The Golden Beads in Pre-Antique Colchis

The oldest golden objects date back to the 3rd millennium B.C. They were found in Eastern Georgia, in the so-called graves of early-Korgan culture. During the following period – in Trialeti Korgan culture of the Middle Bronze Age – Georgian goldsmithery achieved a quite high level of development. During the Late Bronze Age, it underwent a particular degradation. This tendency was seen in Colchis as well as in other leading centres of goldsmithery. The degradation could be stipulated by particular socio-economic and cultural changes. The Late Bronze and Early Iron Ages were the periods of crucial changes in Asian and Caucasian regions. Some big or small states and tribes appeared and disappeared during this time. Many destructive fights caused the migration of people [Javakhishvili… 1987:12].

  After magnificent Trialeti culture, the re-flourishing of goldsmithery began in Georgia of the pre-Antique period. This was the period of the development of goldsmithery, which facilitated the creation of wonderful golden objects of Vani and Sairme.

  The golden objects of this period became known as a result of archaeological researches of the last decades, especially, after Colchis expedition was leaded by T. Mikeladze. The expedition “transformed” collective graves, pits and monuments of different character into the objects of in-depth researches. The majority of materials were found in such graves and pits. Beforehand only several objects were accidentally discovered as treasures. 

  The impulses common with the external world were always felt in Colchian goldsmithery. This fact was stipulated by an active involvement of our country and, especially, Colchis in cultural, trade and economic processes of the world.

The discovery of the golden objects of this period was important. It coincided with that time, when Colchis was firstly mentioned in written sources of Greece and Urartu. This fact should indicate not only to the discovery of golden objects, but to the flourishing of this region as well.

  The paper aims at the discussion of golden beads –  the category of objects characterizing the goldsmithery of pre-Antique Colchis.

  Beads represent one of the oldest, numerous and diverse types of jewellery. We come across them in the oldest samples of goldsmithery of the 4th century B.C. found in Varna (Bulgaria).  After the third millennia B.C., the beads spread in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Asia Minor and afterwards, some forms of beads reached different regions (Kiklads, in Elada) of Greece via the migrants from Asia Minor [Higgins, 1985:76]. We come across three major forms of the world’s ancient beads: spherical, bicone and cylindrical. Technologically, granulation and filigree could be singled out. They were well known in Mesopotamia, Syria and Asia Minor, while in Egypt and Greece they spread later, after the beginning of the second millennium B.C. [Higgins, 1980:20-21].

  The impulses depicting old traditions are noticed in the golden products of the pre-Antique period. We come across a great variety of beads technologically made via granulation, filigree and sheet gold. Moreover, three forms of beads - spherical, bicone and cylindrical – are singled out.

We distinguish their two types: Tchvirian and whole beads. Tchvirian beads comprise:  the beads made of wiry stems and the beads, which have the Tchvirian effect. The whole beads can also be divided into different types. They will be discussed later. 

The Tchvirian beads made of wiry stems represent the most diverse group. According to today’s data, they were discovered on the territory of Western Georgia – in the raves of Tsaishi N1 [Papuashvili… 2015:16. pic. 7412.13], N 2 [Papuashvili… 2015:20. pic. 857,8,9] and in the treasures of Norisi [Gagoshidze, 1972:12-18] and Partskhanakanevi [Gagoshidze, 1972:20-22]. In Eastern Georgia they were presented in Narekvavi [Narekvavi, 1999: 110-112] graveyard, in Tskhinvali treasure [Gagoshidze, 1972:22-25] and in the 16th district of Urbnisi [Gagoshidze, 1972:26-27], in the remains of the grave. Chronologically, Tsaishi N2 grave is the earliest complex consisting similar beads, which date back to the 1st quarter of the 1st millennium B.C. [Papuashvili, 2010:32-42].  Tsaishi N2 grave dates back to the end of the 8th millennium and the 7th millennium [Papuashvili… 2015:9-10].

  On the basis of the cornelian red spherical beads (similar beads are found in both treasures), researcher B. Kuftin dates Norisi and Partskhanakanevi beads to the 8th-6th centuries B.C.  [Куфтин, 1949: 169, 177]. A similar bead is presented in Tskhinvali treasure, which existed during the same period. Narekvavi N 41 dates to the 7th-5th centuries B.C. [Narekvavi, 1999: 110-112]. However, I believe that the above-mentioned product should belong to the goldsmithery of the pre-Antique period, because we do not come across this type of beads afterwards. This idea is confirmed by the colouring of the gold  (lighter colouring), which is the characteristic of the goldsmithery of the pre-Antique period and is rarely met in the samples of the Classical Age. It is worth mentioning that L. Chilashvili approximates Urbnisi monument to Akhalgori treasure and treats both of them as contemporaneous ones. However, I. Gagoshidze quite fairly assigns them to the goldsmithery of the pre-Antique period and treats them as the products of the 7th-6th centuries via relying on the stylistic characteristics of a button-like object [Gagoshidze, 1972:27].

We come across spherical and cylindrical beads among the Tchvirian ones. In one case, the bead consists of cylindrical golden wires soldered on the tube. They are met in Tsaishi N1 and N2 graves, in Nosiro and in Narekvavi. In some cases, the beads are not accompanied via a tube. The are soldered on two rings. The sphere is created via twisted wires on one of the beads. This is a very refined manifestation of the technique of filigree. The trace of soldering is rarely noticeable and the symmetry is almost ideal (however, it is not as ideal as  the one met in the goldsmithery of the Classical Period). Bicone beads have a belt in the mid and are made from simple as well as twisted wires. Slightly different form has a sphere consisting of bent wires, whose wires are soldered on each other in the mid as well as on two rings at the end. They are met in Nosiri and Narekvavi in combination with the rest of Tchvirian beads (see the table). We can unite Urbnisi bead with the same type. However, instead of a wire, at the ends, it has mid-holed semi-spheres created from a golden sheet. On the spheres, along the circumference, 4-4 semi-circles of a double wire are soldered. They are inserted in one another and the sphere is created in such a way. Tskhinvali bead has slightly different form. It is created via 12-12 bent wires appearing from the wire soldered to the ends of the axes.

Similar Tchvirian beads have parallels in different epochs and cultures. The earliest parallel is discovered on one of the necklaces from Tireatis, which belongs to early Helladic period and dates back to the 22nd century B.C. [Higgins, 1980:P1.1]. Despite a great similarity of forms, it is impossible to prove their connection to Colchian beads due to a long chronological gap. However, this fact should be noted. The similar beads are met in the jewellery of Queen Tausert – a descendant of Ramzes II (the 12th century B.C.) [Lesko, 1966:29:32].  A great number of beads is met in Armenia: in Metsamori N 11 grave, which dates back to the 12th -9th centuries B.C. [Khanzadyan, 2007: tab.LXVII], in Lori-Berdi grave N 29, which dates back to the 9th -8th centuries B.C. [Khanzadyan, 2007: tab.LVII] and in Lori-Berdi graves N62 [Khanzadyan 2007: tab.LXXVII], N56 [Khanzadyan, 2007: tab.LXXVIII], N63 [Khanzadyan, 2007: tab.LXXXIII] and N64-II [Khanzadyan, 2007: tab.LXXXVII], which date back to the 7th century B.C. A few number of beads (2 and 2 respectively) are presented in the earlier monuments  -  Metsamori and Lori Berdi N 29 graves. Moreover, according to their forms, the beads discovered there seem more archaic than the samples found in the graves of the 7th century B.C. They are more diverse and numerous. It is also noteworthy that besides the beads of a similar type discovered in some graves (Lori-Berdi N56-II), there were found other types of objects  -  the triangular pendants, the fibula-like object, the big radiant earring -  characterising Colchian goldsmithery of that period.

According to its form, Tchviruli bead of the second type can be related to the heads of the fibula of the 14th- 13th centuries B.C., which was found in Kviratskhoveli [Гамбашидзе, 1985: 31-36]. As it was already mentioned, we do not come across similar types of beads in the goldsmithery of Colchis  of the following period. However, these Tchvirian forms continued their existence on the so-called Tchiruli-globular earrings, which were discovered in Vani N 9, 11 and N 22 (Kacharava... 2009: 261; Kacharava... 2008:84] graves, Pitchvnari N 1 and N 5 graves [Makharadze… 2007:32-33, 50-56], Itkhvisi  N 3  grave [Gagoshidze… 2006:46-48] and on Pitchvnari Greek Necropolis [Kakhidze… 2014:91-92, pic. 54]. They date to the end of the 5th century B.C. and the 4th century B.C.

  Therefore, the parallels of these types of beads are found in the Early Helladic period of the 22nd century B.C. However, I believe that their relation to Colchian beads must be excluded. It is also interesting that the similar type is not met in other leading centres of goldsmithery (in Greece, in Etruria, etc.), which were contemporaneous to Colchis of the pre-Antique period.

  The beads discovered in Colchis and in Armenia are chronologically close to the Egyptian well-dated necklace. Therefore, I suppose that almost analogous objects discovered in Egypt, Armenia and Georgia can be contemporaneous. A general date of their spread may be the Late Bronze Age-the Early Iron Age.  We can suppose their Georgian origin due to the fact that they are  presented diversely and numerously on the Georgian monuments. The Armenian samples may be the result of the infiltration of Colchian culture in Armenia. This is proved by goldsmithery as well as other products and facts [Papuashvili, 2003:63-65]. After the Classical Period, such beads have not been presented in Colchian and Armenian goldsmithery (despite the fact that numerous beads having diverse forms were produced at that epoch). Therefore, they can be considered as the details characterising Colchian goldsmithery of the pre-Antique period. Moreover, from the viewpoint of the Tchvirian motif, the earlier prototypes of these beads were the fibulas with Tchvirian heads of the Late Bronze Age (from Kviratskhoveli) and the Tchiruli-globular earrings from Vani, Sairkhe, Itkhvisi and  Pitchvnari. Therefore, they have a genetic relationship with the jewellery of  earlier as well as following periods. 

The second group of Tchvirian beads is presented by the samples discovered in Partskhanakanevi and Tskhinvali. Their belongingness to the Tchirian type is reached by a different technological method. There is one bead of this type in Partskhanakanevi treasure, while Tskhinvali treasure presents five ones. According to the design, geometrical images are very close to other samples of contemporaneous Colchian goldsmithery as well as the décor of the goldsmithery of other cultures (Etruria, Phoenicia, Greece, etc.).   

The Partskhanakanevi bead is created from the hemispheres of a pale golden thin sheet (see the table). The hemispheres are soldered in the midst, along the bend. The bead has a white copper / lead pipe, which is circled with golden wire rings. The ends of these rings are tightly surrounded by a thin wire.  In 8 mm distance from it, on the surface of the bead, the similar thin wire ring is soldered. In the midst there are nine triangles directed to the external wire by their bases and to the end by their tops. The tops lean the inner ring in such a way that the granulated nine-rayed star is created around it. The whole surface of the bead is covered with the tight granulated rhombus-cellular net. In the midst the area is perforated by a tetrahedral-traverse tool that creates the impression of the bead build by granulations without a lamellar basis. This makes the impression of the Tchvirian handicraft [Gagoshidze, 1972:21].

  As I have already mentioned, five beads made with the same technic were discovered in Tskhinvali treasure [Gagoshidze, 1972:22-25]. Three of them are almost analogous to the Partskhanakanevi bead. However, the granulated nets covering the surfaces of the beads are larger here. The fourth bead is almost the same. However, the interval between granulated rings is larger and every cell of the net is additionally cut into two rectangles via three grains. The septum is alternately bent to the left or to the right. The ornament finally acquires the image of the swastikas inserted in large rhombuses. Every cell is perforated here. At the ends, the star is depicted. On the one side, it consists of eight rays. On the other side, the master tried to make a similar star. However, he managed to create the seven-rayed deformed star. The fifth bead is slightly different. However, the technique of creation is the same. It is made of two hemispheres, which have the spindle with soldered wire rings at the end. On the surface of the bead, thick, distanced globules are soldered in seven parallel rows. They have the form of ¾ of the sphere.

  Partskhanakanevi and Tskhinvali beads have no direct analogues, but according to their forms, they are close to Kazbegi spherical globular earrings [Lortkipanidze, 2015:193, 206-207], which should be chronologically very close in accordance to their colouring. The similar bead is discovered in Sairkhe grave N1, which dates back to the 5th century B.C. [Makharadze… 2007:tab.1]. According to their décor they are close to other samples of Colchian goldsmithery of the same period. Decoration of beads with granulation was known to the goldsmithery of the proceeding (Trialeti) as well as following periods. The bead decorated with a golden wire and granulation was met in Mycenae goldsmithery of the 15th century. Geometrical images made from granulation were actual in contemporaneous Etruscan, Finical Ionian and Urartian goldsmithery. Similar beads became actual in the golden products of Sarmatian period.

  Therefore, the beads having Tchvirian effect are created according to the style characterising Colchian goldsmithery of the pre-Antique period, which reflects tendencies of  contemporaneous period (geometricity and granulation) spread in the western world.

  Cylindrical beads decorated with granulation belong to the type of whole beads. Among them we come across the samples created from granulated globules and the samples made from golden sheets partially decorated with granulated globules.

Nine beads made from granulation and ten beads partially decorated with granulation were discovered in grave N5 of Ergeti I cemetery, which dates back to the second half of the 8th century B.C. and the beginning of the 7th century B.C.  [Микеладзе... 1985: 37-40]. A similar bead is found in Ureki grave N3, which dates back to the same period [Mikeladze, 1985:9-10].

Similar beads continued existence in Colchian goldsmithery of the same period. We come across three cylindrical beads made from granulation in Sairkhe grave N1, which dates back to the 5th century B.C. In contrast to the beads of the Early Antique period, Sairkhe bead  consists of thinner refined granules.

A cylindrical form is one of the ancient forms of beads. We came across cylindrical beads in Mesopotamia, Syria and Egypt, where they were called “the beads of mummies”. They became  fashionable in Mycenaean goldsmithery (they substituted spherical and biconic forms) after the 15th century B.C. and were spread till the 11th century B.C. Cylindrical beads partially decorated with granulation were discovered here (Mikeni  grave N 103, Vapeo, on Tolosa, in Dandra) [Higgins, 1080:76]. 

Similar beads are numerous in Armenia, in Varadzo, in the monument of the 15th -14th centuries B.C., in Ltchaneshi kurgans N 2 and N 10 of the 15th -14th  centuries B.C., in Metsamori graves N 8 and N 11 of the beginning of the 12th century and the 9th century B.C. and in Lori-Berdi grave N 45  of the 9th -8th centuries B.C. [Khanzadyan, 2007].

  They were widely spread in Phoenician goldsmithery of the 7th-5th centuries B.C. [Marshal, 1911:144, pl. 23], in Phoenician colony Cartagena [Quillard, 1979:1-3, pl.1], in Sardisi, in the monument of the 6th century [Özgen, 1966:187], in Greek settlement Panticapeion of the 4th century B.C. and in Sarmatian goldsmithery of the 5th–4th centuries B.C. It is noteworthy that the Panticapeion beads as well as the beads of a similar type were made of thinner granules in Georgia and anywhere else. The beads of a similar form did not lose the popularity later, in the Roman goldsmithery. As we see, their chronology comprises a quite large diapason. After the Mycenaean world, they were numerously found in Armenia’s monuments of the Late Bronze (Vanadzori, Ltchasheni) and the Early Iron Ages. In Lidia the similar beads were spread till the 7th century B.C. It is interesting that in Metsamori graves of the Late Bronze Age we also come across the pendant of the form of the so-called horseshoe, which was found in Georgia, Berikldeebi grave of the Late Bronze Age. The similarity of Armenian and Colchian goldsmitheries enables us to suppose that the beads found in Ergeta should be their contemporaneous and some of them may date back to the Late Bronze Age.

The beads of this type, which are met after the 6th century, are distinguished by refined smaller forms – they are made from the globules of a smaller size and have biconic or rounded forms.

It is also noteworthy that these cylindrical beads decorated with granulation can be similarized with the beads decorated with yellow laces. Supposedly, they were prepared via imitating these beads. Generally, the repetition of the forms of precious metals in the products made from glass and semi-precious stones has been known since the ancient time.

  Therefore, it seems that the cylindrical beads found in Ergeta I grave N 5 and Ureki grave-pit N3 date back to the 7th century B.C. and if we consider the tendency of spreading such beads, they could be produced earlier  -  in the Bronze Age.

  One more type of whole beads is presented by the spherical and biconical beads decorated with laces. Four of them are discovered in the grave-pit N 4 of Ergeti II cemetery, while one was found in the grave-pit N 2 of Ergeti III cemetery. We come across them in Eastern Georgia, in Digomi. Similarly to the golden objects of other category of this period, they are diversely presented in Lori-Berdi cemetery. One of such lacy bronze beads was discovered in Korbani. From one sight, it can be similarized to some types of beads decorated with gems.

One more type is presented by spherical and biconical beads grooved vertically and horizontally. They were discovered in Tsaishi grave-pit N 2 (this is one of the oldest types of jewelry). We come across these beads in Mesopotamian goldsmithery (in rich Uri grave) of the 15th-17th centuries. They were actual in the Greek world until the 15th century B.C. (however, they are met more or less frequently in the goldsmithery of all periods). These beads were spread on the territory of Eastern Greece, Lidia and Phoenicia in the 9th–7th centuries B.C. In Georgia and outside its borders the repetition of similar forms was presented in the beads made from semi-precious stones. On Georgia’s territory we come across them in the goldsmithery of the previous and following periods (Algeti, Vani and Sairkhe rich graves). As it was already mentioned, their great number is found if Armenia.

  Therefore, I believe  that this form of beads came from the eastern world and supposedly, is actively used even today.

 One more group of beads is presented by the beads created from the golden foil filled with a particular mass (or covered with a particular mass). 

Covers of the golden foil were spread in Trialeti goldsmithery. We come across several items of such type of beads in Tlia graves of the Early Iron Age, where they covered pasta. This type of a technique existed in the goldsmithery of the following  period (pasta was mainly used as the filling of a bead).

   Beads created from different materials and covered with the golden foil were met in the 30th–20th centuries B.C. outside Georgia’s borders, particularly, on Crete, where they covered chalcedony or faience fillings. Such beads were also spread in Mycenae graves of the 15th – 11th centuries B.C. There was one tin bead covered with the golden foil in Greece. However, covering an object with a golden sheet should be the Syrian tradition, because this technique was firstly found in this country.

Therefore, it is apparent that Colchian goldsmithery of the pre-Antique period comprises quite diverse and numerous beads, which depict an individual style as well as the merger of the local traditions with the traditions of eastern and western cultures. Despite the fact that it significantly differs from the goldsmithery of the previous and following cultures, it is possible to find a genetic relationship from the technological and formal viewpoints.

It is also noteworthy that one of the characterizing details of the Colchian goldsmithery of the pre-Antique period is a low probe of the gold, which was used for the creation of many objects. The similar tendency is seen in the contemporaneous cultures.  During the discussion of Greek and Lydian goldsmithery, the researchers mention that before the 6th century B.C. more light-colored (color of a lemon) gold was used. Its consistence should not be higher that 75%.  After the 6th -5th centuries B.C. the situation radically changed. It is a well-known fact that a pure gold cannot be found in nature. It is met in composition with silver, copper or other metals (mainly, silver). (Alluvial)  gold found in rivers is purer than the one from a rock layer, because its admixtures oxidize throughout a particular period and a purer gold remains. The technique of the refinement of gold actively appeared after the 6th century B.C. (the formation of a monetary circulation). After this period we come across more beautiful  forms decorated with complex ornaments (granules, golden sheets, filigree), which were more easily created on the refined, high-probe gold.  The Colchian goldsmithery of the pre-Antique period was mainly created from this light-colored gold. However, objects made from the high-probe gold were also met. They could be made from the alluvial gold. The consistence of some of them was proved by a spectral analysis. However, the majority of them needed further study in order to present a clearer picture. During the Classical Period, especially, after the 6th century B.C. the technique of processing and refinement was so high that Colchian goldsmith could create a particular colored effect of objects via the usage of a diverse-colored gold. 



Marshall F.
Catalogue of the Jewellery - Greek, Etruscan and Roman. London.
Papuashvili R.
The Absolute Chronology of Colchian Cemeteries. Archaeological
Kacharava D., Kvirkvelia G.
Wine, Worship, and Secrifice: the Golden Graves of Ancient Vani.
Kacharava D., Kvirkvelia G.
Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia 14.
Quillard B.
Bijoux Carthaginois. I. Les Colliers. Institut Supérieur d'Archéologie et d'Histoire de l'Art.
Gagoshidze I., Gogiberidze N., Makharadze G.
Itkhvisi Cemetery. Archaeological Journal. IV. Tbilisi.
Higgins R.
Greek and Roman Jewellery, Berkeley and Los Angeles.
Kakhidze A., Vikers M.
Pichvnari VI – Colchians and Greeks in the Eastern Coast of Black Sea. The Results of the Work of Georgia-Britain Archaeological Expeditions (2203-2007). Batumi-Oxford.
Lesko L. H.
A Little More Evidence for the End of the Nineteenth Dynasty. Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt. Vol. 5.
Mikeladze T.
Cemeteries of Colchis of Early Iron Age. Caesh. II. Tbilisi.
Journal. V.
The Export of Colchian Bronze. Researches. N 12. Tbilisi.
Куфтин Б.А.
Матеряли к археологии Колхиды. I. Тб.
Javakhishvili A., Abramishvili G.
Jewellery and Metalwork in the Museums of Georgia. Leningrad.
Gagoshidze I.
Materials for the History of Georgian Goldsmithery (the 1st half of the 1st millennium B.C.). Bulletin of Georgian State Museum. XXXII–B. Tbilisi. Metsniereba.
Khanzadyan E.
The Gold of Ancient Armenia (III mill. BCE–14 cent. AD). Yerevan.
Lortkipanidze N.
Old Georgian Jewell. Tbilisi.
Apakidze A.
Essays I (Mtskheta, 1998). Georgian Academy of Science. Tbilisi.




Гамбашидзе О. С.
Отчет о работе Месхет-Джавахетской экспедиции в 1982. - ПАИ, 1982, сс.31-36.
Микеладзе Т. К., Мигдисова Н. П., Папуашвили Р. И.
Исследования Колхидской Археологической експедиции, ПАИ в 1982 Году.
Leonard H. Lesko
A Little More Evidence for the End of the Nineteenth Dynasty, Journal of the American Research Center in Egypt, Vol. 5.
Özgen I.
The Lydian Treasure, Istanbul.