Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Three Ancient Legends of Georgia, Including the Mystery of the Silver Grapevine Tubes

While visiting the Georgian National Museum, we learned of three ancient legends of Georgia, and the first two are connected to wine.

Saint Nino and Her Grapevine Cross

Legend says that the apostles Simon and Andrew came to Georgia sometime after the death of Jesus to convert the country to Christianity.  However, they were ignored by the Georgians. It took Saint Nino (a female), who came to Georgia in 337, to convert the King and Queen.  She did this by making a cross of grapevines tied together with her hair.  This linkage to the vine, which was always important to Georgia, endeared her to the populace, and made the union of wine and religion even stronger.

Gold Jewelry in the Georgian National Museum

The Mystery of the Silver Grapevine Tubes

Another unusual exhibit in the museum is a collection of silver grapevine protectors.  They look like small silver tubes, and have been found in many graves with grapevines inside of them – dating as far back as the 3rd Millennium BC!

No one is a sure what they mean.  Some people think they were buried with the dead so they could plant their favorite vines in heaven.  Others think they symbolize which vines were important to them in life.  There is another viewpoint that the silver tubes were designed to project the vines, and were hidden away from marauders.

The invading marauder story holds some logic, because the Arabs invaded Georgia several times, and in each case destroyed the vineyards.  We were told that the reason for this was because grapes and wine were linked to the Georgian religion, and the invaders wanted to stomp out their religion. In addition, wine is not allowed in the Moslem religion (though it was in the beginning).

Unusual Silver Tubes Protecting Grape Vines - from 3rd Century BC

As tempting as this story is to believe, there are a couple of holes in it. The first is that Islam was not born until 600 AD, and some of the silver tubes are from the 3rd century BC. Also, the Arabs did not arrive in Georgia until the late 700’s, and remained for over 250 years.

According to our guide, “There are many stories about the purpose of the silver grapevine tubes, but no one is sure what they mean.”

Jason and the Golden Fleece

I still remember reading the story of Jason and the Golden Fleece in Greek Mythology, and enjoyed it immensely.  Imagine my surprise to learn that the land where Jason sailed with the Argonauts to get the Golden Fleece was Georgia. 

According to a plaque in the museum, it was actually in the mountainous region of Lechkhumi. This is a region in Western Georgia where there are actually a lot of gold flakes in the streams, so the locals put sheep wool hides in the water to catch the gold. They then hung the hides in the branches of trees to dry. This was well-known at the time (around 1273 BC), so the story actually does seem to have some credence.

Anyway, Jason landed in Georgia, and met the King’s daughter, Medea, who fell in love with him. She helped him find the Golden Fleece and slay the dragon that guarded them.  Though no direct linkage to wine in this story, I’m sure they must have drunk some wine along the way.
Description of the Gold Particles and Sheepskin in Musuem

A Gold Bowl from Ancient Georgia

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