Trialeti Chalice

In the thirties of the past century, in the oldest province of Georgia, Trialeti, archaeologists discovered a silver engraved chalice, the work of chased art, on the burial mound near village Sanomeri. Along with other important findings, this discovery caused a great rapture and interest among scientists due to it being a specimen of high-level artisanship, with a plotline of multiform composition. The chalice bears the uniformity with high art of ancient Eastern states and religions. Therefore, the hypothesis that the people at the cradle of civilization had tight links with South Caucasus becomes even more credible.

The scenes of ritual procession with holy vessel is chased on the chalice and in fact, it contains rather interesting allusions about the Georgian ancestors' religious or economic relationships back in XVIII-XVII centuries B.C.  The convex vessel with flat bottom consists of two parts. The lower frieze pictures nine deers and stags heading to the same direction and they seem to be having their mating season. Above them, on the second frieze, there are twenty-two men in masks, holding tall chalices in their hands, as if striving to the supreme deity. The men are wearing national clothes - short jackets (called kulajas) and pointed shoes. They are similar to figures depicted in the art of  Kheta, and their masks bear great likeness to the animal masks worn by priests during the Osiris feast. The supreme deity is sitting in the armchair holding the chalice. In front of him, there is a tall vessel and animals on both sides. Beyond the deity, there is a tree of life - a universal religious symbol of people in all times.

Among many different opinions about the cult and religious function of the Trialeti chalice, the assumption that we deal with the ritual of sacrificing the holy drink to the supreme deity, dominates over others. The question is what sort of drink is offered to the deity by the masked participants of this mystery play.

The majority of scientist-researchers consider, that the contents of these chalices must have been wine, which is quite natural for the ancient country of wine-making culture, i.e. Georgia,  where, much earlier than the Trialeti culture emerged, at the end of the VII millennium, the ancestors of Georgians had possessed grape growing and wine making techniques.

Despite the fact that such opinion has been substantiated by many objective facts, it is still considered a prior probability and cannot be the only truth - we could imply beer in the place of wine, given that beer had been as much an old culture as wine. The pursuit for its cradle leads us to Sumerian state, the country, whose cultural streams had flown to Georgia too.

The comparison of the Trialeti chalice plotline with ritual festivities known in ethnography that have been well preserved to our days in a relatively isolated world – mountains, enables us to make interesting conclusions about the history of beer in Georgia.

The visual side of the ritual of mountain people has a great appeal, and with just a little imagination, one can easily draw parallels between the religious mystery of the Trialeti chalice and Khevsurian rite: the patriarch, the chief of clan of Khevsureti sitting on a stone stool in a cloister, performs the ritual. God's children approach him and offer up blessings toasting with the holy drink. There are offerings nearby, sacrificial animals, whose blood is used to baptize the chief of clan and the beer. Here is the holy tree, as a symbol of dwelling of Khevsurian deities. Beer, as a heavenly drink is sacrificed to the deity and the whole feast is the manifestation of this idea. Toasting with beer to the glory of the deity expresses the communion with Gods. Moreover, the vessels that the masked figures on the chalice are holding do not seem to be quite adequate for drinking wine, but they could rather be extremely suitable for beer.


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