the winter of 373/372 BC, a violent earthquake struck the southwest shore of
the Gulf of Corinth and destroyed and submerged the Classical city of Helike.
Helike was founded in the Mycenaean period by Ion, the leader of the Ionian
race and became the capital of the Twelve Cities of ancient Achaea. The
patron god of Helike, Poseidon Helikonios, god of the sea and the
earthquakes, was worshipped in his famous pan-Hellenic sanctuary located in
the area of Helike (Katsonopoulou 1999). In the 8th c. BC, Helike
founded Sybaris in South Italy, the most famous Greek colony of the West.
The city of Helike remained important in the Archaic and Classical periods
until it was destroyed and lost by the earthquake of 373 BC, widely
discussed by many ancient writers (Katsonopoulou 2005a). Few decades
before its destruction, Helike struck her own coinage. Three bronze coins of
Helike are known --two in the Berlin Museum, a third recently auctioned in
Vienna--, showing on the obverse a fine Classical head of Poseidon and on
the reverse the trident flanked by two dolphins in heraldic position.
a philosopher and mathematician of the 3rd c. BC, visited the
area of Helike about 150 years after its destruction and talked with
ferrymen who recounted to him the story of the bronze statue of Poseidon
submerged in the poros. The term poros generally interpreted
as indicating the Corinthian Gulf, was rightly re-interpreted by
Katsonopoulou (1995) as referring to a lagoon formed in the area of Helike
following the seismic event of 373 BC. The lagoon which Eratosthenes
saw in the 3rd c. BC, had become partly dry land when the
traveler Pausanias visited the site in the 2nd c. AD. In the
remaining part of the lagoon, however, one could still see submerged ruins
of the city, as Pausanias reports. The mention of submerged ruins in the
area of Helike persists until the Middle Byzantine period (9th-10th
c. AD). Today, the entire area of the ancient lagoon is completely covered
under river-borne sediments.
Delta, viewed toward the southeast, with the Gulf of Corinth at
discovery of the lost city of Helike has been pursued by many archaeologists
and researchers in the past. The most insistent attempt was made by the late
Spyridon Marinatos between 1950-1973. Marinatos (1960) has stated that
“with the excavation of Helice a great new light would be shed on both
public and private life during the best period of Classical Greece”.
years after the end of the earlier inconclusive attempts, Dora Katsonopoulou
(archaeologist) and Steven Soter (physicist) launched the Helike Project to
locate and reveal the site of ancient Helike. First in 1988, an underwater
sonar survey was carried out in collaboration with the oceanographer Paul
Kronfield. The results showed no evidence of ruins of a city underwater.
Consequently, since 1991 the search was shifted on land by using bore hole
drilling (Soter & Katsonopoulou 1999). Since 1994 we employed
geophysical surveys in collaboration with the University of Patras, the
Radar Solutions International, the University of Oklahoma and the University
of Thessaloniki (Soter & Katsonopoulou 2005). In 1995, excavations in
the Klonis Field in Rizomylos brought to light a large Roman building, the
first ever found in the coastal plain of Helike since the earliest research
began in the middle of the 20th century (Katsonopoulou 1998).
of the Helike Project
Systematic excavations of the Helike
Project started in 2000. The first trial trenches opened on the basis of
evidence from topographical studies, bore holes and geophysical surveys,
revealed buried remains in various locations along the plain dated on the
basis of the excavation finds to the Early Bronze Age, Late Bronze Age,
Geometric, Classical, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods (Katsonopoulou
2005b and report below).
Continuation of our excavations between
2001-2011 resulted in a number of important discoveries in the Helike area.
Early Helladic settlement. In the middle of our area of investigations,
in the contemporary village of Rizomylos, we brought to light the remains of
a well-preserved coastal EH settlement, the first ever found in Achaia.
Large rectilinear buildings flanking the sides of cobbled streets, including
a rare type of building known as “corridor house”, came to light
preserving their rich contents, especially the pottery, intact. The
assemblage of associated pottery includes a variety of shapes, such as
two-handled bowls (kraters), pedestal-footed cups, cooking pots,
narrow-necked jars, bass bowls, rim-handled and neck-handled tankards,
flat-based cups, jugs, pyxides, wide-mouthed jars, one-handled and
two-handled cups, and large pithoi decorated with finger-impressed, rope and overlapping disk
bands decorations. Decorated pottery includes solidly painted and
pattern-painted decoration Dark-on-Light with intersecting horizontal and
vertical lines, zigzag, cross-hatching and paneled patterns. Incised
“potter’s marks” were found on pottery fragments. Remains of seeds
were found inside some of the recovered vases. Among
the rich pottery assemblage, we also discovered a rare drinking cup, a depas
amphikypellon, with an engraved symbol above its base. For
the unique Helike Early Helladic depas cup,
J. (2010). Our EH
finds also include pointed bone tools, stone tools, objects of obsidian and
flint for cutting and scraping activities, and terracotta objects, such as
spindle whorls and spools. We also collected a great number of sea shells
and animal bones. Νew
outstanding walls, 0.80 m wide, preserved to the impressive height of 1.10 m
came to light with the 2011 excavations at the EH site in Rizomylos.
Recovered pottery was once again amazingly abundant including complete vases
(Fig. 9). Other finds from the excavated rooms include terracotta spindle
whorls, stone tools, chipped stone artifacts, sea shells and animal bones.
Among the most significant new finds from the EH settlement in 2011, we note
an exceptional architectural feature found in one of the excavated rooms. It
is a thick-walled, pi-shaped clay structure, 0.70 m high, found in a room
(Fig. 10) where many storage vessels were discovered arranged in clusters
around and near it suggesting that it might have served as a storage closet
of some kind.
sediments covering the EH horizon contain numerous marine microfauna,
showing that the ruins were submerged in the sea for some time. Excavation
evidence suggests that the EH settlement was destroyed and submerged by an
earthquake accompanied by extensive fire. Then, the site was abandoned and
left with its content intact, sealed under thick clay deposits.
The discovery of a rich organized coastal EH
settlement at Helike as shown by its finds (substantial architectural
remains, intact rich pottery, and luxury finds in gold and silver) renders
her region to a location of great importance for the history and archaeology
of Achaea. It is now evident that the same general location where the most
important city of Achaea was built in the Mycenaean period, had been the
place where a most significant settlement of the Early Bronze Age flourished
a thousand years earlier. Undoubtedly, the complete excavation of the EH
settlement at Helike will offer a rare opportunity for prehistoric Greece to
reconstruct an Early Bronze Age settlement and study its everyday life and
also the economy of the era.
The Hellenistic industrial site.
of trenches in Valimitika in the western area of
investigations, brought to light the well preserved architectural remains of
a large industrial building consisting of a complex of large basins with
pebble mosaic floors in its center surrounded by habitation areas, workshops
and storage areas. Associated finds from the building are rich and include a
large array of Early-Middle Hellenistic pottery including
black glazed, red glazed, and relief decorated vases. Other finds include
clay lamps, clay loom weights, bronze coins, and objects in bronze, iron and
lead. Excavation data
suggest that the building probably belongs to a Hellenistic Dye-Works
complex. In several locations to the south and west of the complex building,
we discovered the remains of other Hellenistic buildings and walls.
9-11. Views of the large Hellenistic building including the
four basins complex in Valimitika, western Helike area.
Volunteer Mariza Rodrigues inside huge storage
vessel at the Hellenistic complex building.
Conservation work of the clay structure at the Hellenistic complex building.
Roman road. In nine trenches between Eliki and Rizomylos, we excavated
and revealed segments of a straight Roman road oriented NW-SE. The road is
well preserved and shows an average width of 5 meters.
According to excavation data, the road was built in the Augustan
period when Patras became an important Roman colony. This was almost certain
the leoforos described and used by the traveler Pausanias during his
journey through the area in the 2nd c. AD.
18 Segment of
Roman road, as revealed in trench H12 in Eliki. In an older horizon is seen
part of a Hellenistic building.
Classical ruins. Excavation of trenches in Rizomylos about 150 m west of
the EH site, brought to light destroyed Classical walls and parts of
buildings buried under thick lagoonal deposits. Associated pottery, coins
and other finds date the ruins to the 4th c. BC. Their
destruction by an earthquake and consequent burial under lagoonal strata
strongly suggest an association of the ruins with the most famous earthquake
of antiquity, the 373 BC earthquake.
submerged building in Rizomylos. Clay idol from the Classical building.
Byzantine sites. At
various locations in the area of investigations between Eliki, Rizomylos and
Nikolaiika, we discovered remains of buildings and cemeteries consisting of
tile-covered graves dated to the Roman and Byzantine times. In the
associated finds are included pottery, glass vases, clay lamps, coins,
jewelry and other metal objects.
21 Remains of Roman buildings at
tile-covered grave from
From the excavations of a Roman rustic villa between Eliki and Rizomylos.
and Geometric findings. Our
excavations in 2006-2008 in the village of Nikolaiika to the east of the EH
settlement site, led to the discovery of occupation layers dated on the
basis of recovered pottery to the Mycenaean, Early Iron Age and Geometric
times. The assembled Mycenaean pottery is of fine quality and includes both
unpainted and decorated fragments of vases. Fine quality pottery was also
collected from the excavated Geometric layer including fragments belonging
to transport, storage and mainly drinking vessels- including the favorite
the same layer a circular Geometric hearth was discovered containing lots of
of excavations in Nikolaiika in 2011 brought to light an unexpected find of
high importance for understanding and interpreting ancient habitation in
prone-earthquake zones. In one of the trenches excavated across
the Helike Fault south of the Mycenaean/ Geometric
by the Helike Project in the same general area of Nikolaiika in previous
excavation seasons, to identify paleoseismic events and study their
impact on ancient habitation sites of the Helike zone, were found both the footwall and the hanging
wall succession of the Helike Fault crossing and controlling the trench
stratigraphy, affecting the ancient occupation of the site. A thick
archaeological horizon amazingly rich in pottery of the Late Helladic period
was discovered in both the footwall and the hanging wall blocks of the
trench. Collected pottery is characterized by a large variety of shapes including both plain and
decorated sherds. Other
finds besides pottery include animal bones and sea shells, bone and stone
tools. We plan to continue investigation in 2012 of this new important
location apparently related to the Mycenaean settlement of Helike located in
| Mycenaean and Geometric pottery from
Nikolaiika, eastern Helike area.
27 From the excavations of the wall in Nikolaiika. On the left the worker
of the excavations, Giannis, on the right Mariza Rodrigues volunteering.
Dora Katsonopoulou (left), Helike
Project Director, teaching volunteer Danielle Hum to
select ancient pottery.
major discoveries in 2012
During the 2012 campaign the Helike
Project team brought to light exceptional finds at two new locations in the
of the 373 BC destruction layer.
the area of Rizomylos, about 300 m southeast of the previously discovered
Early Helladic settlement, the team located and revealed an impressive
destruction layer consisting of cobblestones from destroyed walls, large
clay roof tiles and pottery dated to the Classical period. The discovery of
a Classical destruction layer at this place in the Helike plain is in good
agreement with ancient reports on the 373 BC earthquake effects and Helike's
location in the coastal plain, at a distance of 12 stadia (about 2 km) from
the sea according to the philosopher Herakleides of Pontos, a source
contemporary with the catastrophic event. This is the first time that
remnants most probably associated with the destruction layer of the long
sought famous 373 BC earthquake are found in the Helike plain since the late
Greek archaeologist Spyros Marinatos began his efforts to locate them in the
middle of past century. In his inspired publication in Archaeology (Helice:
A submerged town of classical Greece v. 13, n. 3, 186-93, 1960) Marinatos
stated on the city's importance on p. 193 "Helice was a very old town,
with traditions harking back to the heroic Mycenaean Age. It had a famous
sanctuary, great religious prestige and an important position as a political
center. It is certain that in the sanctuary of Pan-Ionian Poseidon, in the
market and in other parts of the town, treaties, decrees, and dedications
were deposited. Works of art surely existed in all the sanctuaries, in the
agora and in other sections of the town. With the excavation of Helice a
great new light would be shed on both public and private life during the
best period of Classical Greece."
Classical destruction layer in Rizomylos.
of the Geometric settlement of Helike.
the eastern part of the Helike plain near the Kerynites river, in Nikolaiika,
in a horizon between 2-4 m below surface, excavation work revealed
architectural remains of well built walls of large rectilinear buildings
dated on the basis of associated pottery to the Geometric period (9th-7th c.
BC). Recovered pottery is amazingly rich including a large variety of
cooking, storage and transport vessels, and fine tableware both plain and
decorated with dominant motifs the multiple zigzags, hatched and black
meanders, horizontal lines, opposed diagonals, running spirals. There was
also found a good number of the Thapsos class pottery represented by skyphoi,
kraters, kantharoi, and globular oinochoai; favorite motifs are the meander,
the running spiral, and the vertical wavy lines. Exceptional among the
decorated pottery collected from the excavated buildings is one rim fragment
of a cup decorated with birds in silhouette, from c. 730 BC. Given the
scarcity of archaeological finds from Geometric settlements in Achaea, the
discovery of the Geometric settlement of Helike at this location fills in a
substantial gap in our knowledge of this period and provides important
material evidence for the study of the Geometric Achaean pottery, its
production and possible identification of individual workshops in the
region, distribution and circulation not only in Achaea itself, and more
generally Greece, but also in the West, where Helike founded the first and
most famous of all the Achaean colonies, the city of Sybaris. Following on
the important discoveries of this year, continuation of excavations in both
new locations is first priority for 2013.
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