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The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites

Elis

  The city lies in the NW part of the region, in the middle of the E Peneios plain, where the river emerges from the mountainous interior into the plain, between the modern villages of Paliopolis and Kalyvia. In the NE section of the city rises the hill Kaloskopi (mediaeval Belvedere) or Paliopyrgos (400 m), where the ancient acropolis was. The site was inhabited from at least as early as the Early Helladic period and from then on through to the end of the Byzantine period. According to some ancient philological sources, Elis in the Mycenaean period was one of the four or five most notable towns in the realm of the Epeioi (Il. 2.615f, 11.671f; Od. 4.635) and controlled only the area around the city. Excavation of the site was undertaken in 1910-14, and has continued since 1960.
  In the Early Helladic to Geometric period, judging by the extent of the finds and the numerous tombs of this period, the settlement was located on the peak of the acropolis and on its NW slope toward the Peneios, where the theater was later placed. In the archaic period the city was extended to the SW. At that time the Temple of Athena was probably erected on the acropolis (Paus. 6.26.2). Numerous painted terracotta simas and stone architectural fragments indicate the existence at that time of many monumental structures.
  In the Classical and Hellenistic period the city area was extended to surround the acropolis over an area bounded by Paliopolis to the S, the village of Kalyvia to the W, and as far as the outskirts of the village of Bouchioti and the banks of the Peneios. Part of the city extended to the right bank opposite. The principal necropolis of this period was discovered SW of Kalyvia. Another was found at the NW foot of the acropolis. The city, or at least the acropolis, was fortified at the end of the 5th c. B.C. (Paus. 3.8.5). In 313 B.C. Telesphoros, the general of Antigonos, refortified the acropolis (Diod. 19.74.2, 87). At its N foot a substantial section of this wall was uncovered, and other remains of the ancient wall have been found on the W slope. In this period were constructed numerous civic buildings, as well as temples and shrines in the agora and the area around, where they stood quite close together (Paus. 6.23. lf). Some of these have been uncovered and identified by the excavations to date: the agora, including a part of the stoa of the Hellanodikai which is Doric, with a triple colonnade, the Hellanodikaion which is a small rectangular building to the N of the stoa, two gymnasia and the palaestra in the W section, and in the S section of the agora the Korkyraion or South Stoa, which is a double stoa in the Doric style. The whole theater has been uncovered to the N of the agora. Its first phase dates to the 4th c. B.C., with alterations in the Hellenistic and Roman periods. Other buildings which Pausanias saw, but which have not yet been located, are: the Temple of Aphrodite with a chryselephantine statue of the goddess by Phidias, the Temenos of Aphrodite Pandemos with a statue of her with a goat by Skopas, the Temple of Hades, the Sanctuary of Artemis Philomeirax, the Cenotaph of Achilles, the Temple of Tyche and Sosipolis, the Temple of Silenos, etc.
  In the Roman period the city extended to the E, S, and W. In the S and W parts of the agora several new villas and baths were constructed, many on the foundations of older, Classical buildings. These buildings are close to each other, with rather narrow roads between and a complete water and drainage system. In the Late Roman and Early Christian periods only a part of the city was inhabited, while other sections, such as the agora and the area around it, were transformed into a large cemetery, apparently after a major destruction of the city, possibly by the Herulians (A.D. 267).
  In the Byzantine period some settlement remained as indicated by an Early Christian basilica with noteworthy mosaics which was built over the South Stoa, and by numerous Christian graves in various parts of the ancient city. In the Frankish period the kastro (castle) was built on the acropolis with material from ancient buildings.
  Elis: the state
  The first organization of Elis into a city-state probably came about after the Dorian invasion, according to ancient tradition under Oxylos, who at the head of the Aitolo-Dorian tribes created the first synoecism in Elis (Ephor. frg. 29; Strab. 463f; Paus. 5.4.1-4). After Oxylos, the name of the settlers remained Eleians. In the 11-10th c. B.C. the state of Elis spread into the plain of the Peneios, so-called Koile-Elis (Hollow Elis). Shortly afterwards Elis annexed neighboring Akroreia and part of Pisa with the sanctuary of Olympia, and thereafter took over direction of the Olympic Games. From the 26th Olympiad (676 B.C.) and throughout the 7th c. it appears the Pisans with the help of powerful allies (Pheidon of Argos and the Dymaians) recovered their independence and with it the management of the Olympian sanctuary. But after the second Messenian war Elis, with Sparta as an ally, recovered Pisa and the sanctuary (580 B.C.). After that Elis must have annexed a part of Triphylia (Paus. 5.6.4, 6.22.4). From then to the late Hellenistic period the boundaries of Elis appear at times as the river Neda to the S (the boundary of Messenia), the foothills of Erymanthos and the river of the same name to the E (the boundary of Arkadia) and the Larisos river to the N (the boundary of Achaia). To the N and NE the boundary was the Ionian Sea. In 570 B.C. the state was reorganized and the oligarchic ruling body which had now become more moderate, took on more members (the kingship had been abolished early, possibly at the beginning of the 8th c.). The city of Elis was the main political and religious center, but nevertheless the demes appear to have retained considerable self-govemment. The peaceful existence which Elis led thereafter, its neutrality in the quarrels of the other Greek states, the truce and the designation of the country as sacred ground, were the cause of her prosperity and good laws (Paus. 4.28.4, 5.6.2; Polyb. 4.73.6f; Ephor. frg. 15, in Strab. 8.358, see also 8.333). Elis took no active part in the Persian wars and participated only in the fortification of the Isthmus in 480 B.C. (Hdt. 8.72, 9.77). In 471 B.C. a new synoecism was achieved in Elis (Diod. 11.54; Strab. 8.336; Paus. 5.9.5), which thereafter continued as one of the largest cities of the Peloponnesos. Under pressure of the period's democratic tendencies the oligarchs made considerable concessions, and by degrees lost their absolute authority to a popular government. The life of the country was now directed entirely from Elis, with its council (boule) and assembly (demos) and the higher officers who were elected from among all the free citizens. In the Peloponnesian War Elis abandoned her former neutrality and the Sacred Life she had led up to that time (Polyb. 4.73.9f) and allied herself first with Sparta, then Athens, and later with other cities. The subsequent involvement of Elis in the collisions of the Greek world cost her dear by invasions and plundering of her territory and repeated fluctuations of her boundaries. In 191 B.C. the incorporation of Elis in the Achaian League put an end to her independent political life. In 146 B.C., after the surrender of Greece to Rome, Elis was included in the Provincia Romana.
  The territory of Elis was one of the most thickly settled areas in Greece. Finds of the last decade throughout the Eleian land (Hollow Elis, Akroreia, Pisatis, Triphylia) have brought 120 settlements to light, and surface finds have allowed the location of 160 more sites. Nevertheless, most of these settlements and sites, which date from the Paleolithic to the Byzantine period with no break, must have belonged to small villages, hamlets, or isolated farms since Strabo tells us (8.336) that the land was settled in a pattern of small villages. But even the small settlements of the Eleia (ancient sources tell us of 49 together with the sanctuaries) were wealthy communities although the only urban center was the capital, Elis. This was due to the self-sufficiency of a country rich in rivers and springs (annual rainfall 90-110 cm) and blessed with a mild climate (temperature extremes 10°-11° C.), which pushed the Eleians into a life of agriculture and herding rather than one of craftsmanship and trade (Polyb. 4.73.7f).

N. Yalouris, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites, Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Nov 2002 from Perseus Project URL below, which contains 4 image(s), bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.


Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)

Elis

Elis. The position of the city of Elis was the best that could have been chosen for the capital of the country. Just before the Peneius emerges from the hills into the plain, the valley of the river is contracted on the south by a projecting hill of a peaked form, and nearly 500 feet in height. This hill was the acropolis of Elis, and commanded as well the narrow valley of the Peneius as the open plain beyond. It is now called Kaloskopi, which the Venetians translated into Belvedere. The ancient city lay at the foot of the hill, and extended across the river, as Strabo says that the Peneius flowed through the city (viii. p. 337); but since no remains are now found on the right or northern bank, it is probable that all the public buildings were on the left bank of the river, more especially as Pausanias does not make any allusion to the river in his description of the city. On the site of the ancient city there are two or three small villages, which bear the common name of Paleopoli.
  Elis is mentioned as a town of the Epeii by Homer (Il. ii. 615); but in the earliest times the two chief towns in the country appear to have been Ephyra the residence of Augeias, in the interior, and Buprasium on the coast. Some writers suppose that Ephyra was the more ancient name of Elis, but it appears to have been a different place, situated upon the Ladon. Elis first became a place of importance upon the invasion of Peloponnesus by the Dorians. Oxylus and his Aetolian followers appear to have settled on the height of Kaloskopi as the spot best adapted for ruling the country. From this time it was the residence of the kings, and of the aristocratical families who governed the country after the abolition of royalty. Elis was the only fortified town in the country; the rest of the inhabitants dwelt in unwalled villages, paying obedience to the ruling class at Elis.
  Soon after the Persian wars the exclusive privileges of the aristocratical families in Elis were abolished, and a democratical government established. Along with this revolution a great change took place in the city of Elis. The city appears to have been originally confined to the acropolis; but the inhabitants of many separate townships, eight according to Strabo, now removed to the capital, and built round the acropolis a new city, which they left undefended by walls, relying upon the sanctity of their country. (Diod. xi. 54; Strab. viii. p. 336; Xen. Hell. iii. 2. 27) At the same time the Eleians were divided into a certain number of local tribes; or if the latter existed before, they now acquired for the first time political rights. The Hellanodicae, or presidents of the Olympic games, who had formerly been taken from the aristocratical families, were now appointed, by lot, one from each of the local tribes; and the fluctuating number of the Hellanodicae shows the increase and decrease from time to time of the Eleian territory. It is probable that each of the three districts into which Elis was divided, - Hollow Elis, Pisatis, and Triphylia, - contained four tribes. This is in accordance with the fourfold ancient division of Hollow Elis, and with the twice four townships in the Pisatis. Pausanias in his account of the number of the Hellanodicae says that there were 12 Hellanodicae in Ol. 103, which was immediately after the battle of Leuctra, when the Eleians recovered for a short time their ancient dominions, but that being shortly afterwards deprived of Triphylia by the Arcadians, the number of their tribes was reduced to eight. (Paus. v. 9. § § 5, 6.)
  When Pausanias visited Elis, it was one of the most populous and splendid cities of Greece. At present nothing of it remains except some masses of tile and mortar, several wrought blocks of stone and fragments of sculpture, and a square building about 20 feet on the outside, which within is in the form of an octagon with niches. With such scanty remains it would be impossible to attempt any reconstruction of the city, and to assign to particular sites the buildings mentioned by Pausanias (vi. 23 - 26).
  Strabo says (viii. p. 337) that the gymnasium stood on the side of the river Peneius; and it is probable that the gymnasium and agora occupied the greater part of the space between the river and the citadel. The gymnasium was a vast inclosure surrounded by a wall. It was by far the largest gymnasium in Greece, which is accounted for by the fact that all the athletae in the Olympic games were obliged to undergo a month's previous training in the gymnasium at Elis. The inclosure bore the general name of Xystus, and within it there were special places destined for the runners, and separated from one another by plane-trees. The gymnasium contained three subdivisions, called respectively Plethrium, Tetragonum, and Malco: the first so called from its dimensions, the second from its shape, and the third from the softness of the soil. In their Malco was the senate-house of the Eleians, called Lalichium from the name of its founders: it was also used for literary exhibitions.
  The gymnasium had two principal entrances, one leading by the street called Siope or Silence to the baths, and the other above the cenotaph of Achilles to the agora and the Hellanodicaeum. The agora was also called the hippodrome, because it was used for the exercise of horses. It was built in the ancient style, and, instead of being surrounded by an. unin terrupted, series of stoae or colonnades, its stoae were separated, from one another by streets. The southern stoa, which consisted of a triple row of Doric columns, was the usual resort of the Hellanodicae during the day. Towards one end of this stoa to the left was the Hellanodicaeon, a building divided from. the agora by a street, which was the official residence of the Hellanodicae, who received here instruction in their duties for ten months preceding the.festival. There was another stoa in the agora called the Corcyraean stoa, because it had been built out of the tenth of some spoils taken from the Cor. cyraeans. It consisted of two rows of Doric columns, with a partition wall running between them: one side was open to the agora, and the other to a temple of Aphrodite Urania, in which was a statue of the goddess in gold and ivory by Pheidias. In the open part of the agora Pausanias mentions the temple of Apollo Acacesius, which was the principal temple in Elis, statues of Helios and Selene (Sun and Moon), a temple of the Graces, a temple of Silenus, and the tomb of Oxylus. On the way to the theatre was the temple of Hades, which was opened only once in the year.
  The theatre must have been on the slope of the acropolis: it is described by Pausanias as lying between the agora and the Menius, which, if the name is not corrupt, must be the brook flowing down from the heights behind Paleopoli. Near the theatre was a temple of Dionysus, containing a statue of this god by Praxiteles.
  On the acropolis was a temple of Athena, containing a statue of the goddess in gold and ivory by Pheidias. On the summit of the acropolis are the remains of a castle, in the walls of which Curtius noticed some fragments of Doric columns which probably belonged to the temple of Athena.
  In the immediate neighbourhood of Elis was Petra, where the tomb of the philosopher Pyrrhon was shown. (Paus. vi. 24. § 5.)

This extract 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


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