the nobility (Vani, Dablagomi), or of Greeks (Pichvnari). The
former were probably gifts from rich merchants to the local nobility.
As is made clear in Table I the share of imports in the burials
of the bulk of the population was not large. The only area which
differs in this respect is Northern Colchis, where the share of
imports is large. This can be explained by the fact that the area around
Dioscuria differed from the other parts of the country in that the
local population lived in conditions of "military democracy" and were
in a "primitive state" (Strabo, XI, 2, 16). It is a well-know fact that
the less advanced a society, the greater the attraction of luxury
articles will be. It would not be apt to speak of the main population of
Colchis as poor : in many burials we find "kolkhidki" coins and in
some as many as 10 or even 80 examples. In Northern Colchis there
were virtually no coins in the burials of the local population, which
points to the practice of barter, although in areas where Greek cities
are assumed to have existed there is no shortage of foreign and local
coins. In Pichvnari, for example, 19 of the 167 burials in a cemetery
for the local population dating from the 5th century contained
coins ; in Dapnari (4th-2nd centuries ) coins were found in 14 of
the 38 burials ; in Zemo Partskhma (4th-2nd centuries ) coins
were found in 10 of the 35 burials.
The following conclusions can be drawn. To the east of the
Black Sea, as opposed to the north-western and north-eastern shores
(Scythia), the local society possessed by the time Greek
colonization began (6th century ) a fairly well developed economic, social
53. Vani I: Archaeological
Georgian).

Excavations, Tbilisi 1972, p. 113-117 (in

256

Gocha R.

Tsetskhladze

and political structure, regardless of whether or not we acknowledge


that there already existed a political entity in the form of the
Colchian Kingdom. However we seek to resolve this problem there
is no doubt that at the time when the Greek colonists arrived, the
local society already had an economic and social structure, which
was quite highly developed, as is borne out by numerous pieces of
archaeological evidence. This was bound to determine certain features
that characterize the colonization and trade relations in the region
to the east of the Black Sea. The Greek settlements were unable to
develop into poleis of the classical type, because they were not in a
position simply to assimilate the local Colchian society, and lacked
the opportunities for direct exploitation of local resources in view of
the special features of climate and demography.
To the east of the Black Sea, unlike other parts of the region
where there is a marked change to be observed in Greek imports soon
after the establishment of trade links, there are wide-scale imports
of items produced on a mass scale instead of luxury pottery for
special occasions. The former variety is not to be observed in Colchis
until at least the Hellenistic era. This can probably be explained by
the fact that the main product transported in amphorae was
produced for mass consumption in quite large quantities on the spot. Nor
did the import of mass-produced pottery appear so important, since
in Colchis, when trade links with the Greek were first made,
pottery production was already well established. This can also be said
with regard to the import of jewellery wrought in precious matais "gold-rich" Colchis provides us with a large number of splendid
examples of local toreutics. The goods imported into Colchis were for
the main part such as would satisfy the growing demands of the
upper strata of society - a costly ceremonial vessel made of silver and
bronze, a limited quantity of expensive wines, and other items that
do not appear in the archaeological record. First-class examples of
Greek vase-painting of the 6th-5th centuries are only to be found
in the burials of Greeks in Pichvnari, not in Colchian burials. It is
also worth noting that virtually all imports from the northern
shores of the Black Sea, including coins, were also found in the Greek
necropolis at Pichvnari. This means that we should try to draw a
distinction between two different processes - trade relations between
the metropolis and colony on the one hand - and trade relations with
the local population of Colchis via its colonies in the eastern part of
the Black Sea on the other. During the Hellenistic period the range
of potential purchasers of Greek imports into the eastern Pontus had

DIALOGUES D'HISTOIRE ANCIENNE

257

widened somewhat, although it was not yet as wide as that to be


find in Scythia or Thrace.
This means also that trade did not have such an important
role to play. The impression emerges that trade went on between the
Greeks and, in the main, with the local Colchian nobility. In
Colchis a marked hellenization of the nobility was taking place,
while the bulk of the inhabitants also adopted certain features of
hellenic culture and new impulses were beginning to penetrate the
economy 54. These were the changes which were under way in all
parts of the "barbaric" Greek world.
So - were these cities poleis or trading stations ? It would
appear that in Colchis the colonization that began in the middle of
the 6th century proceeded in accordance with the ordinary pattern the Greek poleis Phasis, Dioscuria and Gyenos. The Greeks, after
arriving on the east coast of the Black Sea, had until then had only a
very vague idea of Colchis. Soon, because of the local climatic and
perhaps even demographic conditions, the development of the cities
proceeded in a different way, for instance, from that to be observed
in the Bosporan kingdom. Trade was to become the economic basis of
these activities, while all activities connected with craft
production were made subordinate to the interests of trade 55. These poleis
did not play a major role in the life of homeland Greece. The Greeks
from the metropolis soon lost interest in them. For all intents and
purposes Colchis remained for them what it had been before
colonization, a country of myth and legend, the land of the Golden Fleece
and Medea.

Many of the conclusions in this article may appear to be little


more than hypotheses. Occasionally it is possible to pick out
mutually exclusive ideas. All this demonstrates yet again the com54. G.R. TSETSKHLADZE, The Organization of Ceramic Production in
Colchis, Eirene, 1990, 27, p. 56-65 ; id., Die Kolkhischen Stempel, Klio
1991, 73 (2), p. 361-381 ; id., Die Griechen in Kolkhis : Wirtschaftliche
Aspekte, in Miinstersche Beitrage zur Antiken Handelsgeschichte,
1991, 1 ; id., Colchis and Greek Culture : a Problem of Hellenization,
Mesopotamia, 1991, 26.
55. G.R. TSETSKHLADZE, S.Y. VNUKOV, Colchian Amphorae : Typology,
Chronology and Aspects of Production, Annual of the British School of
Archaeology at Athens, 1992,87.

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Tsetskhladze

plexity of the question of Greek colonization of the eastern coast of


the Black Sea, when there are no direct sources available and only
indirect or secondary ones. Indeed the phenomenon of Greek
colonization as a whole is still very far from being having been
comprehensively understood in all its detailed aspects.

Table I

Burial Ground
1. South-western Colchis
Pichvnari (5th Century )
Pichvnari (Late 4th-3rd century )
Tsikhi sdziri-Bobok va ti
(Colchian burials)
(5th-2nd centuries )
2. Northern Colchis
Krsny Maya
(5th-2nd centuries )
Guadikhu
(5th-3rd centuries )
3. Central Colchis
Dapnari (4th-2nd centuries )
Dablagomi (4th-3rd centuries )
Zemo Partskhma
(late 4th-2nd centuries )

Number
of
Burials

Overall
Number
of
Pottery
Finds

Number
of
Colchian
Pottery
Finds

167
101

160
159

118
127

73,8
79,9

42
23

26,2
20,1

303

368

332

90,2

36

0,8

39

19

12

63,2

36,8

59

46

24

52,2

22

47,8

38
55
35

42
56
33

36
55
31

85,7
98,2
93,9

6
1
2

14,3
1,8
6,1

Number
of
imported
Pottery
Finds