Archaeologists recently made groundbreaking discoveries at the ancient Greek sanctuary of Poseidon at Helike. These remarkable finds shed new light on the history of this once thriving city and provide invaluable insight into the lives of its inhabitants.
Before we dive into the newly discovered artifacts, let’s take a moment to understand the meaning of Helike. Located in Achaea, Greece, this ancient city was once a bustling center of commerce and culture. However, in 373 BC it was struck by a catastrophic earthquake and subsequently submerged in the depths of the sea.
The town had remained hidden in an ancient lagoon until it was rediscovered in 2001. This year’s research was funded by the Region of Western Greece under the Cultural Development Program Agreement of the Ministry of Culture and the region.
Unveiling of treasures
During recent excavations, which took place from May 2 to June 23, 20023, archaeologists unearthed a plethora of artifacts that offer insight into the daily life of the Helikeans.
Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of two other structures near the shrine and unearthed additional artifacts that date back even further in time than previous discoveries. Helike, an ancient Greek city part of the Achaean League, was established in the Bronze Age and mentioned in Homer’s Iliad as one of the cities involved in the Trojan War.
It later developed into an important Pan-Hellenic religious center due to its worship of Poseidon. The site was renowned in the classical world and ranked second only to Delphi in religious importance.
Several sculptures and statues have also been unearthed – the bronze figurine of an animal, probably a dog, clay chariot wheels, bronze buckles and pins (fittings for clothes), iron weapons and a golden part of a necklace – illuminating the religious and mythological beliefs of the Helikeans. These exquisite works of art depict offerings to the gods, suggesting that the site was the famous place of worship of the Helikonian Poseidon. The figurines also indicate that another deity may have been worshiped at the same shrine.
Further analysis of the new findings should reveal the identity of this second deity. According to ancient texts, the city of Helike was wiped out by an earthquake in 372/3 BC. J.-C., followed by a devastating tsunami which submerged the whole area, destroying any sign of life. This disaster has been attributed to the wrath of Poseidon.
The recently excavated vaulted sanctuary building dated to 710 BC, together with an older altar from 750 BC, have provided evidence of religious use of the site dating back even earlier, around 850 BC.
The discovery of these artifacts enriches our understanding of ancient Greek civilization and poses intriguing questions. What was the daily life of the Helikeans like? How did they interact with other city-states? What ultimately led to the city’s demise?
The fact that despite the fact that the district was threatened by frequent natural disasters in antiquity, that it was not abandoned by the inhabitants, who continued to repair buildings or build new ones, reflects and attests to their desire but also their concern to preserve the place that we believe was the center of worship of Helike.
Cult practices included animal sacrifices, mainly goats, sheep and goats, but also pigs, according to the findings of archaeozoologist Dr. G. Kazantzis, a scientific collaborator of the excavations, who studied the finds.
By meticulously studying these artifacts, archaeologists hope to uncover answers to these puzzling questions, giving us insight into the enigmatic history of Helike and its people.
Recent discoveries at the ancient Greek sanctuary of Helike provide an invaluable opportunity to explore and appreciate the rich cultural heritage that once thrived within its walls. By preserving and studying these artifacts, we can piece together the puzzle of Helike’s past and better understand our history.
As archaeologists excavate the site, we await new revelations that will shed light on the mysteries of this ancient city. The artifacts unearthed so far testify to the enduring appeal of the past and the unwavering dedication of those who strive to unlock its secrets.
Notably, ancient scholars such as Strabo, Eratosthenes, Pausanias, Diodorus of Sicily and Ovid documented their visits to the site, navigating the submerged ruins of the city, which remained visible underwater for many centuries until at the end of the Roman era. In the 18th century, the rediscovery of Helike sparked renewed interest, with many scholars and travelers contributing their knowledge until the site was finally discovered in 2001 in an ancient lagoon near the village of Rizomylos. The discovery of a layer of destruction in 2012 corroborated accounts in ancient texts describing the catastrophic events. Regular excavations have since been carried out, yielding valuable insights into Helike’s life and ultimate demise, from its prehistoric origins to its abandonment.