About History – Land of the Golden Fleece
Georgia has long been associated with the legend of Jason and the Argonauts and their quest for the Golden Fleece (Georgian: ოქროს საწმისი). Greek legends tell of a fabulously wealthy land called Kolkheti or Kolkha from which Jason stole the Golden Fleece from King Aieti (Georgian: აიეტი), helped by the king’s daughter Medea.
Monument in Batumi, Georgia, to the Kolkhetian Princess Medea holding the Golden Fleece of Greek Mythology
The ancient kingdom of Kolkheti (Georgian: კოლხეთი) comprised the land bounded by the Black Sea to the west, the Caucasus Mountains to the north, the Surami Range to the east and the Meskhetian Mountains to the south. Today, the area is part of Georgia.
The Kolkhetian people flourished and developed an expertise in the smelting and casting of metals long before this skill was mastered in Europe. As the Kolkhi society and culture thrived, it attracted the attention of Greek traders and adventurers who traveled to the kingdom to seek out the rich natural resources, including gold.
The Kolkhi people had developed a unique way to prospect for gold. A sheep’s fleece was attached to a wooden support and left in a fast flowing mountain stream causing particles of gold to collect in the wool. The fleece would then be hung in a tree to dry before the gold was shaken or combed out.
The Greek historian Strabo (44 B.C.-23 A.D.) mentioned the kingdom of Kolkheti in his Book IX of Geography:
“In the mountain rivers of this country there is a lot of gold mined by these barbarians using perforated vessels and sheepskin”.
This gives rise to the theory that rather than stealing a golden fleece, Jason may have been looking for a method of panning for gold that is still used today in some parts of the Caucasus Mountains.
The ancient Roman historian Appian (90-170 A.D.) appears to corroborate this theory. In his book XII “The Argonauts Voyage to the Kingdom of Kolkheti”, he considers the main aim of the expedition was to obtain the sheepskin method of gold mining.
In his opinion, the “Golden Fleece” implies the sheepskin technique of gold mining.
Prospecting for gold still takes place in the Inguri River in Svaneti on the southern slope of the Greater Caucasus Mountains.
Some prospectors still mine gold from rivers using sheepskin and special wooden vessels.
From January to March, the freezing cold waters of the Inguri River are low enough to let prospectors pan for gold.
Svan gold prospectors claim they can expect to extract about 30-40 grams of gold over the course of the three-month prospecting season. That translates into an income of about $1,000 to $1,500.