The story of Jason and the band of Greeks known as the Argonauts is one of the oldest and best-known legends of ancient Greece.
According to the legend, a Greek prince named Jason was charged with the task of finding and returning to Greece the golden fleece, the skin of a golden ram. The ram had been sacrificed and its skin hung in a grove, guarded by a sleepless dragon.
Jason set off on a vessel called the Argo, the first warship ever built. After many adventures, Jason and his men reached Colchis, an ancient land on the eastern shore of the Black Sea, in what is now part of the Soviet Union. The king there gave Jason a number of tasks to perform.
One of these was to yoke a pair of fire-snorting bulls to a plow. After that was done, Jason plowed a field and sowed it with dragon’s teeth, from which armed men would grow. Then, helped by the sorceress Medea, Jason managed to carry of the golden fleece and return it to a sacred grove in Greece.
This story was well known before the Greek poet Homer lived. It has long been regarded as a mere legend. But recently, a stone bearing writing from an ancient period was found at Maikop in the Soviet Union, in what was once Colchis. The stone recounts a version of Jason’s story. It tells of a journey to the region by a band of Greeks during an earlier period.
The legend of Jason and the Argonauts is now thought to represent a real voyage by Greeks to the shores of the Black Sea. The golden fleece that Jason and his men were searching for perhaps represented the gold that abounded in the ancient land of Colchis.