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Aeetes watches as Jason tries to yoke the bulls.
Drawing by Nicolas-André Monsiau, 1754-1837 (Les Métamorphoses d'Ovide, Paris 1806).

Aeetes is the King of Colchis (the land at the eastern end of the Black Sea) who received from Phrixus 1, son of Athamas 1, the Golden Fleece. Later, when the ARGONAUTS came to Colchis, he was betrayed by his own daughter Medea, and lost both fleece and kingdom.

Preliminary notes

After the arrival of Athamas 1's son Phrixus 1, they say, and oracle became known, which declared that Aeetes's kingship would come to an end, whenever strangers landed in Colchis and carried off the Golden Fleece. And fearing this fate, they say, Aeetes offered up in sacrifice all foreigners that came to his country, hoping for the Colchians' cruelty to spread famous throughout the world, so that refugees and immigrants and all other kinds of wanderers, would not dare to set a foot in such a land. For performing this kind of deeds Aeetes has been called both cruel and treacherous. There are those who believe that the story of Aeetes' fire-breathing bulls (tauri) is just a childish invention. Nothing of the sort really existed, they argue, but the bulls just were Taurian guards who had been appointed to guard the Golden Fleece inside a precinct. Likewise they say that the dragon is yet another invention originated in the name of one officer called Dracon. This is the kind of thing, they explain, that the poets usually do; for they transform one thing into the other, and thereby truth is nowhere to be found. As for Phrixus 1, they continue, even a child understands that he did not come to Colchis borne by a flying Ram with a Golden Fleece, but with a ship, which bore the head of a ram upon its bow. And his sister Helle, they argue, did not fall from a flying Ram, for that is absurd, but from the ship: she simply was troubled with sea-sickness and, leaning far over the side of the ship, fell into the sea which was called Hellespont after her. Others, who also deny the existence of the Ram with the Golden Fleece, affirm that Phrixus 1 was adopted by a king of Scythia and son-in-law of Aeetes, and that, when he was adopted, they sacrificed Phrixus 1's attendant, whose name was Crius (Ram), flaying him and nailing his skin up on the temple. Later a wall was built about the shrine in order to protect the attendant's valuable skin from the greed of intruders.

Aeetes came from Corinth

It is said that the land of Ephyra or Ephyraea, which later was called Corinth, was given to Aeetes by his father Helius, whereas Asopia, which is a district in the neighboring region of Sicyonia, was given by Helius to his other son Aloeus 2. Aeetes, however, did not remain in Corinth or within the territory which today is called "Greece" or "Hellas", but instead emigrated to Colchis, the land at the eastern end of the Black Sea which bears in our days (AD 2000) the name of "Georgia". On leaving for Colchis, Aeetes entrusted the kingdom to Bunus, the son of Hermes and Alcidamea, and when Bunus died, Epopeus 1, who some call son of Aloeus 2, brother of Aeetes, extended his own kingdom to include Corinth. These are the reasons why, when later the Colchian princess Medea came to Hellas, she became Queen of Corinth. However, it is also told that Medea lived in this city, not as a queen but as an exile, and that Corinth at that time was ruled by King Creon 3, who died because of Medea's plots. Afterwards she left for Athens where she married King Aegeus 1, father of Theseus.

The Golden Fleece comes flying to Colchis

In any case, while Aeetes was king in Colchis, Phrixus 1, son of Athamas 1 and Nephele 2, came flying through the sky from Thessaly in northern Hellas to that distant land, borne by the Ram with the Golden Fleece, which he did in order to save his life, then endangered by the plots staged by his father's second wife Ino. Some have said that this prowess was useless, for, they say, on his arrival, or perhaps later, he was killed by King Aeetes, who feared, because of an oracle, the descendants of Aeolus 1. But others have said that in Colchis Phrixus 1 married Chalciope 2, daughter of Aeetes and Idyia, and that, after having fathered many children, he died of Old Age. They also add that there suddenly appeared, at the moment of his death, a flame in heaven, and the Ram with the Golden Fleece was commemorated in a vast constellation called Ram or Aries. For this reason the Ram with the Golden Fleece may be said to have gained immortality, but before this and for all practical and ritual purposes, Phrixus 1, on arriving to Colchis, sacrificed the Ram to Zeus and gave the fleece to his new lord King Aeetes, who nailed it to an oak in a grove of Ares, guarded by a sleepless Dragon, offspring of Gaia.

Jason in quest of the Golden Fleece

As a result of political instability in Iolcus, the city in Thessaly on the coast of the Gulf of Pagasae, King Pelias 1 bade Jason to go in quest of the Golden Fleece, and he, gathering the best fifty men of his time, sailed to Colchis in order to fetch this interesting item. For this purpose a ship was built which was called "Argo", and those who followed Captain Jason were called ARGONAUTS. After several difficulties the ARGONAUTS came to the river Phasis in Colchis, which today is called Rion. There they let down the sails and entered the stream of the river with oars, rowing until they reached, on the left shore of the river, the city of Aea where Aeetes' palace was. On the opposite side of the river, there was the grove of Ares, where Aeetes kept the Golden Fleece. Aea was at this time an architectural wonder, with wide gates, lines of columns round the walls, hanging vineyards, and fountains that gushed milk, wine, oil, and water that could be warm or cold depending on the season. Most of these things had been designed and fashioned by Hephaestus, who also wrought a couple of brazen-footed bulls which breathed fire through their mouths of bronze, and which he gave to Aeetes. The king himself ruled with a firm hand, for it has been said that in his palace

"… there was no one who relaxed his toil, serving the king." (Apollonius Rhodius. Argonautica 3.275).

Aeetes warned in his dreams

To this city the ARGONAUTS came determined to steal the Golden Fleece. However, King Aeetes was not unaware of what some day could happen to this cherished item. For Phrixus 1, some say, who by this time had already passed away, came to Aeetes in his dreams and warned him, saying:

"… dolour and ruin of your realm shall abound for you what time the fleece is stolen …" (Valerius Flaccus, Argonautica 5.236).

Then the ghost of Phrixus 1 gave the man who had once allowed him to settle in Colchis yet another advice: to marry his daughter Medea to any suitor and let her leave the kingdom. That is why Aeetes, following the dream, betrothed Medea to King Styrus of Albania, who happened to come to Colchis to marry Medea at the time when also the ARGONAUTS arrived in the country. King Styrus drowned while pursuing Jason and his friends. It has been also said that a civil war had broken up in Colchis at the time when the ARGONAUTS came. For on account of the Golden Fleece, which some wished to give back and others to keep, there was no little fighting and burning and killing, King Aeetes being opposed by his own brother Perses 3. Some have said that the ARGONAUTS joined the army of Aeetes in this conflict, but others have not heard of these facts or have chosen to disregard them altogether, supposing that Colchis was at peace when Jason and his friends arrived to the city of Aea.

Jason. Marble, third quarter of the 16th century. Victoria and Albert Museum, London.


In any case, Aeetes was not pleased when Jason and his foreign troop came with the hope that he would grant them the Golden Fleece. For a king normally dislikes to receive requests, not seldom thinking that those asking for things more than anything wish to seize his sceptre and his royal power. And that is why Aeetes would have liked instead to cut the ARGONAUTS' tongues, so to be excused from hearing their demands. However, as the guests insisted and praised Aeetes all they could, offering military aid to subdue other neighboring peoples, and promising to blow his trumpet on his account throughout the world so that each and everyone would know his name, Aeetes, who was not immune to flattery or Fame, decided to give Captain Jason a chance.

Jason's courage tested

Aeetes invited his guest to yoke the brazen-footed bulls that breathed fire from their jaws, and with their help plough the field of Ares. Later on, Jason was supposed to sow from the half of the Dragon's teeth which Aeetes had got from Athena, after Cadmus killed that beast in Boeotia. And, explained Aeetes, in the same way as the SPARTI were born in Boeotia, they would here grow up from the earth armed men; and these Jason had to slay when they would rise against him on all sides. This kind of exercise was just about nothing for Aeetes himself, for, hearing him boasting, it was plain that he performed this favorite entertainment when he pleased, yoking the oxen in the morning and performing the bloody harvesting in the evening.

Aeetes keeps an eye on his offspring

Jason, who had to take back home the Golden Fleece so that the descendants of Aeolus 1 could escape the curse of Zeus (on account of what had being done to Phrixus 1), accepted these bizarre conditions, being under some apprehensions about them; for fire-breathing bulls, dragon's teeth, and armed men growing out of the ground, are not phenomena belonging to the daily routine of any man. Now, as Hera declared, the king's heart was treacherous, and that is why, straightaway after his meeting with Jason, he sat in council with his ministers devising troubles against the ARGONAUTS and planning to burn the ship and her crew. He even regretted to have received Phrixus 1 in his palace; for now his descendant Argus 3, Aeetes' own grandson, returned in consort with evil-doers, threatening his honour and his throne. But this was, reasoned Aeetes, what his father Helius had prophesied, when he told him to avoid the secret treacheries of his own offspring. This is why Aeetes, believing that the prophecy referred to the children of his daughter Chalciope 2, did not give a thought to his own daughter Medea.

Medea's dreams

Yet Aeetes was not completely wrong; for Argus 3 visited his mother Chalciope 2 and bade her to obtain Medea's help who, having already fallen in love with the stranger that led the ARGONAUTS, decided to betray her own father and help Jason. And since not seldom princesses long for some powerful and gentle stranger who, performing extraordinary prowesses for their sake, may assist them in leaving their father's home, Medea came even to imagine that Jason had come to Colchis, not because of the Golden Fleece or to shake Aeetes' throne, but on account of her. She thought that Jason wished, through love, lead her away as his wedded wife to his own home in distant Hellas. So Medea, nurturing such dreams and being not only a princess but also a witch (not so usual combination), met Jason in secret and gave him not just her heart but also instructions as how to cope with the various dangers, and also the so-called charm of Prometheus 1, which makes invulnerable those who anoint their body with it.

Jason compares himself with another great man

Having come that far, Jason thought that he could compare himself to great Theseus, for also he had received help from the king's daughter Ariadne. And the thought was not out of place; for much later Jason deserted Medea just as Theseus deserted Ariadne. But if it is true, as others say, that when Medea, years later, met Theseus in Athens, he had not yet sailed to Crete, it is difficult to imagine how Jason could have thought of Theseus, who at the time was at best a little child living in Troezen. Yet Theseus, being loved and admired by many at all times, has been said to be both here and there, and some also count him among the ARGONAUTS, apparently thinking that such an extraordinary expedition could not have been carried through without his assistance.

Promise and gift exchanged

In any case (for the complete truth about that matter is unknown), Jason accepted with delight Medea's gift, and so, thanks to her invaluable help, he yoked the fire-breathing bulls, ploughed the field, sowed the dragon's teeth, and conquered the armed men that sprang up from the ground. And when all this was done, Medea helped Jason to get the Golden Fleece, once he promised to take her to Hellas, make her his wedded wife, and never dishonour her. This princess took great risks for the sake of Captain Jason, betraying father and country and giving herself to a stranger, who would or would not honour his own word.

Aeetes after them

This is how the ARGONAUTS, by treachery and deceit, obtained what they wished. And since one thing leads to the next, they did not only steal Aeetes' property, but also carried off his daughter, whom their captain had seduced. No wonder then that Aeetes, having learned about Medea's love and deeds, determined to destroy the intruders and have both Golden Fleece and princess restored. For this purpose he sent the Colchian fleet after them, under the command of his son Apsyrtus. But the evil heart perseveres, and treachery must follow treachery. So Jason and Medea conceived a trap for Apsyrtus who came alone to meet his sister on a certain island, and sent him from there to another world, so that they could get a larger space for themselves in this one. Some have said that Medea had taken her brother Apsyruts on board, and that when Aeetes, in his pursuit, came near them, Medea murdered him and cut him limb from limb, throwing the pieces into the sea. It is while gathering Apsyrtus' limbs, they say, that Aeetes fell behind in the pursuit.

Aeetes deposed

In this or other ways then Jason and Medea escaped the Colchians, who pursued them as far as the land of the Phaeacians, where Jason and Medea were married. When Aeetes lost the Golden Fleece, he lost also his kingship, for the oracle had said that he would keep his kingdom as long as the fleece remained in the shrine of Ares, and that is why Perses 3, his brother, could depose him and become king in his stead. But years later Medea, who had been deserted by Jason and expelled from both Corinth and Athens, came incognito to Colchis and, finding that Aeetes had been deposed by his brother, she slew Perses 3 and restored the kingdom to her father. The death of King Aeetes has not been reported, but he was probably succeeded in the throne by Medus, the son of Medea, either by Jason or by Aegeus 1.


According to some, Aeetes was son of Helius and Antiope (Antiope 3, the mother of Epopeus 1).
Roscher, Lex. 1.140.5, 1.383.40.
Also Eurylyte is mentioned as Aeetes' wife and mother of Apsyrtus. Still others have said that a Nereid Neaera was Aeetes' wife and mother of Apsyrtus
Roscher, Lex. 1.140.13, 1.1424.24, 3.43.59.






Helius & Perseis

Perseis is one of the OCEANIDS.

Asterodia 3


Versions overlap.

Asterodia 3 was a Caucasian Nymph.

Apsyrtus, also called Absyrtus and Aegialeus 3, was sent by Aeetes to bring back Medea, who had sailed from Colchis with Jason and the ARGONAUTS. According to some he was killed by his own sister, who cut him limb from limb and threw the pieces into the sea, so that her father would fall behind in the pursuit, when gathering Apsyrtus' limbs. Others have said that it was Jason who killed him and cut him into pieces. In any case both Medea and Jason are held responsible for this crime.


Chalciope 2

Idyia is the youngest among the OCEANIDS.

Chalciope 2 married Phrixus 1, son of Athamas 1, and had children by him: Argus 3, Melas 2, Phrontis 1, Cytisorus and Presbon.


Genealogical Charts

Names in this chart: Aeetes, Actor 7, Aegeus 1, Agamedes 1, Alcimenes 2, Apsyrtus, Ares. Argus 3, Arrhon 1, Ascalaphus 1, Asterodia 3, Astyoche 5, Azeus, Chalciope 2, Clymenus 2, Cytisorus, Erginus 1, Eriopis 2, Helius, Ialmenus 1, Idyia, Jason, Medea, Medus, Melas 2, Mermerus 1, Minos 2, Pasiphae, Perseis, Pheres 2, Phrixus 1, Phrontis 1, Presbon, Pyleus, Thessalus 2, Tisandrus, Trophonius, Stratius 3.

Related sections Athamas 1, ARGONAUTS, Medea, Jason 

Apd.1.9.1, 1.9.23, 1.9.28; AO.55, 794; Arg.2.1260ff., 3.240; Dio.4.45.1ff.; Hes.The.956; Hyg.Fab.3, 12, 14, 22, 23, 25, 27, 244; Val.5.289.