Helike (/ˈhɛlɪkiː/; Greek: Ἑλίκη, pronounced [heˈlikɛː],
modern Greek pronunciation: [eˈlici]) was an ancient Greek city
that was submerged by a tsunami in the winter of 373 BC. It was
located in Achaea, northern Peloponnesos, two kilometres (12 stadia)
Corinthian Gulf and near the city of Boura, which, like
Helike, was a member of the Achaean League. Modern research attributes
the catastrophe to an earthquake and accompanying tsunami which
destroyed and submerged the city. In an effort to protect the site
from destruction, the
World Monuments Fund
World Monuments Fund included
Helike in its 2004
and 2006 List of 100 Most Endangered Sites.
1.1 Subsequent events
2 Research efforts
4 See also
6 External links
A coin from Helike.
Helike was founded in the Bronze Age, becoming the principal city of
Achaea. The poet Homer states that the city of Eliki participated in
the Trojan War as a part of Agamemnon's forces. Later, following
its fall to the Achaeans, Eliki led the Achaean League, an association
that joined twelve neighboring cities in an area including today's
town of Aigio. Eliki, also known as Dodekapolis (from the Greek words
dodeka meaning twelve and polis meaning city), became a cultural and
religious center with its own coinage. Finds from ancient Eliki are
limited to two 5th-century copper coins, now housed in Bode Museum,
Berlin. The obverse shows the head of Poseidon, the city's patron, and
the reverse his trident. There was a temple dedicated to the
Helike founded colonies including
Asia Minor and
South Italy. Its panhellenic temple and sanctuary of Helikonian
Poseidon were known throughout the Classical world, and second only in
religious importance to Delphi.
The city was destroyed in 373 BC, two years before the Battle of
Leuctra, during a winter night. Several events were construed in
retrospect as having warned of the disaster: some "immense columns of
flame" appeared, and five days previously, all animals and vermin fled
the city, going toward Keryneia. The city and a space of 12 stadia
below it sank into the earth and were covered over by the sea. All the
inhabitants perished without a trace, and the city was obscured from
view except for a few building fragments projecting from the sea. Ten
Spartan ships anchored in the harbour were dragged down with it. An
attempt involving 2000 men to recover bodies was unsuccessful.
Aigion took possession of its territory.
The catastrophe was attributed to the vengeance of Poseidon, whose
wrath was incited because the inhabitants of
Helike had refused to
give their statue of
Poseidon to the Ionian colonists in Asia, or even
to supply them with a model. According to some authorities, the
Helike and Bura had even murdered the Ionian deputies.
About 150 years after the disaster, the philosopher Eratosthenes
visited the site and reported that a standing bronze statue of
Poseidon was submerged in a "poros", "holding in one hand a
hippocamp", where it posed a hazard to those who fished with nets.
Around AD 174 the traveler Pausanias visited a coastal site still
called Helike, located 7 km southeast of Aigio, and reported that
the walls of the ancient city were still visible under water, "but not
so plainly now as they were once, because they are corroded by the
For centuries after, its submerged ruins could still be seen. Roman
tourists frequently sailed over the site, admiring the city's
statuary. Later the site silted over and the location was lost to
Adalberto Giovannini[de] argued that the submergence of
Plato to write his story about Atlantis. Ancient
scholars and writers who visited the ruins include the Greeks
Strabo, Pausanias and Diodoros of Sicily, and the Romans Aelian and
On 23 August 1817, a similar disaster, an earthquake followed by a
tsunami, occurred on the same spot. The earthquake was preceded by a
sudden explosion, like that produced by a battery of cannon. The
aftershock was said to have lasted a minute and a half, during which
the sea rose at the mouth of the Selinous River and extended to cover
all the ground immediately below
Vostitza (the ancient Aigion). After
its retreat, not a trace was left of some artillery depots which had
stood on the shore, and the beach was carried away completely. In
Vostitza, 65 people lost their lives and two thirds of its buildings
were entirely ruined, as were five villages in the plain.
The submerged town was long one of the biggest targets for underwater
archaeology. Scientists were divided in their opinions about the exact
location of Helike. Numerous archaeologists, historians, professors
and explorers wrote, studied and actively searched, trying to discover
any trace of the ancient town, with little success. But their work,
essays, observations and studies contributed to an important and
growing body of knowledge. Among them are the following:
In 1826, François Pouqueville, French diplomat and archaeologist, who
wrote the Voyage en Grèce; in 1851
Ernst Curtius the German
archaeologist and historian who speculated about its location; in 1879
J. F. Julius Schmidt, the director of Athens Observatory, issuing a
study comparing the Aegeion earthquake which occurred 26 December 1861
with an earthquake which might have destroyed Helike; in 1883 Spiros
Panagiotopoulos, the mayor of Aegeion city, wrote about the ancient
city; in 1912 the Greek writer P. K. Ksinopoulos wrote The City of
Aegeion Through the Centuries and in 1939 Stanley Casson, an
English art scholar and army officer who studied classical archaeology
and served in
Greece as liaison officer, addressed the problem.
Other investigators include in 1948 the German archaeologist Georg
Karo; in 1950 Robert Demangel, who was from 1933 to 1948 the director
of the French School of Archaeology in Athens; in 1950 Alfred
Philippson, German geologist and geographer; in 1952 Spiros Dontas,
Greek writer and member of the Academy of Athens; in 1954 Aristos
Stauropoulos, a Greek writer who published the History of the city of
Aegeion; in 1956 the Greek Professor N. Κ. Moutsopoulos; in 1967
Spyros Marinatos, a Greek archaeologist who wrote the Research about
Helike and in 1968 Helike-Thira-Thieves; in 1962 George K.
Georgalas, the Greek writer; and in 1967 Nikos Papahatzis, a Greek
archaeologist who published Pausanias’ Description of Greece.
Spyridon Marinatos, emphasizing the importance of the discovery of
Helike, said that only the declaration of a third world war would
obscure the discovery of Helike. He pointed out
Helike as an
unresolved problem of Greek archaeology in 1960. In 1967, Harold
Eugene Edgerton worked with the American researcher Peter
Throckmorton. They were convinced that
Helike was to be found on the
seabed of the Gulf of Corinth. Edgerton perfected special sonar
equipment for this research but permission to search was not granted
by the Greek authorities. In 1967 and in 1976,
Jacques Cousteau made
some efforts with no result. In 1979 in the Corinthian Gulf, the Greek
undersea explorer Alexis Papadopoulos discovered a sunken town and
recorded his findings in a documentary film which shows walls, fallen
roofs, roof tiles, streets, etc. at a depth of between 25 and 45
m. "Whether or not this town can be identified with
Helike is a
question to be answered by extensive underwater research. In any case,
the discovery of this town can be regarded as an extremely interesting
find", according to the Greek scientific journal Archaeology.
In 1988, the Greek archaeologist Dora Katsonopoulou, president of the
Helike Society, and
Steven Soter of the American Museum of Natural
History launched the
Helike Project to locate the site of the lost
city. Ancient texts, telling the story of Helike, said that the
city had sunk into a poros, which everyone interpreted as the
Corinthian Gulf. However, Katsonopoulou and Soter raised the
possibility that poros could have meant an inland lagoon. If an
earthquake caused soil liquefaction on a large scale, the city would
have been taken downward below the sea level. Also, if an earthquake
caused the sections of coastline to fall into the sea, this would have
created a tsunami, which in turn would have flooded the inland lagoon
with the city in it. Over time, the river sediment coming down from
the mountains would have filled in the lagoon hiding the city remains
beneath the solid ground.
Helike was rediscovered, a few false starts came along the way.
In 1994, in collaboration with the University of Patras, a
magnetometer survey carried out in the midplain of the delta revealed
the outlines of a buried building. This target (now known as the
Klonis site) was excavated and a large Roman building with standing
walls was found. Also a well-preserved settlement of an early
bronze age was uncovered. Finally, in 2001, the city of
rediscovered buried in an ancient lagoon near the village of
Rizomylos. To further confirm that the discovered site belongs to
Helike, the earthquake destruction layer consisting of cobblestones,
clay roof tiles, and pottery was uncovered in 2012. This destruction
layer is in good agreement with ancient texts on the location of
Helike and earthquake effects to the city.
Excavations are being carried out in the
Helike delta each summer and
have brought to light significant archeological finds dating from
prehistoric times when
Helike was founded up until its revival in
Hellenistic and Roman times.
Helike Archaeological Site". World Monuments Fund. Retrieved August
^ Homer, Iliad, 2.575
^ Katsonopoulou, Dora (2002). "
Helike and her Territory in Historical
Times". Pallas. 58: 175–182. ISSN 0031-0387.
^ Lafond, Yves (1998). "Die Katastrophe von 373 v. Chr. und das
Versinken der Stadt
Helike in Achaia". In Olshausen, E.; Sonnabend, H.
Naturkatastrophen in der antiken Welt. Stuttgarter Kolloquium zur
historischen Geographie des Altertums (in German). 6. Stuttgart:
Steiner. pp. 118–123. ISBN 3-515-07252-7.
^ Strabo, Geography, 8.7.2
^ Pausanias, Description of Greece, 7.24.13
^ Giovannini, A. (1985). "Peut-on démythifier l'Atlantide?". Museum
Helveticum (in French). 42: 151–156. ISSN 0027-4054.
^ Strabo. H.L. Jones, ed. The Geography of Strabo. Vol. IV, Books 8-9.
Loeb Classical Library. ISBN 0674992164.
^ Ξινόπουλος, Π. Κ. (1912). "Το Αίγιο διά
μέσου των αιώνων".
^ Σταυρόπουλος, Αρίστος (1954). "Ιστορία
^ Μαρινάτος, Σπύρος (1967). "Έρευνα περί
την Ελίκην Π.Α.Α. τ 41".
^ Μαρινάτος, Σπύρος (1968).
"Ελίκη-Θήρα-Θήβαι Α.Α.Α. τ 1".
^ Παπαχατζής, Νίκος (1967). "Παυσανίου
^ Marinatos, Spyridon N. (1960). "Helike. A submerged town of
classical Greece". Archaeology. 13: 186–193.
^ "The 1979 film of sunken town discovery"
^ Παπαδόπουλος, Αλέξης (1983).
"Ανακαλύπτοντας μια βυθισμένη πόλη"
(PDF). Αρχαιολογία. 9: 80–82.
^ a b Katsonopoulou, Dora; Soter, Steven (January 2005). "Discoveries
at Ancient Helike".
Helike Foundation. Retrieved August 4, 2013.
Helike - The Real Atlantis". BBC Horizon. Retrieved August 4,
^ a b Katsonopoulou, Dora (2002). "
Helike and her territory in the
light of new discoveries". In Greco, E. Gli Achei e l'identità etnica
degli Achei d'Occidente. Tekmeria. 3. Paestum: Pandemos.
pp. 205–216. ISBN 88-87744-03-3.
^ "Discoveries at Ancient Helike". The
Helike Project. Retrieved
August 4, 2013.
^ Soter, Steven; Katsonopoulou, Dora (1999). "Occupation horizons
found in the search for the ancient Greek city of Helike".
Geoarchaeology. 14 (6): 531–563.
^ Alvarez-Zarikian, Carlos A.; Soter, Steven; Katsonopoulou, Dora
(2008). "Recurrent Submergence and Uplift in the Area of Ancient
Helike, Gulf of Corinth, Greece: Microfaunal and Archaeological
Evidence". Journal of Coastal Research. 24 (1): 110–125.
^ Soter, S.; Katsonopoulou, D. (2011). "Submergence and uplift of
settlements in the area of Helike, Greece, from the Early Bronze Age
to late antiquity". Geoarchaeology. 26 (4): 584.
This article is partly based on the entry in the Dictionary of Greek
and Roman Geography, by William Smith, LLD, 1854.
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Official Website of
The bronze coin of
Helike at the Münzkabinett of the Staatlich