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King of Colchis
King Aeëtes by Bartolomeo di Giovanni
King of Colchis
PredecessorNone (office established)
IssueMedea, Absyrtus, Chalciope

Aeëtes (/ˈtz/ ee-EE-teez; Ancient Greek: Αἰήτης, romanizedAiḗtēs, IPA: [ai̯.ɛ̌ːtɛːs]), or Aeeta, was the ruler of the eponymous realm of Aea in Greek mythology, a wondrous realm which from the fifth century B.C.E. onward became identified with the kingdom of Colchis east in the Black Sea.[1] The name comes from the ancient Greek word αἰετός (aietós, "eagle").[2]


Aeëtes was the son of Sun god Helios and the Oceanid Perseis, brother of Circe, Perses and Pasiphaë, and father of Medea, Chalciope and Absyrtus. His consort was either (1) Idyia, the youngest daughter of Oceanus,[3] (2) Asterodeia, a Caucasian Oceanid,[4] (3) the Nereid Neaera,[5][6] (4) Clytia,[7] (5) Ipsia[8] or Eurylyte.[9][10]

According to others, he was the brother of Perses, a king of Tauris, husband of his niece Hecate, and father of Medea, Chalciope and Absyrtus. Yet other versions make Aeëtes a native of Corinth and son of Ephyra, an Oceanid,[11] or else of a certain Antiope.[12] Asterope was also one of the possible mothers of Aeëtes.[13] (For a comparative table of Aeëtes' family, see below).


Foundation of Colchis[edit]

Pausanias states that, according to the poet Eumelos, Aeëtes was the son of Helios (from northern Peloponnesus) and brother of Aloeus. Helios divided the land he ruled, and he gave Aloeus the part in Asopia (see Asopus) and Aeëtes the part of Ephyra (Corinth). Later, Aeëtes gave his kingdom to Bounos, a son of Hermes and Alkidameia, and went to Colchis, a country in western Caucasus. When Bounos died, Epopeus, a son of Aloeus who ruled in Asopia, became king of Ephyra too. Aeëtes built a new colony in Colchis, near the mouth of the large river Phasis, and called it Aea.

Flight of two siblings[edit]

Phrixus, son of Athamas and Nephele, along with his twin, Helle, were hated by their stepmother, Ino. Ino hatched a devious plot to get rid of the twins, roasting all the town's crop seeds so they would not grow. The local farmers, frightened of famine, asked a nearby oracle for assistance. Ino bribed the men sent to the oracle to lie and tell the others that the oracle required the sacrifice of Phrixus but before they were able to kill him, Phrixus and Helle were rescued by a golden ram sent by Nephele, their natural mother. Helle fell off the ram into the Hellespont (which was named after her) and died, but Phrixus survived all the way to Colchis, where Aeëtes took him in and treated him kindly, giving Phrixus his daughter Chalciope in marriage. In gratitude, Phrixus gave the king the golden fleece of the ram, which Aeëtes hung on a tree in his kingdom. Aeëtes dedicated the golden fleece to Ares.[14] Phrixus thus lived at the court of Aeëtes for a long time but one day Aeëtes learned from an oracle that he would die at the hands of a descendant of Aeolus and so he killed Phryxus.[15] His sons, on the other hand, managed to return to Orchomenus.

The Argonauts[edit]

Some time later, Jason arrived to claim the fleece as his own. Aeëtes promised to give it to him only if he could perform certain tasks. First, Jason had to plow a field with fire-breathing oxen that he had to yoke himself. Then, Jason sowed into a field the teeth of a dragon which the Colchian king received from Athena, half of it was sowed before by Cadmus in Thebes.[16] These teeth sprouted into an army of warriors. Jason was quick-thinking, however, and before they attacked him, he threw a rock into the crowd. Unable to determine whence the rock had come, the soldiers killed each other. Jason then ran away. Medea fled, too. Aeëtes pursued them in his own ship as they fled, but Medea distracted her father by killing and dismembering her brother, Absyrtus, and throwing pieces of his cadaver overboard. Aeëtes paused to gather the pieces of his son, and thus Jason and Medea escaped.


The mythical Aeetes may have reflected a memory of a historical personage. His name recurs in historical narratives of Classical authors who claim the enduring legacy of Aeëtes in Colchis. Arrian, touring the region in the 2nd century, reports seeing sites and ruins from Aeetes' time. The 5th-century author Zosimus mentions "a palace of Aeetes" standing at the mouth of the Phasis. Local rulers are claimed to have descended from Aeëtes, such as a king of the Phasians from Xenophon's Anabasis and Saulaces, a gold-rich king of Colchis, from Pliny the Elder's Naturalis Historia. Strabo, who treated Aeetes as a historical person, writes that this was "a local name among the Colchians".[17] The name of Aeëtes was borne by a historical Colchian, a 6th-century nobleman in Lazica in the times of Lazic War known from Agathias's account. If naming Aeëtes as the ancestor of the Colchian rulers was not the invention of the classical authors, it is possible that the Colchian rulers regarded themselves as descendants of Aeetes.[18]

Family table[edit]

Comparative table of Aeetes' family
Relation Name Source
Epim. Hom. Hesiod Naup. Soph. Pindar Apollon Dio. Cic. Diop. Ovid Str. Val. Apol. Hyginus Ael. Paus. Orph.
Odys. Theo. Frag. Scyth. Sch. Oly. Arg. Sch. Met. Fab. Sch. Arg.
Parentage Helios and Ephyra
Helios and Perseis
Helios and Antiope
Helios and Asterope
Siblings Circe
Consort Idyia
Children Medea
Chalciope or
Absyrtus / Apsyrtus or


  1. ^ Pindar Pythian Odes 4.11, 4.212; Simonides PMG545 (Schol. Eur. Med. 19).
  2. ^ Yarnall, Judith (Jan 1, 1994). Transformations of Circe: The History of an Enchantress. University of Illinois Press. p. 28. ISBN 0252063562. Retrieved 2015-06-30.
  3. ^ Hesiod, Theogony 960; Apollodorus, 1.9.23; Hyginus, Fabulae 25; Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 3.243–244; Cicero, De Natura Deorum 3.19
  4. ^ Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 3.241
  5. ^ Scholia on Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica, 3.242
  6. ^ Preston's note to Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 3.330 "Asterodea" (p. 168) quoting "Sophocles assigns them, as their parent, Neera, one of the Nereids" & "Now in his hands" (p. 269) quoting "In his Scythians, Sophocles says, that Absyrtus was not the uterine brother of Medea : they were not the offspring of one bed; the youth was newly sprung from a Nereid.—Eiduia, the daughter of Ocean, bore the virgin. "
  7. ^ Hyginus, Fabulae Preface
  8. ^ Scholia on Hyginus, Fabulae 23
  9. ^ Scholia on Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica l.c.
  10. ^ Preston's note to Apollonius of Rhodes, Argonautica 3.330 "Asterodea" (p. 168) quoting the name of Aeetes' wife: "The author of the Naupactica calls her Eurylyte".
  11. ^ Epimenides in scholia on Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 3.242
  12. ^ Scholia ad Pindar, Olympian Ode 13.52; Diophantus in scholia on Apollonius Rhodius, Argonautica 3.242; Tzetzes on Lycophron, 174
  13. ^ Argonautica Orphica, 1216
  14. ^ Roman, L., & Roman, M. (2010). Encyclopedia of Greek and Roman mythology., p. 12, at Google Books
  15. ^ "Hyginus, Fabulae 1-49 - Theoi Classical Texts Library". Retrieved 2022-03-28.
  16. ^ Apollodorus, 1.9.23
  17. ^ Braund, David (1994). Georgia in Antiquity: A History of Colchis and Transcaucasian Iberia, 550 BC–AD 562. Clarendon Press. pp. 11, 30, 90–91. ISBN 0198144733.
  18. ^ Lordkipanidze, Otar (1968). "Colchis in Antiquity". Archaeologia. 19: 35–41.


External links[edit]

  • Media related to Aeëtes at Wikimedia Commons
Regnal titles
New creation King of Colchis Succeeded by