Greek: Ελικη
What: An ancient Greek city destroyed by an earthquake in 373 BC.
Location: Achaea, Peloponnesus
Destroyed: 373 BC by an earthquake
Re-discovered: 2001

Helike buried beneath the ground. Source: The Helike Project, 2001.

Helike buried beneath the ground. Source: The Helike Project, 2001.

Helike was an ancient Greek citythat sank at night in the winter of 373 BC. It was located in Achaea in Northern Peloponnesus and was founded during the Bronze Age. It was a prominent city, serving as the head of the twelve cities of the first Achaean League. Helike founded colonies, such as Priene in Asia Minor and Sybaris in South Italy. The city’s main attraction was its’ Pan-Hellenic temple and sanctuary of Poseidon, second only in religious importance to Delphi. Some have even attributed the myth of the lost city of Atlantis to Helike.

The city was destroyed in 373 BC by an earthquake killing all of its inhabitants. There were several warnings before the imminent earthquake struck. Some “immense columns of flame” appeared, and five days previous, all animals and vermin fled the city. Once the earthquake struck it sank the city and subsequently sent off tsunami waves that bounced off the southern shores of the northern Corinthian Gulf and came back to hit Helike, submerging the city in the sea. Not a trace of the city remained except for a few fragments projecting from the sea. Even ten Spartan ships anchored in the harbour were dragged down with it. An attempt involving 2000 men to recover bodies was unsuccessful. The catastrophe was attributed to the vengeance of Poseidon, whose apparent wrath was caused because the people of Helike had refused to give their statue of Poseidon to their Ionian colonists in Asia, or even build them their own statue.

Helike coin discovered in 1861 by a German archaeologists visiting the area. Source: http://www.helike.org/

Helike coin discovered in 1861 by a German archaeologists visiting the area. Source: http://www.helike.org/

One of the most famous accounts of Helike was told by the philosopher Eratosthenes who visited the site 150 years after the earthquake. He reported that a standing bronze statue of Poseidon was submerged in a “poros”, “holding in one hand a hippocamp (sea-horse)”, 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 city that was once submerged under water turned into land and the location was lost for hundreds of years.

During the 19th and 20th century the mystery of Helike, and where it was located, had archaeologists confounded. Some researches believed that it lay at the bottom of the Gulf of Corinth. However, it wasn’t until the summer of 2001 that is was finally discovered. Dora Katsonopoulou, president of the Helike Society, and Steven Soter of the American Museum of Natural History rediscovered the city near the village of Rizomylos. They found the city buried deep beneath the ground (pictured above). The excavations have not been completed and Since 2001 excavations have been carried out in the Helike delta each summer. Other than the many important artefacts that have yet to be discovered, it would be an incredible discovery if the statue of Poseidon and the Pan-Hellenic temple that was dedicated to Poseidon were to be found.

Sources:The Helike Project: http://www.helikeproject.gr/

Helike: The Real Atlantis (Part 1 of 5) by BBC:

Watch Parts two (2)three (3)four (4) and five (5).

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