Searching for the Sanctuary of Leukothea in Kolchis
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Strabo mentions a sanctuary of Leukothea, together with an Oracle of Phrixos, in the Moschike somewhere in Kolchis (11.2.17f. 498f.C). O. Lordkipanidze (1972) suggested a location in modern Vani at the confluence of the Sulori and Rioni (Phasis) Rivers. In contrast, D. Braund (1994) proposed an area farther to the east in the Lesser Caucasus (Moschian Mountains), southwest of Borjomi, in the valley of the upper Mtkvari River (Kyros). Both identifications are difficult to accept. First, Ino, the wife of the Theban king Athamas and stepmother of Phrixos, called Leukothea after her apotheosis, was a sea goddess. As such, her cult was widespread along the northern coast of the Mediterranean. Its only attested branch in the Black Sea region should therefore not be sought in the hinterland or far-away mountains. Second, Strabo’s indications do not point to a location east of the mouth of the Phasis, but rather south of it, where the westernmost foothills of the Lesser Caucasus reach the sea. Third, we can now contextualize Strabo’s historical references in detail: the sack of the sanctuary by Pharnakes II occurred after his defeat at Zela in Pontos by Caesar and before his final battle against Asandros near Pantikapaion. Since both battles occurred within no more than a month, Pharnakes had no time to march through the Kolchian hinterland, let alone to lay siege to its fortifications, when sailing back to Pantikapaion in August 47 BC. As a result, the Leukotheion most likely stood out as a landmark for sailors on their way from Trapezus to Phasis. The Mtsvane Kontskhi (‘Green Cape’), which is now covered by the Batumi Botanical Garden, might have been an ideal location, and the hills of Tsikhisdziri would offer a feasible alternative.
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Altay Coskun (2020). Searching for the Sanctuary of Leukothea in Kolchis. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/18880