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Trade and cities in medieval Colchis

By Assistant Professor Emanuele E. Intagliata.

Excavations at Machkhomeri – the site (photo: Emanuele E. Intagliata).
Excavations at Machkhomeri – a fragmentary gravestone (photo: Emanuele E. Intagliata).

Since spring 2019 and in collaboration with Davit Naskidashvili (Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University), UrbNet Assistant Professor Dr Emanuele E. Intagliata has been spearheading a project on the evolution of trade and cities along the Rioni river (ancient Phasis, Georgia).

The river Phasis, in Colchis, was renowned by Classical authors Strabo and Pliny to be an important trade route between East and West. Numerous urban settlements flourished along its course because of this trade, including the famous city of Phasis, which still awaits to be discovered.

In the past decades, scholars have mostly been concerned with investigating the Classical history and archaeology of the Colchian lowlands, mostly known by many as the land of the Golden Fleece. This, however, has caused the late antique and early medieval periods to be neglected, thus creating a significant research gap in our understanding of trading patterns in the eastern Black Sea Coast after the fourth century AD. How did trade along the Rioni evolve after the Classical period? Were fluctuations in trade catalyst for the development/abandonment of cities along this river in the Middle Ages?

In May 2019, Dr Intagliata joined forces with Museum Director Elene Gabliani to catalogue and document the medieval material that had been collected from the Rioni delta in the Poti Museum of Colchian Culture in over fifty years of excavations and surveys. In August 2019, together with Rezo Papuashvili (Georgian National Museum), Dr Intagliata co-directed the excavation of the late antique and early medieval settlement at Machkhomeri (near Khobi), which has yielded an exceptional number of Greek inscriptions and carved gravestones. Among the most important discoveries was a multi-burial chamber, whose excavation has brought to light hundreds of imported glass fragments and pottery.  

The study of the data retrieved at Poti and Machknomeri, which will be conducted in winter 2019-2020, will be able to answer questions related to trade patterns and exchange in the western Caucasus.