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ADORNMENT AND HISTORY: A symposium on Georgian arts and culture

Ancient Georgia – Crossroads of Europe and Asia

By Iulon Gagoshidze, Senior Researcher, The State Museum of Georgia

Just like mythological Prometheus chained to a rock, Georgia is chained to the mountain range of the Caucasus, a very small country covering 69000 sq. km. and with a population of 5 million people. Notwithstanding its small size, the country was entrusted to play an essential part in the history of the ancient world civilizations.

The Georgian nation -- the most ancient indigenous population in the Caucasus -- has been witness to the birth and fall of the Southwestern Asian civilizations, such as Sumer and Babylon, Kheta and Assyria, Urartu and Achaemenid Persian.

Georgia, situated on the northern borders of these southern civilizations, was the owner and controller of the Caucasus Mountains and has become a kind of buffer state between SW Asia and Europe. The vast majority of trade, military, or cultural contacts and relations between SW Asian civilized states and East European countries were conducted through Georgia, and presented a vital interest for both sides.

When Europe and Asia came face to face with each other the border of these antipodes passed again through Georgia, an accidental witness to and participant in all the contradictions firstly between Rome and Parthia, and later Byzantium and Persia that lasted for centuries. Also during the middle Ages, one part of the Great Silk Road that connected Asia and Europe ran through Georgia.

Being situated at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, in other words between north and south, evoked the creation of an absolutely different, Georgian cultural phenomenon. This cultural phenomenon is neither European, nor Asian, but is equally comprehensible for both of them.

Georgia is not only a part of Europe in Asia, but at the same time it’s an open window from Europe into Asia.

Georgian culture counts its history in millennia and it’s natural that all the phases of its development must have been impacted by external influences, but each of the new exterior influences has been adapted by Georgian creativity so that it becomes an organic part of traditional Georgian culture.

Georgia is considered to be one of the most ancient centers for processing metals in the world. Georgia is rich in ore resources and according to archeological findings, the first metal that ancient Georgians began to use was copper, about 6 000 years ago. In the third millennium BC, the ancestors of modern Georgians had already acquired the technology of processing bronze and other metals such as silver and gold that was mainly exploited for making jewelry.

The ancient golden and silver goods, found as a result of excavations carried out in kurgans (Bedeni, Ananauri, Tsnori) of the early Bronze ages (3rd millennium BC) on Georgian territory, is one more proof that the Georgian artisans already possessed the main technologies of processing metals, such as casting, smithery, granulation, and forging.

The Bedeni golden fibula that has a flat top in the form of a double volute represents the typical style of local jewelry. This same kind of fibula, but made of bronze, is also common in Georgia. However the golden lion (Tsnori) and necklace from Ananuri that were excavated in Kakheti (eastern Georgia), made with the same technology as the Bedeni fibula, evoke traditional reminiscences of Troy (Ancient Greece).

The development of the ancient Georgian jeweler’s art was raised to its highest level during the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC, when the necklace found in one of the Trialeti kurgans was created (dates back to middle Bronze ages). The beads of the necklace are decorated with a very delicate technique called “Gavarsi”. Also here you can find the first examples of semiprecious stone incrustation. The necklace form Thrialeti, which is adorned with real “Gavarsi” technique, represents one of the oldest items in the ancient Jeweler’s art history that parallels other “Gavarsi” artifacts from Egypt, Iran and Troy.

As ancient Georgia was always an organic part of the world civilizations, the Georgian jeweler’s art at all stages of its development acquired the peculiarities of the relevant era, although it always kept and preserved its national characteristics. The note mentioned above makes clear the differences and uniqueness of Georgian works of art from their contemporary foreign production, but also shows how they served as a link for those works that were created in Georgia during different periods of local history with the same periods of the world art history.

The artifacts of ancient Georgian jewelry mentioned above already had the particular signs that were maintained through the whole history of Georgian jeweler’s art and are identified as the national characteristics -- such as the restrictions in using a wide spectrum of colors and the special, artistic ways of selecting and matching them. Georgian artists usually avoided cool and bright colors and rarely used more than two colors in one item. Georgians have never been fond of motley jewels.

Though golden works of art from the late Bronze ages (II - I Millenniums BC) are not so frequent in Georgia, the art of Bronze processing was very well developed. The most attractive bronze works of those periods are miniature sculptures - statues of deer and sheep that are part of compositions designated for ritual services.

The ancient Georgian states of Colchis and then Iberia were created during the early antique period (5th - 4th centuries BC) and during those times the Georgian jeweler’s art began to develop very quickly, and the artifacts were mainly used by the members of royal families and aristocracy. The jewelry excavated in Vani, Sairkhe, Axalgori and other parts of Georgia are real masterpieces on the world level.

Some Georgian jewelry of those periods is influenced by Persian-Achaemenid culture (bracelets) or Greek culture (rings, open oval earrings). Also there are some traces of Egyptian culture (the Vani Pectoral) but, on the whole, the jewel’s art of that period is characterized by its own self-distinction that makes it different from Greek, Persian and Egyptian art.

Georgian diadems, radial earrings and temporal pendants have no analogues in any archeological findings outside of Georgia. And the “Gavarsi” technique in jewel-making is an exceptionally Georgian phenomenon; during that era, Greeks preferred to use spinning and Persians mainly used semiprecious incrustation.

The Hellenistic (3rd-1st centuries BC) and Roman periods (1st-4th A.D.) were marked by the extreme use of semiprecious stones that was common for all surrounding world. But even then, Georgian artisans kept their cultural traditions and were quite moderate in their usage of colors in semiprecious incrustation. The usage of colors in golden jewelry was restricted to blue (turquoise), red (garnet) or sardonyx (red and white).

During the late Antique times (III-IV cc AD), the use of flat-cut stones and colored glass for incrustation became usual (Mtskheta, Armaziskhevi, Ureki). Those works can be considered as the excellent ancestors of Medieval Georgian cloisonné enamel.

The works of Ancient Georgian artisans and their detailed metal-work are evidence of the artistic value of Georgian art and will always represent its aesthetical importance and beauty.

--Iulon Gagoshidze.

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