Elis /ˈɛlɨs/, or Eleia /ɛˈlaɪ.ə/ (Greek, Modern: Ήλιδα Ilida, Ancient: Ἦλις Ēlis; Doric: Ἆλις Alis; Elean: Ϝαλις Walis, ethnonym: Ϝαλειοι) is an ancient district that corresponds to the modern Elis regional unit. Elis 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 acquired perioikic status. Thus the city-state of Elis was formed.

Homer mentions that Elis participated in the Trojan War.

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

According to Strabo,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 BC. 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 

The extensive archaeological site of ancient Elis comprises the ancient agora, the theatre, the residential sector, the cemeteries, the acropolis, and the unexcavated gymnasiums. A number of settlements or suburbs, each with its own cemetery, developed around the city. Only small sections of the city have been investigated so far, but these provide enough information to help us imagine how the city looked.

The agora remained largely unchanged until the very end, with some minor remodelling in the Roman period. Other early buildings, however, were replaced by new constructions particularly in the Late Hellenistic and Roman periods. Both the early buildings, which were built of ashlar blocks in the ancient Greek manner, and the later ones were systematically looted for building material in Late Antiquity and later periods.

The theatre, a striking monument with a characteristic earthen cavea and a well-preserved stage building, occupied the north end of the agora. It enjoyed views of the river, which, in antiquity, ran very close by, along the city's north limits. A bridge crossed the river near that point and a strong embankment protected the city against floods. The Bouleuterion and the city's two gymnasiums were most probably located near the theatre, on a terrace by the riverbank.

The city's religious and possible administrative centre occupied the agora's south end. Here, various buildings lie haphazardly within a relatively limited space: the built enclosure of a temple with a stepped porch and altar, several porticoes and ancillary rooms, a monumental two-roomed building of the Classical period and its later annex, and an incomplete rectangular building near the entrance to the agora. This last building has been tentatively identified as the peristyle tholos dedicated to the worship of the Roman Emperors, which was already abandoned in Pausanias's time. The agora's interior space was partly lined by two large and one small portico, the latter built as a continuation of one of the large ones.

The city had densely populated residential blocks, wide streets, and several bathhouses. An impressive number of kilns was identified throughout the city. Two cemeteries were located at either end of the city, along the main road, and several small communities or suburbs developed along the same road. The acropolis occupied the top of a hill to the city's east.

Ancient Elis, the largest city and capital of the homonymous city-state, was built on the north banks of the Peneus River, between the mountainous part of Elis (Akroreia) and its coastal lowlands (Elis Koile). The site was inhabited almost continuously from the beginning of the Middle Palaeolithic (130/120,000) until the end of the Early Byzantine period (seventh century AD), when the city was abandoned. Aetolos Oxylos is considered the city's mythical founder (twelfth-eleventh centuries BC). He allegedly took advantage of the Dorian invasion in order to subordinate the area's early inhabitants and founded the first settlement. The city thrived in the early historical period (eleventh-tenth centuries BC), during the late Archaic and early Classical periods (sixth-fifth centuries BC), and in the Early Roman period (second century BC - early third century AD).

Large numbers of flint tools from surface layers suggest that the site was inhabited since the Palaeolithic. Habitation concentrated primarily in the area of the later theatre at the end of the Neolithic, and on the acropolis during the late third and early second millennia BC. The Mycenaean period saw the development of several settlements, whose cemeteries lie close to the limits of the later city. Several graves in the later city's agora date from the end of the Mycenaean period (mid-twelfth century BC).

The graves at the theatre and neighbouring east cemetery date to the early historical period, the so-called Dark Age (eleventh-tenth centuries BC). The corresponding settlements were probably located nearby. The Geometric finds, which indicate the possible existence of two small temples, are limited, and there is even less evidence for the seventh century BC. By contrast, the sixth century BC was a period of development witnessed by the finds from temples and public buildings. The introduction of democracy, the city's establishment as capital of the homonymous city-state, and its merger with the surrounding small settlements (471 BC) were landmarks in the history of Elis.

During the Peloponnesian War, the city's long-lived alliance with Sparta came to an end with devastating consequences for Elis. King Agis of Lacedaemon marched against Elis in 399 BC, King Philip II of Macedon supported the establishment of oligarchy and abolished democracy in 343 BC, and Telesphoros conquered the city in 313 BC. Aided by Roman troops, the city guard repelled an attack by King Philip V of Macedon in 209 BC, and in 191 BC, Elis joined the Achaian League. In 146 BC, it was conquered by the Romans and became part of the Roman province of Achaia; it came under the full authority of the Roman Empire as part of the Provincia Macedoniae in the early first century BC.

Elis thrived in the Early Roman period and enjoyed numerous privileges because of its role in the organization of the Olympic Games. It was greatly influenced by Roman civilization and developed a multi-cultural identity due to the various ethnic groups, particularly Romans, living there.

The barbarian invasions of Late Antiquity did not spare Elis. The city was raided by the Heruli (267 AD), the Visigoths (395 AD), and the Vandals (467 AD) before it was destroyed by two earthquakes in the sixth century AD. Life continued, however, during the seventh century, towards the end of which the city was definitively abandoned. Sporadic habitation among the ruins of the ancient city occurred in later centuries.

Elis was the birthplace of several important figures of the ancient world, including Iphitus, who established the first Olympic Games (ninth or eighth century BC), the sophist Hippias (fifth century BC), and the sceptic Pyrron (365-275 BC).

Elis was first excavated in 1910-1914 by the Austrian Archaeological Institute, whose director for the period 1911-1914 was Otto Walter. The Greek archaeologist Anastasios Orlandos participated in these early excavations. Nikolaos Gialouris resumed the excavations in 1960 for the Greek Archaeological Society. Recent work for the promotion of the archaeological site of Elis includes the removal of undergrowth, tree planting, the creation of visitors' paths, the installation of signs with explanatory texts, and the conservation and restoration of its monuments.

Site Monuments
Ancient theatre at Elis

Ancient Agora (forum) at Ilis

Sources / Bibliography / Photos

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
Iliad 2.615
Strabo Geographica Book 8.3.30
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.
Strabo; trans. by H. C. Hamilton & W. Falconer (1856). "Chapter III. GREECE. ELIS.". Geography of Strabo II. London: Henry G. Bohn. pp. 7–34.
Koumouzelis M. 1980, "The Early and Middle Helladic Periods in Elis" PhDdiss. Brandeis Univ., p. 55 - 62
Eder B. 2001, "Die submykenischen und protogeometrischen Graber von Elis", Athens
Smith, William. Ancient Library.
Athenaeus. Deipnosophistae, VIII 350a.
Towle, James A. Commentary on Plato: Protagoras, 341c.
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
http://odysseus.culture.gr  Χρήστος Ματζάνας, αρχαιολόγος
Tritsch F., "Die Agora von Elis und die altgriechische Agora", Ojh 27 (1932), 64-105
Παπαχατζής Ν., Παυσανίου Ελλάδος περιήγησις: Μεσσηνιακά-Ηλιακά, Αθήνα 1979, σσ. 394-411
Γιαλούρης Ν., Ήλις, το Λίκνο των Ολυμπιακών Αγώνων, Αθήνα 1996
Baitinger H. & Eder B., Hellenistische Stimmarken aus Elis und Olympia: Neue Forschungen zu den Beziehungen zwichen Hauptstadt und Heiligtum, Jahrbuch des Deutschen Archaologischen Instituts 116 (2001), 163-257

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