Olympie Temple Zeus

Ruins of the Temple of Zeus at Olympia.

Ancient peloponnese

Ancient peloponnese states (interactive version)

Elis, or Eleia (Greek, Modern: Ήλιδα Ilida, Ancient: Ἦλις Ēlis; Doric: Ἆλις Alis; Elean: Ϝαλις Walis, ethnonym: Ϝαλειοι) is an ancient district that corresponds with the modern Elis regional unit. It is in southern Greece on the Peloponnesos peninsula, bounded on the north by Achaea, east by Arcadia, south by Messenia, and west by the Ionian Sea.

Over the course of the archaic and classical periods, the polis of Elis controlled much of the region of Elis, most probably through unequal treaties with other cities, which will have had perioikic status.[1]

The first Olympic festival was organized in Elean land, Olympia, Greece by the authorities of Elis in the 8th century BCE, with tradition dating the first games at 776 BCE. The Hellanodikai, the judges of the Games, were of Elean origin.

The local form of the name was Valis, or Valeia, and its meaning, in all probability, “the lowland” (compare with the word "valley"). In its physical constitution Elis is similar to Achaea and Arcadia; its mountains are mere offshoots of the Arcadian highlands, and its principal rivers are fed by Arcadian springs.

According to Strabo,[2] the first settlement was created by Oxylus the Aetolian who invaded there and subjugated the residents. The city of Elis underwent synoikism—as Strabo notes—in 471 BCE.[3] Elis held authority over the site of Olympia and the Olympic games.

The spirit of the games had influenced the formation of the market: apart from the bouleuterion, which was housed in one of the gymnasia, most of the other buildings were related to the games, including two gymnasia, a palaestrum, and the House of the Hellanodikai.


As described by Strabo,[4] Elis was divided into three districts:

  • Coele (Κοίλη Koilē "hollow") or Lowland Elis,
  • Pisatis (Πισᾶτις Pīsātis), or the territory of Pisa, and
  • Triphylia (Τριφυλία Triphūlia "the country of the three tribes").

Coele Elis, the largest and most northern of the three, was watered by the river Peneus and its tributary the Ladon. The district was famous during antiquity for its cattle and horses. Pisatis extended south from Coele Elis to the right bank of the river Alpheus, and was divided into eight departments named after as many towns. Triphylia stretches south from the Alpheus to the river Neda.

Nowadays Elis is a small village of 150 citizens, located 14 km north-east of Amaliada, built over the ruins of the ancient town. It has a museum that contains treasures, discovered in various excavations. It also has one of the most well-preserved ancient theaters in Greece. Built in the 4th century BCE, the theater had a capacity of 8,000 people; below it Protoelladic and sub-Mycenaean graves have been found. Elis is well known for breeding horses and its hosting of the Olympic games.

List of Eleans


  • Coroebus of Elis, the first Ancient Olympic gold-medalist
  • Troilus of Elis, 4th century BCE equestrian

In mythology


  • Alexinus (c. 339-265 BCE), philosopher
  • Hippias of Elis, Greek sophist
  • Phaedo of Elis, founder of the Elean School[5]
  • Pyrrho, philosopher

Eleans as barbarians

Eleans were labelled as the greatest barbarians barbarotatoi by musician Stratonicus of Athens[6]

And when he was once asked by some one who were the wickedest people, he said, “That in Pamphylia, the people of PhasElis were the worst; but that the Sidetae were the worst in the whole world.” And when he was asked again, according to the account given by Hegesander, which were the greatest barbarians, the Boeotians or the Thessalians he said, ” The Eleans.”

In Hesychius (s.v.βαρβαρόφωνοι) and other ancient lexica[7] Eleans are also listed as barbarophones. Indeed the North-West Doric dialect of Elis is, after the Aeolic dialects, one of the most difficult for the modern reader of epigraphic texts.[8]



  1. Roy, J. “The Perioikoi of Elis.” The Polis as an Urban Centre and as a Political Community. Ed. M.H. Hansen. Acts of the Copenhagen Polis Centre 4. Copenhagen: Det Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab, Historisk-filosofiske Meddelelser 75, 1997. 282-32
  2. Strabo Geographica Book 8.3.30
  3. Roy, J. (2002). "The Synoikism of Elis". in Nielsen, T. H.. Even More Studies in the Ancient Greek Polis. Stuttgart: Steiner. pp. 249–264. ISBN 3-515-08102-X. 
  4. Strabo; trans. by H. C. Hamilton & W. Falconer (1856). "Chapter III. GREECE. ELIS.". Geography of Strabo. II. London: Henry G. Bohn. pp. 7–34. 
  5. Smith, William. Ancient Library.
  6. Athenaeus. Deipnosophistae, VIII 350a.
  7. Towle, James A. Commentary on Plato: Protagoras, 341c.
  8. Sophie Minon. Les Inscriptions Éléennes Dialectales (VI-II siècle avant J.-C.). Volume I: Textes. Volume II: Grammaire et Vocabulaire Institutionnel. École Pratique des Hautes Études Sciences historiques et philogiques III. Hautes Études du Monde Gréco-Romain 38. Genève: Librairie Droz S.A., 2007. ISBN 978-2-600-01130-3.

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Elis. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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