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Coele Elis

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)

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 gulf.
  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.

 Triphylia (Triphulia) 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, Opus, Thraustus (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 of Bolax 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

Perseus Encyclopedia Site Text

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

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