The City of Helike at Your Doorstep

By Stamatia Kotta, Maria Koufi & Jim Varvatsoulis


Have you ever thought about a city with a great history that disappeared during a disaster? The answer is certainly no. Nevertheless, it will be important to know the truth about the history of the culture and the civilization of the city.

Helike was an ancient Greek city. It was located in Achaea, northern Peloponnesos. 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 with one ship. 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 Aigion. 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 the Staatliches 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 Helikonian Poseidon.

Helike founded colonies including Priene in Asia Minor and Sybaris in 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.