The term was first introduced in early biological anthropology and was coined by the German philosopher Cristoph Meiners in 1795. He used it, he said, not based on any scientific critera, but because, as he said:
“Caucasian variety…. …. and especially its southern slope, produces the most beautiful race of men, I mean the Georgian.” 
It turns out though, that his hypothesis was not entirely flawed. Two Homo erectus skulls dug up in 1999 and 2002 in the Dmanisi region have been dated as approximately 1.6-1.8 million years old. The site is therefore the earliest unequivocal evidence for the presence of early humans outside the African continent.
However, we have to advance a little further in time before we arrive at the beginning of Gerogian history.
The quest for gold
Throughout much of its early history, the territory that corresponds to modern-day Georgia was divided into two Kingdoms – Colchis and Iveria (often known today as “Caucasian Iberia” to distinguish it from Western Iberia, with which it shares no connection).
Colchis is generally thought of as the land to the East of the Black Sea, bounded in the North by the Greater Caucasus mountain range and to the south by the Karadeniz mountains in modern Turkey.
The main river was the river Phasis – now known as the Rioni river – which starts high in the Caucasus. Curiously, it is the river Phasis from which our word “pheasant” is derived, as this was supposed to be the region from which the common pheasant was introduced to Europe.
Most famously too, this was also the river navigated by Jason and his Argonauts. Their intended destination was the city of Colchis – the modern day city of Kutaisi.
The story goes that some time around 1100-800 BC (the Greek Dark Ages), in order to ascend to the throne of Thessaly, Jason was obliged to go and search for the Golden Fleece which was owned by King Aeetes of Colchis.
The “golden fleece” referred to the way the locals panned for gold in the Phasis river. A fleece was placed in the river and nuggets of gold would collect within the wool. And the “golden fleece” was simply a fleece that had turned gold from having collected so many nuggets of gold.
King Aeetes promised to give Jason the fleece if he completed three impossible tasks. Fortunately for Jason, the king’s daughter Medea had fallen in love with him and used her magic to help him complete the ordeals, and thus claim the fleece (and subsequently the crown of Thessaly) for himself.
The legend explains much of the Greek’s interest in travelling to the Caucasus, since lacking this precious metal in the Peleponese, they were forced to travel East to find it.
And Caucasian gold was famous. Today, in the museum of Georgia, there is a fabulous display of Georgian gold objetcs, most of it dating from between the 8th and 3rd centyru BC.
Gold mining in Georgia began in the 4th-3rd millenium BC, but goldsmithery attained a new stage of development in the 2nd millenium BC when we start to see the influence of the near-Eastern world. However, after the fall of the Trialeti culture in the 2nd millenium BC gold items, gold items disappear from view until the 6th-8th centuries BC.
Some of the items on display in the museum have no analogue anywhere in the world. Excavations from Vani – a short distance from Kutaisi – have exposed some extraordinary discoveries, from burials dating 450-250BC. The bodies of the elite were typically adorned with a resplendent array of gold jewellery. Pictured is a gold lion excavated at Tsnori (in the Kakheti region) and dating from the early Bronze Age.
Iveria was invaded in 65BC by the Roman general Pompey but he never established a permanent power in the region. It was not until 36BC that the Romans marched on Iveria again, and this time Iveria freely accepted Roman protection. An inscription has been found on a stone at Mtskheta which commemorates this.
The spread of Christianity in present-day Georgia is still not clearly understood, but it is generally accepted that it was the preaching of Saint Nino who responsible for much of it.
Confusingly, for many of us speaking a Latin-based language (Georgian in not Indo-European), the name “Nino” in Georgian is feminine. According to tradition, she was the daughter of a Roman General from Cappadocia who preached in Kartli in the 4th century AD. As the Christian Byzantine Empire expanded eastward, western Georgia fell under its sway, whereas the Eastern parts of present day Georgia continued to be influenced by the Persians until the Seljuks arrived in the 11th and 12th centuries.
Another National Hero
During the middle ages, Georgia was Unlike the children’s TV character with whom he shares an epithet, David IV of Georgia – known as “The Builder” – of the Bagrationi dynasty was king of Georgia from 1089 until his death in 1125. He drove the Seljuks out of Georgia and instigated its medieval golden age.
His great grand-daughter Queen Tamar (1184-1213) controlled territory that stretched from western Azerbaijan to Eastern Turkey including many Armenian-populated regions.
Georgia is also famed as the home of viticulture and winemaking. Wine was first produced in Georgia around 6000BC and has almost certainly our latin word “vino” is derived from the Georgian word ღვინო – ghvino. Uniquely, much Georgian wine is fermented in amphorae buried beneath the ground to maintain a constant temperature – a technique which reputedly stretches back to the very earliest vintages.
For centuries, Georgians drank their wine from hollowed-out animal horns – which indeed they still do today for drinking their traditional toasts. But wine gained further significance in Georgian culture after St Nino preached Christianity in Khartli with a cross made of vine wood.
Today most of Georgia’s wine comes from the Kakheti region in the East of the country and though it is possible to distinguish over 400 different varieties of indigenous Georgian vines only 38 are used to produce wine commercially today.
Undoubtedly, the other reason for visiting Georgia is its spectacular scenery. No one who visits here can fail to be moved by the beauty of the mountains. In particular, one calls to mind the beautiful 14th century Tsminda Sameba church – also known as the church of the Holy Trinity – in the mountains above Kazbegi.
To watch an eagle soar over this iconic church is one of the most memorable travel experiences.
1 Blumenbach, De generis humani varietate nativa (3rd ed. 1795), trans. Bendyshe (1865). Quoted e.g. in Arthur Keith, ‘”Blumenbach’s Centenary”, Man (journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland), v.40, p.82-85 (1940).