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Ἦλις; Doric, Ἆλις). A district of the Peloponnesus, lying west of Arcadia. At the period of the Peloponnesian War the name of Elis was applied to the whole of that northwestern portion of the peninsula situated between the rivers Larissus and Neda which served to separate it from Achaea and Messenia. But in earlier times this tract of country was divided into several districts or principalities, each occupied by a separate clan or people, of whom the Caucones were probably the most ancient, so that Strabo affirms that, according to some authors, the whole of Elis once bore the name of Cauconia. Before the siege of Troy, the Epei, an Elean tribe, are said to have been greatly reduced by their wars with Heracles, who conquered Augeas their king, and the Pylians commanded by Nestor. They subsequently, however, acquired a great accession of strength by the influx of a large colony from Aetolia, under the conduct of Oxylus, and their numbers were further increased by a considerable detachment of the Dorians and Heraclidae. Iphitus, descended from Oxylus, and a contemporary of Lycurgus, re-established the Olympic Games, which, though instituted, as it was said, by Heracles, had been interrupted for several years (Pausan. v. 4). The Pisatae, having remained masters of Olympia from the first celebration of the festival, long disputed its possession with the Eleans, but they were finally conquered, when the temple and the presidency of the games fell into the hands of their rivals. The preponderance obtained by the latter is chiefly attributable to the assistance they derived from Sparta, in return for the aid afforded to that State in the Messenian War. From this period we may date the ascendency of Elis over all the other surrounding districts hitherto independent. It now comprised not only the country of the Epei and Caucones, which might be termed Elis Proper, but the territories of Pisa and Olympia, forming the ancient kingdom of Pelops, and the whole of Triphylia.

The troops of Elis were present in all the engagements fought against the Persians, and in the Peloponnesian War zealously adhered to the Spartan confederacy, until the conclusion of the treaty after the battle of Amphipolis, when an

Coins of Elis with Effigies of Zeus.

open rupture took place between this people and the Lacedaemonians, in consequence of protection and countenance afforded by the latter to the inhabitants of Lepraeum, who had revolted from them (Thuc.v. 31). Such was the resentment of the Eleans on this occasion that they imposed a heavy fine on the Lacedaemonians, and prohibited their taking part in the Olympic Games. They also made war upon Sparta, in conjunction with the Mantineans, Argives, and Athenians; and it was not till after the unsuccessful battle of Mantinea that this confederacy was dissolved (Thuc.v. 81). The Lacedaemonians, on the other hand, avenged those injuries by frequent incursions into the territory of Elis, the fertility of which presented an alluring prospect of booty to an invading army. They were beaten, however, at Olympia under the command of Agis (Pausan. v. 4); and again repulsed before the city of Elis, whither they had advanced under Pausanias (Diod. Sic.xiv. 17). At length the Eleans, wearied with the continual incursions to which their country was exposed, since it furnished entire subsistence to the army of the enemy, gladly sued for peace. Not long after, however, we find them again in arms, together with the Boeotians and Argives, against Sparta (Hist. Gr. vii. 2). At the battle of Mantinea they once more fought under the Spartan banners, jealousy of the rising ascendency obtained by the Thebans having led them to abandon their interests (id. vii. 5, 1). Pausanias writes that when Philip acquired the dominion of Greece the Eleans, who had suffered much from civil dissensions, joined the Macedonian alliance, but refused to fight against the Athenians and Thebans at Chaeronea, and on the death of Alexander they united their arms with those of the other confederates, who carried on the war of Lamia against Antipater and the other commanders of the Macedonian forces. Some years after, Aristotimus, son of Damaretus, through the assistance of Antigonus Gonatas, usurped the sovereignty of Elis; but a conspiracy having been formed against him he was slain at the altar of Zeus Soter, whither he had fled for refuge (Pausan. v. 4, 5). During the Social War the Eleans were the firmest allies of the Aetolians in the Peloponnesus; and though they were on more than one occasion basely deserted by that people, and sustained heavy losses in the field as well as from the devastation of their territory and the capture of their towns, they could not be induced to desert their cause and join the Achaean League. These events, described by Polybius, are the last in which the Eleans are mentioned as an independent people; for, though they do not appear to have taken any part in the Achaean War, they were included with the rest of the Peloponnesus in the general decree by which the whole of Greece was annexed to the Roman Empire. Elis was by far the most fertile and populous district of the Peloponnesus, and its inhabitants are described as fond of agriculture and rural pursuits (Poly b. iv. 73).

Elis was divided into three districts—Elis Proper, or “Hollow Elis” ( Κοίλη Ἦλις), Pisatis, and Triphylia. The first of these occupied the northern section of the country and has already been alluded to; the second, or Pisatis, was that part of the Elean territory through which flowed the Alpheus after its junction with the Erymanthus. It derived its name from the city of Pisa; the third, or Triphylia, formed the southern division.

hide References (3 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 14.17
    • Thucydides, Histories, 5.31
    • Thucydides, Histories, 5.81
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