To say that nowadays Georgia is an unassuming, discreet country is a bit of an understatement.
Upon hearing the name of my homeland, many foreigners’ wonder whether we’re talking about the homonymous United States territory or “that European country”. It’s this relative anonymity what has made us seem like some sort of an underdog amidst world affairs. A tiny country that is doing its best to stand on its two feet after long centuries of conflict.
But what if I told you Georgia is not always the dark horse you believe it to be?
Truth to be told, Georgia has been in humanity’s books for millennia. Many unprecedented events—whether factual or legendary—have taken place amidst these Caucasus lands. Unique situations that you probably have heard of, or wondered about, yet never knew where they took place.
But that is no more. Now I will take you through five fascinating events that took place in Georgia, yet you probably didn’t know about it. Whether they are featured in history books or in mythological collections, each of these happenings took place in that beautiful country called Georgia.
1. Georgia is the birthplace of wine.
If I asked you to select three iconic aspects of Georgia’s culture, the wine would be, undoubtedly, amidst the top three. And you wouldn’t be wrong—if scientists told me tomorrow that Georgians were found to have wine instead of blood flowing through their veins, I would reply with a simple “knew it!”
To be honest, Georgians are tied to wine from the cradle. But the funny thing is, the wine itself is also bonded to Georgia from its crib.
While many believe ancient Greece is the homeland of wine, a study in 2017 proved this to be false. A massive collaboration between botanists and archaeologists dedicated time and resources to analyzing two Neolithic villages located approximately 30 km (20 miles) near Tbilisi—Gadachrili Gora and Shulaveris Gora.
By far, the most outstanding discovery was that of large clay jars made with fire, stored underground of the mud houses. One of them, it turns out, was decorated with grapes and wines, revealing its purpose to the baffled specialists. To verify the jars’ contents, they performed a complete study of the leftovers inside the pottery, as well as the soil surrounding it.
The result? Traces of tartaric, citric, malic, and succinic acid—compounds associated with wine. It was irrefutable proof that Georgia was the first place to engage in winemaking, dating from over 8,000 years ago.
According to a study of the site, ancient Georgians discovered that they could store grape juice underground, and it would turn into a whole different beverage that could last through the winter. This underground approach to winemaking would eventually evolve and turn into the qvevri method, the quintessential Georgian wine, with a distinctive coloration and aromatic repertoire.
The implications of this discovery are not small. Thanks to ancient Georgians, scientific communities confirmed that during the Neolithic, survival was not the sole focus. As Georgians proved, they also engaged in practices that were not strictly out of necessity—such as winemaking.
Nowadays, Georgia is a modest producer of wine. Still, its small exports hide underneath the outstanding quality of a wine that is unique and millennial.
2. Jason and the Argonauts found the Golden Fleece in Georgia.
I hope you enjoyed the history lesson because now we’re sailing aboard the Argos and explore the world according to Greek mythology. Notably, the legend of Jason and his quest for the Golden Fleece, a tale that has Georgia as its leading destination.
According to the Argonautica, an epic Hellenistic poem dating from the 3rd century BC, Jason was the legitimate heir to the throne of Thessalia, usurped by his uncle Pelias. Saved by his mother faking a stillborn birth, Jason was raised away from Thessalia, until the fated day of his return. Upon claiming his rightful throne, King Pelias issues him a quest instead—to retrieve the Golden Fleece.
The Golden Fleece came from the winged ram creature Chrysomallos, and it was revered as a valuable item that granted legitimate kingship. However, since it was sacred to the Olympian Gods, it was guarded by magical, frightening creatures in the remote lands of Colchis.
It turns out, Colchis is just the Ancient Greek name for Egrisi—one of the political entities that would become Georgia, making up for most of its western lands.
According to Ancient Greece, Colchis was a land well-known for its luxury, riches, and mysteriousness. Jason and his all-star team, the Argonauts, arrived at the area and were welcomed by fire bulls, mythical dragons, and all sort of strong beasts seeking to protect the Golden Fleece.
The Greeks also believed Georgia was the homeland of great witches such as Circe and Medea; experts in spells and potions with close ties to Hecate, the Greek goddess of magic. They considered women from Colchis to be powerful and strong. If you know Georgian women, you’re aware they were not wrong.
However, don’t believe this is merely a fantastic tale. Most folklorists and analysts are aware that behind every myth and legend, there is a degree of truth, and the story of the Golden Fleece is not the exception.
Experts currently believe that the Golden Fleece was an analogy for Colchis’ rich gold mines, some of the most ancient ones exploited by humankind. Specifically, Colchian people developed a gold mining method that made use of a sheep’s fleece to catch gold speckles that washed down from the mountains.
To this day, Georgia answers to the name of Land of the Golden Fleece.
3. The first Europeans came from Georgia.
Since the 90s, there have been ongoing and multiple excavation projects taking place in the town of Dmanisi, in the region of Kvemo Kartli. The town had risen to prominence as an essential excavation site of great archaeological value.
Soon, it proved its value to the experts working in the area. Within Georgian soil, David Lordkipanidze, the director of the Georgian National Museum, and his all-star team discovered the first Homo georgicus—a hominid skull that dates from 1.8 million years ago. They went on to find five more between 1991 and 2005.
If you’re not a paleoanthropologist or a human evolution aficionado, odds are the significance of this event is not common knowledge for you. But as you read in the title of this entry, the discovery of the Homo georgicus is an unprecedented event.
At the time of their discovery, no skulls like these were found outside of Africa, the cradle of civilization. In fact, before they were found, the scientific community didn’t think that humans could be located outside of Africa 1.8 million years ago.
Due to these unique circumstances, these hominids were quickly named the first Europeans, as they are the oldest remains found in Europe, proving that humanity’s Europe chapter started in Georgia.
Early representatives of the Homo erectus, two Homo georgicus specimens rose to prominence after they were reconstructed by paleoanthropology artists. Due to their Georgian location, they were given two very Georgian names—Zezva and Mzia.
As anything regarding human evolution, scientists are still putting the pieces together. While there is a possibility the Homo georgicus is not a direct ancestor of the Homo sapiens, experts still believe they may have been the starting point for European civilization.
Regardless, it’s clear that Zezva and Mzia are the first Europeans. And Georgia, for its excellent geographical position, fertile soils, and exceptional climate, is the perfect cradle for that part of human civilization.
Those interested in further knowledge about Zezva and Mzia, as well as other outstanding findings in Dmanisi, may visit the on-site museum. Once there, you can look at the reconstructions, and find out how the first Europeans looked like amidst the Georgian soil they lived in.
4. The mythical Prometheus was chained to Georgia’s Caucasus Mountains.
According to Greek mythology, Prometheus was a titan—a cunning trickster amidst the ancient gods. After humanity’s creation, Prometheus took pity on the poor creatures that had no fur or wings to defend themselves against the elements. Deeming things unfair, he stole fire from the gods and gifted it to humankind, while also teaching them how to use it to their benefit, including metalwork.
Zeus, enraged by this offense, punished Prometheus by capturing him and chaining him to the Georgian Caucasus Mountains. Unable to move, Prometheus was helpless against the eagle sent by Zeus every day to eat his liver, which would heal overnight.
To ancient Greeks, Georgia was a far-away land they knew existed, but hardly visited. The imposing Caucasus Range was taller than any other mountains they had ever seen in their own territory, so it was natural they invited their imagination and fed their mythology, turning Colchis into a mainstay in stories.
But there may be more at play than the pure mystification of Georgia’s beauty. You see, in Georgia, we have a folk hero from our own native mythology—Amirani.
Amirani was a demigod hero who also taught humankind the secrets of metalworking, to the displeasure of the gods. To punish him for his trickery, Amirani was chained to a mountain cave, where he’d be punished by having eagles attack him daily. Next to him, his faithful dog Q’ursha would attempt to break his chains and free him.
Tracing the origins of myths and legends is a tricky issue. Still, it cannot be a coincidence that Prometheus and Amirani’s stories merge together in such a seamless way. Subsequently, it may be tempting to assume Amirani’s tale is a reflection of the most well-known Prometheus one. Regardless, studies seem to conclude it is not such a thing.
According to most experts, odds are Amirani’s take became the basis and origin for Prometheus’ misadventures in Colchis, as sources place the legend further back in time. By this theory, Milesian Greeks adopted the tale of Amirani while colonizing Colchis, and took it back to their homeland to develop it further into Prometheus’ deeds.
If such theory proves to be accurate, then Georgia is not only the location of Prometheus’ eternal punishment but also the very origin of one of the world’s most famous tales.
5. Josef Stalin is Georgian, not Russian.
The existence of the Soviet Union was brief, at least when compared to some nations that have lasted across centuries. However, it left a unique imprint on the world across its 69 years of presence.
And, in its substantial and influential history, none of its figures caused an impact bigger than Josef Stalin. For good or bad, his leadership and visage are the emblems of the Soviet Union, and his name is intimately linked to Russian history.
Except he was not Russian.
Originally named Ioseb Besarionis dzе Djugashvili, Stalin was born in the city of Gori, the current capital of the Georgian region of Shida Kartli. While at the moment the area was part of the Russian Empire, it’s historical, cultural, and language tradition was exclusively Georgian.
Controversial even in Georgia, Josef Stalin’s legacy is a whirlwind of discussion and debate in his homeland. While many reject the worship of his figure by the severity of his actions, many others consider him Georgia’s most notable son and an advocate for Georgia amidst the Russian-dominated USSR. For some Georgians, having Stalin as the undisputed leader was akin to having a representative amidst the Russians. A way to get back at them for centuries of oppressions.
But despite the ongoing controversies surrounding his legacy, it’s undoubted that Josef Stalin was unequivocally Georgian. For him, Georgian Khvanchkara wine was the best in the world, he regularly engaged in supra with his closest acquaintances, and practiced many other Georgian customs regularly.
Stalin was Georgian, born and raised, and the weight of the legacy of its most famous son is something Georgia still struggles with nowadays.
But there is more.
Georgia is a country with ancient history, rich mythology, and a bright future. There are many tales waiting to be told, secrets to be unburied, and stories about to be written.
Exploring it is discovering something new in each corner—dare to do it.