The true story behind the Myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece

The Spotlight

5 minutes read

Oct 18, 2022

The statue of Princess Medea holding the golden fleece that Jason and his Argonauts retrieved from a dragon-guarded garden in Colchis

What is the story behind the Golden Fleece myth? And how is it related to gold mining? Come dive into this ancient story and learn one thing you probably didn't know about gold.

The significance of gold in mythology and many ancient cultures is a no-brainer.

Throughout history, gold has been a symbol of power and immortality, which is why kings fought wars over it. You could also cover your palace with gold, recast it into a crown, or trade with it and get more stuff.

In short, gold has long been a symbol of anything you may want in this world, or at least that’s what one famous Greek myth says.

Ladies and gentlemen, if you like a bit of history and mythology mixed in with your gold, please listen to the myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece.

What is the myth of Jason and the Golden Fleece?

Jason is a hero of Greek mythology who fought some of the mightiest beasts of his time for one thing: to get the Golden Fleece.

Yes, you read that right: it's a fleece made of gold, or a golden sheepskin rug 🐑 , whatever you want to call it.

We know, it sounds a bit weird, but wait for it! There’s actually a brilliant explanation of why it specifically had to be a golden fleece and not, say, a chest full of gold bars and coins. So listen up.

Jason was on a mission to regain the throne of Iolcus, which was once stolen from his father by his half-uncle Pelias. It looks like it wasn’t a problem for King Pelias to give up the throne… as long as Jason fetched him the Golden Fleece.

As you might expect, the Golden Fleece was not something you could easily pick up at your local store. It was held in the faraway land of Colchis, an ancient region at the eastern end of the Black Sea.

The statue of Princess Medea holding the golden fleece that Jason and his Argonauts retrieved from a dragon-guarded garden in Colchis

Brave and fearless, Jason accepted the challenge and put together a very impressive team of heroes, known as the Argonauts, to go on the quest with him aboard the magical ship, the Argo.

Legend has it, the whole trip lasted around 40 days and was full of thrills and spills. Here’s what (supposedly) happened along the way in a nutshell:

  • The first island that Jason and the Argonauts land on is Lemnos, an island populated only by women 💃. The highlight of this visit? Well, Jason and his Argonauts manage to repopulate the island.
  • The second stop is Bear Mountain 🐻. Jason and the Argonauts fight the army of King Cyzicus, who ends up dead.
  • Then they arrive at the Island of Cius. Jason and the Argonauts are seduced by some beautiful water nymphs 🧜‍♀️ and end up losing Hylas, a companion of Heracles. Heracles goes nuts, allegedly forcing the Argonauts to leave him behind.
  • The next stop is the Island of Bebrycles. Jason and the Argonauts fight King Amycus, who called out one of the Argonauts, Polydeuces, for a boxing match 🥊. Obviously, Amycus doesn’t make it out alive, because… never mess with the son of Zeus!
  • And here we are at the Bosporus, where Jason and the Argonauts save King Phineus from the Harpies, an interesting breed of half-birds 🐦 half-women. These particularly nasty creatures even stole and pooped on literally any food poor Phineus attempted to eat. But phew, Zetes and Calais, the sons of the North Wind, came to his rescue.
  • Then there’s a squeeze through the Sympleglades. The Sympleglades is a pair of clashing rocks 🪨 that smash together whenever a ship sails through them. Luckily, Phineus tells Jason the trick to getting past the stones: let a bird fly through them first. Nice.
  • And finally, somewhere in the stormy waters 🌊 near the end of their journey, Jason and the Argonauts meet the sons of Phrixus, the guy who had brought the Golden Fleece to Colchis in the first place. Here’s how it went down: Phrixus owned a winged golden ram (as you normally do), and decided to sacrifice it to Zeus. He then offered the golden fleece to Aeetes, King of Colchis, who put it in a grove where it remained, guarded by a nasty dragon.

And as Jason and his merry men finally landed on the shore of Colchis, they discovered they had to deal with more than just the dragon.

To retrieve the Golden Fleece, Jason had to:

1) yoke a pair of fire-breathing bulls 🐂,

2) plow a field with the above-mentioned fire-breathing bulls,

3) sow the dragon's teeth,

4) kill the undead armed men who would sprout from the earth.

You would think this is too much for one man to handle. But, as if by destiny, love was there to save the day ♥️. Apparently, Medea, the princess of Colchis, had a thing for Jason and really wanted him to win.

Jason holds the golden fleece and Princess Medea stands next to him

She gave him an ointment that protected him from the fire of the bulls and concocted a sleeping potion that Jason cast into the eyes of the dragon guarding the Golden Fleece.

Here's how it all ended: Jason got the Golden Fleece, successfully reclaimed the throne of Iolcus, and married Medea (spoiler alert: he later dumped her for another woman).

Wow, what a long story!

But what does it really mean, and what's the deal with the Golden Fleece? 🐑

As promised, here's an explanation.

Is Jason and the Golden Fleece a true story?

Here comes a shocker:

The Golden Fleece did exist, quite literally, and refers to a specific method of extracting gold with sheepskins.

The true story behind the Argonauts' adventure:

The wealthy kingdom of Colchis is now known as Svaneti, a mountainous region in northwest Georgia, which is apparently very, very rich in gold.

The map showing early Georgian states of Iberia and Colchis that had great economic and cultural importance during the 15th century BCE.
The ancient kingdoms of Colchis and Iberia (modern-day Georgia) were important regions in the Caucasus area of Eurasia from the 15th century BCE.

According to scientists, ancient villagers in Svaneti used sheepskins to trap the tiny flecks of gold in rivers flowing from the Caucasus Mountains.

This, scientists say, would leave sheepskins imprinted with gold flakes, turning them into “golden fleeces”.

So it is quite possible that the Argonauts' adventures may have been based on a real journey to get the secrets of… this gold extraction technique.

By the way, scientists say you can still find Golden Fleeces on your own today, as locals continue using this gold extraction method.

But if you don't want to deal with a dragon, here’s a safer way to get gold.😉

💡Looking for a fun way to learn more about the history of gold?

Check out some of our best articles:

5 Weird But True Facts About the California Gold Rush

The Golden Secret of Fort Knox

The Mysterious Hunt for Forrest Fenn's Gold Treasure


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