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Names of the place
The country was called Coele Elis from the fact in the case, for the most and best of it was "Coele".(Strabo 8.3.2)
- Perseus: Strabo, Geography
Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)
Elis (he Elis, Dor. Alis, whence Alis in Plant. Capt. Prol. 9, 26;
acc. Elida of the country, Eiln of the town generally, in Lat. Elin and Elidem.
The word was originally written with the digamma Phalis, perhaps connected with
vallis, and signifying originally, a hollow. The country was also called he Eleia,
Thuc. ii. 25, Polyb. v. 102; he Eleion chora, Polyb. iv. 77; Eliorum ager, Plin.
iv. 5. s. 6. Eth. and Adj. Eleios, Aleios, Phaleion on coins, Elius, Eleus, Alius,
Plaut. Capt. Prol. 24.; Eliades, Steph. B. s. v.; Eleiakos, Eliakos).
Elis, in its widest signification, was the country on the western
coast of Peloponnesus between Achaia and Messenia, extending from the promontory
Araxus and the river Larissus on the north to the river Neda on the south, and
bounded on the east by the Arcadian mountains and on the west by the Ionian sea.
(Strab. viii. p. 336.) It included three distinct districts, Elis Prroper
or Hollow Elis, the northern portion, extending from the river Araxus to
the promontory Ichthys; Pisatis the middle portion, from the
promontory Ichthys to the river Alpheius; and Triphylia the southern
portion, from the Alpheius to the Neda. Elis Proper was divided into two parts,
the plain of the Peneius, and the mountainous country in the interior, called
Acroreia: the name of Hollow Elis (he koile Elis Thuc. ii. 25) appears to have
been originally given to the plain of the Peneius to distinguish it from the mountainous
district of the Acroreia; but since Hollow Elis was the larger and more fertile
part, this name came to be given to the whole of the northern territory, to distinguish
it from the dependent districts of Pisatis and Triphylia.
Those of the ancient geographers, who represented Peloponnesus as
consisting of only five divisions, made Elis and Arcadia only one district. (Paus.
v. 1. § 1.) In fact Elis may be looked upon as a kind of offshoot of Arcadia,
since it embraces the lower slopes of the mountains of Erymanthus, Pholoe and
Lycaeus, which sink down gradually towards the Ionian sea. Elis has no mountain
system of its own, but only hills and plains. It contains more fertile land than
any other country of Peloponnesus; the rich meadows of the plain of the Peneius
were celebrated from the earliest times; and even the sandy hills, which separate
the plains, are covered with vegetation, since they are exposed to the moist westerly
winds. Thus the land with its green hills and fertile plains forms a striking
contrast to the bare and precipitous rocks on the eastern coast. Hence Oxylus
is said to have conducted the invading Dorians by the more difficult way through
Arcadia, lest they should see the fertile territory of Elis, which he had designed
for himself. (Paus. v. 4. § 1; Polyb. iv. 73.)
The coast of Elis is a long and almost unbroken sandy level, and would
have been entirely destitute of natural harbours, if a few neighbouring rocks
had not become united by alluvial deposits with the mainland. In this way three
promontories have been formed,--Araxus, Chelonatas, Ichthys,--which interrupt
the uniformity of the coast, and afford some protection for vessels. Of these
the central and the largest is Chelonatas, running a considerable way into the
sea, and forming on either side one end of a gulf. The northern gulf bears the
name of Cyllene, and is bounded at its northern extremity by the promontory Araxus.
The southern gulf is called the Chelonatic, and is bounded at its southern extremity
by the promontory Ichthys, which also forms the commencement of the great Cyparissian
The sandy nature of the coast interrupts the natural outlet of the
numerous smaller rivers, and absorbs them before they reach the sea. The sea also
frequently breaks over the coast; and thus there is formed along the coast a series
of lagoons, which are separated from the sea only by narrow sand-banks. Along
the Cyllenian bay there are two such lagoons; and the whole Elean coast upon the
Cyparissian bay is occupied by three almost continuous lagoons. This collection
of stagnant water renders the coast very unhealthy in the summer months; and the
vast number of gnats and other insects, which are generated in these marshes,
makes it almost impossible to live near the sea. The modern harbour of Kunupeli
has derived its name from the gnats, which abound in the neighbourhood (Kounoupeli
from Kounoupion==konoph); and even in antiquity the Eleans invoked Zeus and Hercules
to protect them from this plague. (Zeus apomuios, Paus. v. 14. § 1; comp. Aelian,
H. An. v. 17.) These lagoons, however, supply the inhabitants with a vast abundance
of fish. In the summer months, when the fish are very numerous on the coast, a
small opening is made through the narrow sand-banks; and the lagoons thus become
soon filled with fish, which are easily taken. They are dried and salted on the
spot, and are exported in large quantities. This fishery was probably carried
on in ancient times also, since we find Apollo worshipped among the Eleans under
the epithet of Opsophagos. (Polemon. p. 109. ed. Preller.)
The physical peculiarities of Elis are not favourable to its becoming
an independent state. In fact no country in Greece is so little protected against
hostile attacks. The broad valley of the Alpheius runs, like a highway, through
the centre of Elis: the mountains, which form its eastern boundaries, are a very
slight defence, since they are only the offshoots of still higher mountains; while
the towns and villages on the flat coast lie entirely exposed to an enemy's fleet.
But these natural obstacles to its independence were more than compensated by
the sacred character attaching to the whole land in consequence of its possessing
the temple of the Olympian Zeus on the banks of the Alpheius. Its territory was
regarded as inviolable by the common law of Greece; and though its sanctity was
not always respected, and it was ravaged more than once by an invading force,
as we shall presently see, it enjoyed for several centuries exemption from the
devastations of war. Thus, instead of the fortified places seen in the rest of
Greece, Elis abounded in unwalled. villages and country houses; and the valley
of the Alpheius in particular was full of various sanctuaries, and consecrated
spots, which gave the whole country a sacred appearance. The prosperity of the
country continued down to the time of Polybius, who notices its populousness and
the fondness of its inhabitants for a country life. (Strab. viii. pp. 343, 358;.
Polyb. iv. 73, 74.) The prosperity of Elis was also much indebted to the expenditure
of the vast number. of strangers, who visited the country once in four: years
at the festival of the Olympian Zeus.
Hollow Elis is more extensive and more fertile than the two
subject districts (hai perioikides poleis) of Pisatis and Triphylia. It consists
of a fertile plain, drained by the river Peneius (Peneios) and its tributary the
Ladon (Ladon). The Peneius rises in Mount Erymanthus between two lofty summits,
and flows at first between the ravine of Berbini, and afterwards in a north-westerly
direction till it reaches a more open valley. The Ladon, called Selleeis by Homer,
rises a little more to the south; it also flows at first through a narrow ravine,
and falls into the Peneius, just where it enters the broader valley. The united
stream continues its course through this valley, till at the town of Elis it emerges
near its mouth into the extensive plain of Gastuni, which is the name now generally
given to the river throughout its whole course. The river Gastuni now flows into
the sea to the south of the promontory of Chelonatas, but there is reason for
believing that the main branch at least of the Peneius originally flowed into
the sea north of the Chelonatas. This appears from the order of the names in Ptolemy
(iii. 16. § § 5, 6), who enumerates the promontory Araxus, Cyllene, the mouths
of the Peneius, and the promontory Chelonitis, as well as from the statement of
Strabo (viii. p. 338) that the Peneius flows into the sea between Chelonatas and
Cyllene. Moreover, the legend of Hercules cleansing the stables of Augeias by
diverting the course of the Peneius would seem to show that even in ancient times
the course of the stream had been changed either by artificial or by natural means;
and there are still remains of some ancient channels near the southern end of
the Cyllenian gulf.
The plain of Gastuni is still celebrated for its fertility, and produces
flax, wheat, and cotton. In antiquity, as we learn from Pausanias (v. 5. § 2),
Elis was the only part of Greece in which byssus (a species of fine flax) grew.
This byssus is described by Pausanias (l. c.) as not inferior to that of the Hebrews
in fineness, but not so yellow; and in another passage (vi. 26. § 6) he remarks
that hemp and flax and byssus are sown by all the Eleians, whose lands are adapted
for these crops. The vine was also cultivated with success, as is evident from
the especial honour paid to Dionysus in the city of Elis, and from the festival
called Thyia, in which three empty jars spontaneously filled with wine. (Paus.
vi. 26. § 1.) Elis still contains a large quantity of excellent timber; and the
road to Achaia along the coast passes through noble forests of oaks. The rich
pastures of the Peneius were favourable to the rearing of horses and cattle. Even
in the earliest legends Augeias, king of the Epeians in Elis, is represented as
keeping innumerable herds of oxen; and the horses of Elis were celebrated in the
Homeric poems (Od. iv. 634, xxi. 346). It was said that mules could not be engendered
in Elis in consequence of a divine curse (Herod. iv. 30; Paus. v. 5. § 2); but
this tale probably arose from the fact of the Eleian mares being sent into Arcadia,
in order to be covered by the asses of the latter country, which were reckoned
the best in all Greece.
Pisatis (he Pisthtis)
is the lower valley of the Alpheius.
is the smallest of the three divisions of Elis
Towns in Elis
1. In Hollow Elis.
Upon the coast, proceeding southwards from the promontory of Araxus, Hyrmine,
Cyllene. From the town of
Elis a road led northward
to Dyme in Achaia
passing by Myrtunium (or
Myrsinus) and Buprasium East
of Elis and commanding the entrance to the Acroreia
or highlands of Elis was Pylos,
at the junction of the Peneius
and Ladon. South of Pylos
on the Ladon was the Homeric Ephyra
afterwards called Oenoe.
North of Pylos in the mountainous country on the borders of Achaia was Thalamae
East of Pylos and Ephyra, in the Acroreia, were Lasion,
(or Thraestus), Alium. Eupagium
2. In Pisatis.
Upon the Sacred Way leading from Elis to Olympia, Letrini
and Dyspontium Upon
the coast, the town and harbour of Pheia.
On the road across the mountains from Elis to Olympia, Alesiaeum,
Salmone, and Heracleia;
and in the same. neighbourhood, Margana
(or Margalae) and Ampidoli.
Olympia lay on the right
bank of the Alpheius, nearly
in the centre of the country: it was properly not a town, but only a collection
of sacred buildings. A little to the east of Olympia was Pisa
and further east Harpinna.
3. In Triphylia.
Upon the road along the coast, Epitalyum
(the Homeric Thryon), Samicum,
Pyrgi. A road, led from
Olympia to Lepreum, on which were Pylos
and Macistus. Lepreum
in the southern part of Triphylia was the chief town of the district. Between
these two roads was Scillus
where Xenophon resided. On the Alpheius to the east of Olympia was Phrixa
and southwards in the interior were Aepy
(afterwards called Epeium), Hypana,
Typaneae. The position
and Styllagium is uncertain.
This text is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited June 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD)
Perseus Encyclopedia Site Text
- Elis: Perseus Encyclopedia
Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities
Elis; Doric, Alis. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
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 [p. 588]
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" (he Koile Elis), 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.
This text is cited Oct 2002 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)