Anglo-Georgian Expedition to Nokalakevi: History

Nokalakevi's locale
The site consists of a lower town and a citadel, set in a loop of the river Tekhuri where it emerges from a gorge in the mountains onto the Colchian plain (to which Jason and the Argonauts are said to have travelled). The lower town borders the river to the south and west and a steep slope to the north. Perched on the crest of this ridge sits the citadel with fine views across the plain to the south and east. Walls connect the two parts of the city. On the east side of the lower town, unprotected by nature, successive rulers built three parallel defensive walls with towers and a strongly fortified gate.


  • Overview
  • Begining
  • The Georgian Expedition
  • Civil War
  • The Anglo-Georgian Expedition
  • Site Chronology
  • Maps

The ruins at the village of Nokalakevi were recognised as historically important as early as 1834 when the Swiss philologist Frederic Dubois du Monpéreux identified them as the Colchian Archaeopolis mentioned by the Late Roman historians Procopius of Caesarea and Agathias of Myrina.
Archaeological work was first undertaken in 1930 by the German archaeologist A.M. Schneider who in excavating a tower and gateway, discovered a hoard of Byzantine coins from the reign of the Emperor Maurice (584 -602). Excavations were not resumed until 1973 when the Janashia State Museum of History initiated large-scale archaeological and conservation work at the site and in the surrounding region up to 1991.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and subsequent civil unrest in Georgia the expedition suffered severe damage to its infrastructure. In 2000 AGEN and the Georgian State Museum agreed to resume excavation, which continue until the present day.

Financed by Not Gemeinschaf, Alphonse Maria Schneider from Freiburg’s University, went to Georgia in December 1930 and sampled the settlement by excavating 30 small trenches in different areas throughout the site. Unfortunately, due to the political conflict between Russia and Germany at the time, his work was stopped short after 2 months never to return.
In the intervening 42 years, the territory became densely wooded and the archaeopolis became occupied by 6 houses and a cemetery. A silk manufacture was also working there.

In 1973, the National Museum formed the Nokalakevi expedition under the leadership of Parmen Zakaraia. In the first 7 years, extensive work was undertaken to prepare the Archaeopolis for excavation, clearing it of vegetation and occupation.
Between 1980 and 1990, the Georgian Expedition excavated 6 churches, (one from 4th century, 1 from the 5th Century and 4 from 6th century), 2 bath houses from the 4-6th century and 2 royal palaces from the 4-6th century AD.
In addition, a well preserved tunnel, a water system, a number of watch towers and very strong fortification system, (which doesn't have any analogy in the Caucasus) were also discovered.
With the latter structures being of the 4-6 centuries, a main research priority was to concentrate on the architecture and archaeology of those periods. With literature (Juansheri, Leonti Mroveli, Zime Vakhushti) also describing the area as a Hellenistic necropole during the 3rd to 2nd centuries BC, excavations also took place to confirm these accounts.
Some of the most illuminating results of the excavations and research during this 10 year period shows a bead workshop, a small metallurgy workshop and an area of likely ritual significance with the discovery of 100 pieces of ceramic zoomorphological figurines. Some of the most important information to come out of this period of excavation is the stratigraphical matrix of the site, which is the only example from the area.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and subsequent domestic turmoil in Georgia brought a shortfall in funding with the consequent effect of halting scientific work at the site.
During the civil war of 1993 the site of Nokalakevi was intensively fought over, changing hands at least four times and being twice briefly occupied by the forces of Zviad Gamsakhurdia (incidentally illustrating the continuing strategic importance of its location). Regrettably the expedition’s material infrastructure suffered major damage at this time, including the destruction of part of the expedition base, serious damage to the rest, the theft of most of its movable equipment and the looting of the Nokalakevi museum. Despite these setbacks and a desperate shortage of funds, limited work continued to be undertaken during the 1990’s by Dr. Lomitashvili and Dr. Lortkipanidze.

The idea of the present collaboration was first raised in private discussions between Mr Colvin and Dr. Lomitashvili in 1999. In 2000 the British and Georgian leaders of the expedition traveled to the site to explore possible research agendas and work out details of strategy for archaeological excavation and post-excavation work. It became clear at an early stage that there was still a phenomenal amount of information to be gleaned from the site and that in general it would be beneficial to link up all existing records of survey and excavation results with an ongoing programme of archaeological works.
From 2001, excavation at Nokalakevi formally resumed under the The Anglo-Georgian Expedition and is growing from strength to strength with committed research agendas.





pre-8th century BC

Late bronze/early iron age

'Qulha' mentioned in Urartian sources: including West Georgia & Tao-Klarjeti.

1st 'heroic' age ca. 12th c. BC: Jason & the Argonauts' mythical quest for the Golden Fleece in Colchis; Aeetes, his daughter Medea & his capital Aea, captured the imagination of later Greeks & Georgians.

8th-7th centuries BC

Pre-antique (end of early iron age)

Cimmerian and Scythian invasions of East & West Georgia destroy central authority.

Double-headed animal figurines; ritual hearths/squares; bead & metal workshops. First large scale ceramic finds—all produced locally.

6th-4th centuries BC

Early antique

Settlement of Ionian Greeks on East Black Sea coast. Kingdom of Colchis mentioned by Greek geographer pseudo-Scylax.

First imports of amphorae, black slip ceramics, jewellery and glass, from Attica, Ionia and Aegean. Local ceramics strongly represented in finds.

3rd-1st  centuries BC


Begins with Alexander the Great's semi-legendary contemporaries Parnavaz & Kuji last third of 4th century BC; ends with the Mithridatic wars, Pompey's invasion of the Caucasus 67/66 BC, and the subsequent Roman settlement of the East.

Continued imports & new styles of local production. Clay timber buildings; furnished pot burials, cremations & inhumations.
Kuji founds Tsikhegoji (Nokalakevi).
2nd Georgian 'heroic' age. 10th c AD Kartlian sources describe a legendary 'liberation' of Georgia from Alexander's Greeks & the unification of East & West Georgia under King Parnavaz & his deputy the West Georgian Eristavi (ruler) Kuji.

1st c. BC – 3rd c. AD


Pompey the Great's invasion through to Diocletian (284-305AD)/ Constantine (308-337) & the conversion of the Caucasus & Roman worlds to Christianity.

Largely absent from Nokalakevi; in West Georgia as a whole the vast majority of finds come from the coastal regions or the Kartli-Iberian borders. Literary sources (Arrian) describe four kingdoms in  West Georgia: Lazika, Apsilia, Agasgia & Saniges.

4th-8th centuries AD


From Constantine the Great & Christianity to the first Arab invasions of West Georgia 735-7 AD (Murwan ibn Muhammad).

Majority of the visible standing architecture in upper & lower town is dated to 4th‑6th cc. AD. Byzantine literary sources describe Byzantine-Sasanian wars in unified Lazika-Egrisi, & in the South Caucasus in the 6th century. Armenian & Kartli-Iberian sources provide info on wider South Caucasian world. Later Georgian sources' interest in a 3rd 'heroic' age of 'unification' under Vakhtang Gorgasali.

8th-10th centuries AD

Abkhazian kingdom

From latter part of 8th century AD to Bagrat III's unification of Georgia in 978.

Very few finds in Nokalakevi from 6th century until 16th century.

10th-15th centuries AD

Bagratid period

From Bagrat III's unification of Georgia in 978 until the breakup of this first unified Georgian kingdom in second half of 15th century.

Possible 11th century additions to 40 Martyrs Church.


15th-19th centuries AD

Mingrelian principality

From the breakup of the first Georgian kingdom until Russia's protectorate of the Georgian principalities at the early 19th century.

A branch of the princely Dadiani family lived at Nokalakevi, constructed folly & church bell tower;  repaired 'palace' and some earlier walls and towers. Work typified by mixed use of robbed stone from earlier walls and river cobbles.

19th century to 1973


From Russian annexation to the beginning of modern large-scale archaeological work.

Dubois du Montpéreux suggests (1833/9) that Nokalakevi may be Aeetes' 12th c. BC Aea and the Archaeopolis of the 6th c. AD Byzantine sources. Growing interest leads to 1930-1 expedition under Schneider & eventually to modern excavations, 1973-today.


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