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Elis ( ancient Greek Ἦλις , Doric Ἆλις Ális , Elean dialect Ϝάλις Wális ; meaning probably valley , see Mycenaean e-nwa-ri-jo [= * en-walios]) is a historical Greek landscape on the northwestern Peloponnese . The inhabitants are called Eleier.

Ancient Elis with the capital of the same name was in charge of the Olympic Games in antiquity , where athletes trained before competing in the Olympics .


The Elis landscape lies in the northwest of the Peloponnese peninsula as the western foreland of the mountainous region of Arcadia, roughly between the rivers Larisos and Neda . The landscape is mostly flat and consists of the alluvial land of the rivers Peneios and Alpheios , which drain into the Ionian Sea , where the island of Zakynthos rises from the sea around 20 kilometers west of the Peneios estuary . The coastal plain continues north of Cape Araxos in Achaia and forms the most extensive plain in the Peloponnese. To the east the terrain rises to the Central Peloponnesian Mountains, the highest point is in the Erymanthos massif at a little over 2000 m, to the southwest of it the mountains Lambia and Pholoe rise . On the southern border with Messenia, the Minthi massif reaches a height of 1345 m. The Elis landscape is very prone to earthquakes and has numerous hot springs that are also used therapeutically.

The coast of Elis is not very indented, only the rocky Cape Kyllini and Cape Katakolo protrude into the sea. South of Cape Katakolo, one of the longest sandy beaches in Greece stretches along the Bay of Kyparissia with a length of around 70 km.

The relative abundance of rain in the area enables extensive agriculture in the coastal region, the mountains are partially covered by forests that repeatedly fell victim to forest fires.


Mythical prehistory

The pre-Greek population was called the Kaukonen . The area, easily accessible by sea and land, attracted other tribes early on. It was thought that the Phoenicians held trading posts on the coast. The etymology of the river Iardanos and the fact that Odysseus wanted to be shipped to Elis by the Phoenicians are cited as evidence . Archaeological finds that support this have not yet come to light. Eastern influence is also evidenced by the cult of Aphrodite Urania in the city of Elis and Cretan influences can be demonstrated in the cults of the Idean dactyls , such as Herakles Idaios , Chronos and the mother of the gods in Olympia.

The Epeier , who were related to the Aitolians , were the first Greek tribe in Elis . They settled all over the Elis and on the Echinaden in front of the mouth of the Acheloos . As was customary in antiquity, the inhabitants of Elis traced their descent to mythical kings, here to a first king Aethlios , who immigrated from Thessaly , his son Endymion and his descendants, including the sons Epeius and Aitolus . In fact, there are noticeable duplications of proper geographical names in Thessaly and Elis, such as the river names Peneios (Thessaly) / Peneios (Elis) and Enipeas (Thessaly) / Enipeas (Elis) . According to legend, Aitolus became the progenitor of the Aitolians in northern Greece. The name of the Eleians, whose settlement area was limited to the north of the landscape, was traced back to Eleios , a son from the connection between Endymion's daughter Eurykyda and the sea god Poseidon . The myth according followed by its Eleios an episode of Hercules say famous son Augean ; According to the ship catalog , his son Polyxenus took part in the Trojan War with three other princes, among whom the land was divided, for the Greeks with 40 ships . In Homer , the Epeier and their southern neighbors, the Pylians , are portrayed as the mighty kings of the western Peloponnese. Eleier does not mention Homer, but does mention the Epeier area as Elis.

According to legend, the Heraclides conquered the Peloponnese two generations after the Trojan War and gave Elis the Aitolian Oxylos to rule. This myth may reflect vague memories of the time of the renewed immigration of Aitolians during the Doric migration (probably from or after 1050 BC), from which the Greek population of classical times could have been formed. In any case, three domains were formed in the pre-classical period in the Elis: in the north the actual or the Cave Elis ( hē koilē Ēlis ἡ κοίλη Ἦλις , according to their hollow position between the adjacent hills) in the north, the Pisatis (after the Pisa landscape ) between the peninsula Ichthys (today Cape Katakolo ) and the Alpheios and finally Triphylia between Alpheios and Neda, which owes its name after Strabo to the merging of three tribes (Greek tri- 'three' and phylos 'tribe'), namely the Epieres, Minyers and Eleians . The Pisatis is described as an amalgamation of eight cities, Triphylia is said to have consisted of six cities. The north-eastern hill country between Eurymanthos and Pholoe was called Akroreia .


In the ancient Egyptian list of place names of Amenophis III. (14th century BC), Weleja ( w3-jw-r-jj-i , transcription is disputed), a place or a region of Tanaja (= Peloponnese or Central and Southern Greece), possibly for Elis as Trading partner and " tributeer " of the New Kingdom .

In the Mycenaean period (approx. 1600–1050 BC) Elis was quite densely populated, especially along the valleys of the Peneios and Alpheios rivers , with most of the archaeological finds coming from necropolises . In contrast to z. B. Messenia or the Argolis , no Mycenaean palace center (see also Mycenaean palace period ) could be discovered in Elis , which ruled extensive areas and organized them economically. In contrast to most of the other regions of Greece, at the end of the so-called Mycenaean palace period (around 1190/80 BC) there did not seem to be any decisive turning point or demographic shifts. It even seems that Elis flourished in this period ( late Helladic III C, up to approx. 1070/50 BC), as indicated by many finds from chamber graves . For the period between the late 11th and 8th centuries BC The number of finds is much smaller than for the Mycenaean period. However, this does not necessarily have to indicate a strong population decrease in Elis, but could also be due to the state of research, because this time has so far been little researched in Elis. Finds from the protogeometric and geometric periods came to light in those places where extensive excavations were carried out - for example in Olympia and the city of Elis . In addition, burials now took place in pit, pithos or simple stone box graves . B. are not as noticeable in surveys as chamber graves. In addition, the graves were in different places than the Mycenaean ones. The graves mostly contained ceramics, simple jewelry and / or fibulae as grave goods.

From the 8th century BC The Eleians ruled the entire Elish territory, the cities of Pisatis and Triphylias were Periöks . Pisa, which originally oversaw the Olympic Games, attempted to regain the privilege it had lost to the Eleians, which they did at the eighth Olympic Games in 747 BC. Also succeeded. Shortly afterwards, however, with Spartan help, the Eleians were reinstated to host the Games and their rule over Pisatis and Triphylia was confirmed. In the Second Messenian War , Pisa and Triphylia rose against Elis and sided with Messenia, while Elis supported Sparta. With the conquest of Messenia by Sparta, however, the breakaway territories must have reverted to Elis. Pausanias reports of further disputes between Pisa and Elis, for example during the 48th and 52nd Olympiad (588 BC), when the Pisatian king Pyrrhos invaded Elis with several other cities. Elis triumphed in this conflict and completely destroyed the attacking cities; At this point in time the Pisa disappears from history until it was in the 4th century BC. BC for a short period of time re-established and once again seized the Olympic Games. The land of the Eleans prospered in peace until classical times.

Temple of Zeus in Olympia

In the first decade of the Peloponnesian War , the Eleans were a loyal ally of Sparta. It wasn't until 421 BC. When Sparta supported an uprising of the Triphylian city of Lepreon against Elis, Elis switched fronts and formed an alliance with Argos , Corinth and Mantineia , who made pacts with Athens . The following year Sparta, which had still deployed troops to Lepreon during the Ekcheiria , was excluded from the Olympics for failure to pay a fine. At the Battle of Mantineia in 418 BC. After the defeat against Sparta, the alliance that had just been concluded broke up, but the relationship between Elis and Sparta remained tense. After the end of the war, Sparta demanded large payments of money for the expenses of the war against Athens and the abandonment of the dependent cities in the south; when Elis refused, it was forced again into the alliance with Sparta in a three-year war through which Elis lost control of Triphylia, Lasion and the cities of Akroreia.

The Battle of Leuktra in 371 BC. The Elis regained their independence and was able to regain the Periökenstädte up to the Alpheios, Triphylia and Lepreon, however, fell to the Arcadian League . The clashes with Arcadia shaped the next decades, so the Arcadians held 366–363 BC. BC Olympia occupied and tried to establish a new, 'pisatic' rule over the games here; during the 104th Olympic Games in 364 BC There was an armed conflict between Elis and the Arcadian League. The latter won the military battle, but two years later had to return Elis full rights to control the game after looting by Arcadians in the Holy District of Olympias of Mantineia and some Arcadian cities was rejected as sacrilege .

In the second half of the 4th century BC A troubled time began for Elis. The alternation between support and rebellion against the emerging Macedonian domination over Greece went hand in hand with internal disputes that favored now oligarchic rule and now tyranny . 217 BC The Elis joined the alliance of the Aitolians with Rome . A direct alliance with Rome in 196 BC And joining the Achaean League in 191 BC. BC, which ended the state independence of the Elis, strengthened the anti-Macedonian attitude and ensured favorable treatment by Rome after the victory in the Macedonian-Roman wars . 146 BC In BC, Elis was incorporated into the Roman province of Achaea . Due to its importance as the venue for the Olympic Games, the legacy of which Rome sought to preserve, Elis retained an outstanding importance, which was particularly manifested in the Roman imperial period through a few visits by Roman rulers. With a destructive attack by the Heruli in 267 and the ban on the games by Theodosius I and the deportation of the Zeus statue of Phidias to Constantinople in 393, the importance of the Olympic Games ended.

Late Antiquity and Early Middle Ages

The last centuries of antiquity brought multiple destruction to Elis, which was now a peripheral province of the Eastern Roman Empire . In 395 the Visigoth king Alaric I reached the region on his campaign through Greece, and in 397 he was found on the Plateau of Pholoe by the Western Roman general Stilicho and expelled. At the beginning of the 5th century the population was apparently so impoverished that they received a tax rebate under Theodosius II . Theodosius ordered the destruction of all pagan temples again in 426 and thus ended the cult in Olympia for good. Renewed looting by vandals in 467 and severe earthquakes in 522 and 551 completely destroyed the settlements of the Elis. From 612 the continuous Slavic settlement began in the northwest of the Peloponnese, which after the counteroffensive of the Byzantine army in the 8th century permanently mixed with the old Greek provincial population. The now purely rural Elis did not have a greater historical significance in the early Middle Ages.

The Franconian rule 1206–1460

Chlemoutsi Castle interior, 1223

After the Fourth Crusade , Wilhelm I von Champlitte and Gottfried I von Villehardouin landed at Cape Kyllini in 1206 and conquered from here most of the Peloponnese, which was now called Morea (after the mulberry trees that dominated the landscape) . Elis became the core area of ​​the 'Frankish' principality of Achaia they established, a medieval feudal state that was divided into 12 baronies and administered from Andréville (now Andravida ) in the Peneios plain. The seat of the princes was the Château Clairmont ( Chlemoutsi ), built in a modern western fortress architecture, and trade with Western Europe, especially Italy, was carried out via the port of Clairence (gr. Glarentza , today Kyllini ). Even if the ruling French-speaking class partially exploited the serfdom of the Greek peasants for their own courtly splendor and the Cistercian order wanted to drive out the Orthodox clergy and catholicize the population, the orientation of the state towards Western Europe brought a certain boost to trade and art. Many place names in Elis go back to the Frankish times, including Vartholomio and Gastouni .

Territorial conditions in Greece 1265

However, the rule of the Villehardouin could only survive a few generations. After 1261, the restituted Byzantine Empire established the Despotate Morea , which was administered from Mystras as a secondary school . Andravida was conquered in 1263 and 1264 by the emperor's brother, Konstantinos Palaiologos and Michael Kantakuzenos . The elis could initially be held by the Catholic rulers - now with the capital Glarentza: Wilhelm II of Villehardouin had submitted to Karl I Anjou, who also became Prince of Achaia. Wilhelm's daughter Isabelle de Villehardouin was married to a son Karl, who died early. From 1296 Charles's son Philip of Taranto ruled . Mathilde of Hainaut , the daughter of Isabella's second marriage to Florence of Hainaut and her third husband, Ludwig of Burgundy , received Achaia back in 1307. In 1315 Ferdinand von Mallorca conquered Glarentza and claimed Achaia for his underage son, a descendant of the Villehardouins. A year later he lost his rule and his life in the battle of Manolada against Ludwig. After Johann von Durazzo , who ruled from 1322 to 1333, the region was under various rulers from the House of Anjou , in 1432 it finally fell back to the Byzantines, who could only hold the Peloponnese until 1460; after the conquest of Constantinople, the Ottoman Empire conquered the area.


Excavations in Elis were carried out by the Austrian Archaeological Institute and the Archaeological Society of Athens . The most striking ruin is that of the ancient theater. Elis has a small archaeological museum.

In the sanctuary of Zeus in Olympia were Olympic Games of antiquity aligned. In the Archaeological Museum of Olympia , the finds are shown from the sanctuary.

Individual evidence

  1. Homer , Odyssey 13, 272-275.
  2. ^ Gustav Hirschfeld : Akroreia . In: Paulys Realencyclopadie der classischen Antiquity Science (RE). Volume I, 1, Stuttgart 1893, column 1200.
  3. u. a. Gustav Adolf Lehmann : The 'political-historical' relations of the Agäis world of the 15th – 13th centuries Jhs. v. About the Middle East and Egypt: some references. In: Joachim Latacz (Ed.): Two hundred years of Homer research. Review and Outlook (= Colloquium Rauricum. Volume 2). Teubner, Stuttgart a. a. 1991, ISBN 978-3-519-07412-0 , pp. 107ff.
  4. ↑ In detail on Elis in the late Mycenaean period and during the so-called Dark Centuries : Birgitta Eder : The beginnings of Elis and Olympia. On the settlement history of the Elis landscape at the transition from the Late Bronze to the Early Iron Age. In: Veronika Mitsopoulos-Leon : Research in the Peloponnese. Files from the symposium on the occasion of the celebration of “100 Years of the Austrian Archaeological Institute Athens” . Athens 5.3.-7.3.1998. Austrian Archaeological Institute, Athens 2001, pp. 233–244.
  5. Compare the warning of the Greek historian Polybios (2nd century BC) in his Histories (4, 73-74) that they unnecessarily decided against peace in the country and should think back to it.


Web links

Commons : Elis  - collection of images, videos and audio files