The story of Jason and the Golden Fleece is one of the most enduring of ancient Greek myths. According to legend, Jason and his shipmates, the Argonauts, set sail on a perilous journey from Greece to Colchis (modern-day Georgia), then located beyond the known world.
His successful quest for the Golden Fleece, which hung in a sacred grove guarded by a dragon, came to symbolize bravery, strength and determination and rightful kingship.
Less well known today, however, is the archaeology and artifacts of Colchis, with its intermingling of Greek and Persian motifs with local styles and traditions. Metalworking, whether in gold, silver, iron or bronze, was a traditional focus of Colchian art and craftsmanship. Another mainstay of Georgian life throughout several millennia has been the production of wine—the earliest evidence of wine and winemaking comes from the area.
“Wine, Worship and Sacrifice: The Golden Graves of Ancient Vani,” on view Dec. 1 through Feb. 24, 2008 at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, presents spectacular gold, silver, ceramic vessels, jewelry, Greek bronze sculpture, Greek and Colchian coins, and Greek glassware. Together these objects provide a rich and informative view of the ancient land of Colchis and its principal sanctuary city, Vani, a town in the Imereti region of western Georgia.
Vani took shape as an urban center in the sixth century B.C. and continued in existence until it was destroyed in the later Hellenistic period around the mid-first century B.C. Extensive archaeological excavations have taken place there during the past half century. Although only a third of the site has been studied, it has produced an astonishing number of artifacts: imported Greek luxury items, including silverware and bronze work; exquisite golden jewelry unique to Colchis, including outstanding examples of gold granulation; and Greek and Colchian pottery.
The exhibition highlights the contents of a grave unearthed in Vani in 2004. It contained elaborate Colchian hair ornaments made of gold and appliqués for clothing; a Persian silver bucket, ladle and libation bowls; and Greek wine amphorae and red-figure pottery—evidence of the importance of wine in ancient Georgian culture. The exhibition also features a spectacular bronze torso in a fifth-century Greek style; Greek silver drinking cups; a magnificent Colchian gold necklace with 31 pendant tortoises, each decorated with tiny granulation; and a gold pectoral, inlaid with carnelian and turquoise figures and influenced by Egyptian, Greek and Achaemenid jewelry.
With more than 100 objects on view, the exhibition at the Sackler is a much expanded version of the exhibitions recently presented at three venues in Europe—in Berlin, Paris and Nice, France. After leaving the Sackler, the show will open as the inaugural exhibition at New York University’s Institute for the Study of the Ancient World.
“Wine, Worship and Sacrifice: The Golden Graves of Ancient Vani” has been made possible by The Leon Levy Foundation; The Ministry of Culture; Monuments Protection and Sport of Georgia; Georgian National Museum; Vani Archeological Museum; and the Embassy of Georgia to the United States of America, Canada and Mexico. -- www.si.edu