Helike, city, ancient Greece: see Helice.
"Helice" redirects here. For the crab genus, see Helice (crab).
Helike ({{lang-el|Ἑλίκη}, , modern [ɛˈʎici]) was an ancient Greek city that sank at night in the winter of 373 BC. The city was located in Achaea, Northern Peloponnesos, two kilometres (12 stadia) from the Corinthian Gulf. The related city of Boura was located nearby. Dora Katsonopoulou, president of the Helike Society, and Steven Soter of the American Museum of Natural History rediscovered the city in the summer 2001, near the village of Rizomylos. The World Monuments Fund included Helike in its 2004 List of 100 Most Endangered Sites in an effort to protect the site from destruction.


Helike was founded in the Bronze Age, becoming the principal city of Achaea. Helike led the twelve cities of the first Achaean League, and founded colonies, including Priene in Asia Minor and Sybaris in South Italy. Its panhellenic temple and sanctuary of Helikonian Poseidon was known through the Classical world.

The city was destroyed in 373 BC, two years before the Battle of Leuctra. The event happened on a winter night. Several events warned of the disaster. Some "immense columns of flame" appeared, and five days previous, 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, and not a trace remained, except for a few 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. Its territory was taken possession of by the Aegium.

The catastrophe was attributed to the vengeance of Poseidon, whose wrath was excited 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 inhabitants of 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 174 AD, the traveler Pausanias visited a coastal site still called Helike, located 7 km southeast of Aigion, 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 salt water".

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.

Giovannini argued that the submergence of Helike might have inspired Plato to his story about Atlantis.

Recent events

On August 23, 1817, a similar disaster occurred on the same spot. The earthquake was preceded by a sudden explosion, like that of 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 Selinus, and extended to cover all the level immediately below Vostitza (the ancient Aegium). After its retreat not a trace was left of some magazines which had stood on the shore, and the beach was carried away completely. In Vostitza 65 people lost their lives, and two thirds of the buildings were entirely ruined. Five villages in the plain were destroyed.

In recent years, a collaboration of American and Greek scientists excavated trenches on the site, discovering numerous walls and artifacts dating to Classical and prehistoric times. The excavations relied heavily upon volunteers from Greece and many other countries. Significant foreign support was withdrawn, however, when it was learned that trenches were not adequately shored against collapse, and were endangering workers in the trench.

Scholars who visited the ruins


Spyridon Marinatos pointed on Helike as an unresolved problem of Greek archaeology in 1960. In 1988, the Greek archaeologist Dora Katsonopoulou launched the Helike Project to locate the site of the lost city. In 1994 in collaboration with the University of Patras, a magnetometer survey was carried out in the midplain of the delta, which revealed the outlines of a buried building. In 1995 this target was excavated (now known as the Klonis site) and a large Roman building with standing walls was brought to light. The city was rediscovered in 2001 buried in an ancient lagoon. Since then, excavations have been carried out in the Helike delta each summer.

See also


This article is partly is based on the entry in the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, by William Smith, LLD, 1854.

External links

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