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ELIS Peloponnesos, Greece.

The city lies in the NW part of the region, in the middle of the E Peneios plain, where the river emerges from the mountainous interior into the plain, between the modern villages of Paliopolis and Kalyvia. In the NE section of the city rises the hill Kaloskopi (mediaeval Belvedere) or Paliopyrgos (400 m), where the ancient acropolis was. The site was inhabited from at least as early as the Early Helladic period and from then on through to the end of the Byzantine period. According to some ancient philological sources, Elis in the Mycenaean period was one of the four or five most notable towns in the realm of the Epeioi (Il. 2.615f, 11.671f; Od. 4.635) and controlled only the area around the city. Excavation of the site was undertaken in 1910-14, and has continued since 1960.

In the Early Helladic to Geometric period, judging by the extent of the finds and the numerous tombs of this period, the settlement was located on the peak of the acropolis and on its NW slope toward the Peneios, where the theater was later placed. In the archaic period the city was extended to the SW. At that time the Temple of Athena was probably erected on the acropolis (Paus. 6.26.2). Numerous painted terracotta simas and stone architectural fragments indicate the existence at that time of many monumental structures.

In the Classical and Hellenistic period the city area was extended to surround the acropolis over an area bounded by Paliopolis to the S, the village of Kalyvia to the W, and as far as the outskirts of the village of Bouchioti and the banks of the Peneios. Part of the city extended to the right bank opposite. The principal necropolis of this period was discovered SW of Kalyvia. Another was found at the NW foot of the acropolis. The city, or at least the acropolis, was fortified at the end of the 5th c. B.C. (Paus. 3.8.5). In 313 B.C. Telesphoros, the general of Antigonos, refortified the acropolis (Diod. 19.74.2, 87). At its N foot a substantial section of this wall was uncovered, and other remains of the ancient wall have been found on the W slope. In this period were constructed numerous civic buildings, as well as temples and shrines in the agora and the area around, where they stood quite close together (Paus. 6.23. lf). Some of these have been uncovered and identified by the excavations to date: the agora, including a part of the stoa of the Hellanodikai which is Doric, with a triple colonnade, the Hellanodikaion which is a small rectangular building to the N of the stoa, two gymnasia and the palaestra in the W section, and in the S section of the agora the Korkyraion or South Stoa, which is a double stoa in the Doric style. The whole theater has been uncovered to the N of the agora. Its first phase dates to the 4th c. B.C., with alterations in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Other buildings which Pausanias saw, but which have not yet been located, are: the Temple of Aphrodite with a chryselephantine statue of the goddess by Phidias, the Temenos of Aphrodite Pandemos with a statue of her with a goat by Skopas, the Temple of Hades, the Sanctuary of Artemis Philomeirax, the Cenotaph of Achilles, the Temple of Tyche and Sosipolis, the Temple of Silenos, etc.

In the Roman period the city extended to the E, S, and W. In the S and W parts of the agora several new villas and baths were constructed, many on the foundations of older, Classical buildings. These buildings are close to each other, with rather narrow roads between and a complete water and drainage system. In the Late Roman and Early Christian periods only a part of the city was inhabited, while other sections, such as the agora and the area around it, were transformed into a large cemetery, apparently after a major destruction of the city, possibly by the Herulians (A.D. 267).

In the Byzantine period some settlement remained as indicated by an Early Christian basilica with noteworthy mosaics which was built over the South Stoa, and by numerous Christian graves in various parts of the ancient city. In the Frankish period the kastro (castle) was built on the acropolis with material from ancient buildings.

Elis: the state

The first organization of Elis into a city-state probably came about after the Dorian invasion, according to ancient tradition under Oxylos, who at the head of the Aitolo-Dorian tribes created the first synoecism in Elis (Ephor. frg. 29; Strab. 463f; Paus. 5.4.1-4). After Oxylos, the name of the settlers remained Eleians. In the 11-10th c. B.C. the state of Elis spread into the plain of the Peneios, so-called Koile-Elis (Hollow Elis). Shortly afterwards Elis annexed neighboring Akroreia and part of Pisa with the sanctuary of Olympia, and thereafter took over direction of the Olympic Games. From the 26th Olympiad (676 B.C.) and throughout the 7th c. it appears the Pisans with the help of powerful allies (Pheidon of Argos and the Dymaians) recovered their independence and with it the management of the Olympian sanctuary. But after the second Messenian war Elis, with Sparta as an ally, recovered Pisa and the sanctuary (580 B.C.). After that Elis must have annexed a part of Triphylia (Paus. 5.6.4, 6.22.4). From then to the late Hellenistic period the boundaries of Elis appear at times as the river Neda to the S (the boundary of Messenia), the foothills of Erymanthos and the river of the same name to the E (the boundary of Arkadia) and the Larisos river to the N (the boundary of Achaia). To the N and NE the boundary was the Ionian Sea. In 570 B.C. the state was reorganized and the oligarchic ruling body which had now become more moderate, took on more members (the kingship had been abolished early, possibly at the beginning of the 8th c.). The city of Elis was the main political and religious center, but nevertheless the demes appear to have retained considerable self-govemment. The peaceful existence which Elis led thereafter, its neutrality in the quarrels of the other Greek states, the “truce” and the designation of the country as sacred ground, were the cause of her prosperity and good laws (Paus. 4.28.4, 5.6.2; Polyb. 4.73.6f; Ephor. frg. 15, in Strab. 8.358, see also 8.333). Elis took no active part in the Persian wars and participated only in the fortification of the Isthmus in 480 B.C. (Hdt. 8.72, 9.77). In 471 B.C. a new synoecism was achieved in Elis (Diod. 11.54; Strab. 8.336; Paus. 5.9.5), which thereafter continued as one of the largest cities of the Peloponnesos. Under pressure of the period's democratic tendencies the oligarchs made considerable concessions, and by degrees lost their absolute authority to a popular government. The life of the country was now directed entirely from Elis, with its council (boule) and assembly (demos) and the higher officers who were elected from among all the free citizens. In the Peloponnesian War Elis abandoned her former neutrality and the “Sacred Life” she had led up to that time (Polyb. 4.73.9f) and allied herself first with Sparta, then Athens, and later with other cities. The subsequent involvement of Elis in the collisions of the Greek world cost her dear by invasions and plundering of her territory and repeated fluctuations of her boundaries. In 191 B.C. the incorporation of Elis in the Achaian League put an end to her independent political life. In 146 B.C., after the surrender of Greece to Rome, Elis was included in the Provincia Romana.

The territory of Elis was one of the most thickly settled areas in Greece. Finds of the last decade throughout the Eleian land (Hollow Elis, Akroreia, Pisatis, Triphylia) have brought 120 settlements to light, and surface finds have allowed the location of 160 more sites. Nevertheless, most of these settlements and sites, which date from the Paleolithic to the Byzantine period with no break, must have belonged to small villages, hamlets, or isolated farms since Strabo tells us (8.336) that the land was settled in a pattern of small villages. But even the small settlements of the Eleia (ancient sources tell us of 49 together with the sanctuaries) were wealthy communities although the only urban center was the capital, Elis. This was due to the self-sufficiency of a country rich in rivers and springs (annual rainfall 90-110 cm) and blessed with a mild climate (temperature extremes 10°-11° C.), which pushed the Eleians into a life of agriculture and herding rather than one of craftsmanship and trade (Polyb. 4.73.7f).


J. S. Stanhope, Olympia (1824)MPI; Blouet, Expedition scientifique de Morée (1831-38) IIMPI W. M. Leake, Peloponnesiaca: A Supplement to Travels in the Morea (1846)M; J. Belock, Die Bevölkerung der griechisch-Römischen Welt (1886); E. Curtius, “Sparta und Olympia,” Hermes 14 (1879) 129ff; G. Papandreou, Ἡλεία διά μέσου τῶν αἰώνων (1924); H. L. Bisbee, “Samikon,” Hesperia 6 (1937) 525ffPI; M. Sakellariou, an article in Mélanges à Octave Merlier (1953) 1ff; id., Τό ὅρια τῆς χώρας τῶν Ἐπειῶν, Peloponnesiaka 3 (1959) 17ff; E. Meyer, Neue Peloponnesische Wanderungen (1957)MPI; U. Kahrstedt, Das wirtschaftliche Gesicht Griechenlands in der Kaiserzeit (1954) passim; Fr. Kiechle, “Pylos und der pylische Raum in der antiken Tradition,” Historia 9 (1960) 1ff; N. Chavaillon et al., “Une industrie paleolithique du Peloponnese: le mousterien de Vasilaki,” BCH 82 (1964) 616ffMPI; id., “Industries Paleolithiques de L'Elide,” BCH 91 (1967) 151ffMPI; W. McDonald & R. Hope Simpson, AJA 65 (1961) 221ffM; id., “Further Exploration in SW Peloponnesus,” AJA 73 (1969) 123ffMI.

Elis, city-state: U. Kahrstedt, Das wirtschaftliche Gesicht Griechenlands in der Kaiserzeit (1954) passim; E. Meyer, Neue Peloponnesische Wanderungen (1957)MPI; Fr. Kiechle, “Pylos und der pylische Raum in der antiken Tradition,” Historia 9 (1960) 1ff; W. McDonald & R. Hope Simpson, AJA 65 (1961) 221ffM; id., “Further Exploration in SW Peloponnesus,” AJA 73 (1969) 123ffMI; R. Hope Simpson, A Gazetteer and Atlas of Mycenaean sites (1965)M; Leroi-Gourhan, “Decouvertes Paléolithiques en Elide,” BCH 88 (1964) lffMI; N. Yalouris, Μυκηϝαϊκός τύμβος Σαμικοῦ, Deltion 20 (1965) 6ffPI; id., Παπαχατζῆς, Παυσανίου Ἑλλάδος Περιήγησις, Μεσσηνιακά-Ἠλειακά (1965)MPI; id., Πύλος Ἠμαθόεις, AthMitt 82 (1967) 68ffI; C. M. Kraay & M. Hirmer, Greek Coins (1966) 342fI; Meyer in Kl. Pauly (1967) 2, 249ff, s.v. Elis; A. Hönle, Olympia in der Politik der Griechischen Welt (1968); Reports in BCH 83 (1959) 649ffI; 85 (1961) 719ffI; 86 (1962) 741ffI; 87 (1963) 791ffI; 88 (1964) 755ffI; 89 (1965) 749ffI; 90 (1966) 830fI; 91 (1967) 666fPI; 92 (1968) 832ffMI; 94 (1970) 1002ffMI; 95 (1971) 901ffI.

Elis city: E. Curtius, “Der Synoikismos von Elis,” Sitz. d. Kon. Preuss. Akad. d. Wiss. 26 (1895); Fr. Tritsch, “Die Agora von Elis und die altgriechische Agora,” JOAI 27 (1932) 64ffMPI; N. Yalouris, “The City-state of Elis,” Ekistics 33 (1972) 95f.

Reports in JOAI 14 (1911) 97ffMPI; 16 (1913) 145ffP; 17 (1914) 61ffPI; 18 (1915) 61ffPI; 45 (1960) 99ffI; (1961-63) 33ffI; 47 (1964-65) 43ffPI; 48 (1966-67) 45ffPI; in Εργον (1960) 129ffI; (1961) 177ffI; (1962) 144ffPI; (1963) 115ffI; (1964) 116ffPI; (1965) 71ffPI; (1966) 110ffPI; (1967) 14ffI; (1969) 80ffPI; (1970) 132ffPI; in Πρακτικα (1960) 171ffPI; (1961) 180ffI; (1962) 122ffPI; (1963) 137ffI; (1964) 136ffPI; (1965) 99ffPI; (1966) 133fPI; (1967) 20fI; (1969) 70fPI; (1970) 142ffPI; Δελτιον 16 (1960) 134fI; 17 (1961-62) 124ffI; 18 (1963) 101ffPI; 19 (1964) 180ffI; 20 (1965) 211ffPI; 21 (1966) 170ffI; 22 (1967) 208ffI; 23 (1968) 160ffMPI; 24 (1969) 146ffPI; 25 (1970) 187ffI; AAAthens (1968) 128ffI; (1969) 15ffPI.


hide References (10 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (10):
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 11.54
    • Herodotus, Histories, 8.72
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 3.8.5
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 4.28.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.4.1
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.6.4
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 5.9.5
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.23
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 6.26.2
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 19.74.2
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