Elis, Katakolo, Greece | CruiseBe
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History and museums
ancietn district, ruins, historic site

Elis /ˈɛlɨs/ or Eleia /ɛˈl.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.

The local form of the name was Valis, or Valeia, and its meaning, in all probability, “the lowland” (compare with the word "valley"). In its physical constitution Elis is similar to Achaea and Arcadia; its mountains are mere offshoots of the Arcadian highlands, and its principal rivers are fed by Arcadian springs.

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.



As described by Strabo, Elis was divided into three districts:

  • Coele (Κοίλη Koilē "hollow") or Lowland Elis,
  • Pisatis (Πισᾶτις Pīsātis), or the territory of Pisa, and
  • Triphylia (Τριφυλία Triphūlia "the country of the three tribes").

Coele Elis, the largest and most northern of the three, was watered by the river Peneus and its tributary the Ladon. The district was famous during antiquity for its cattle and horses. Pisatis extended south from Coele Elis to the right bank of the river Alpheus, and was divided into eight departments named after as many towns. Triphylia stretches south from the Alpheus to the river Neda.

Nowadays Elis is a small village of 150 citizens, located 14 km NE of Amaliada, built over the ruins of the ancient town. It has a museum that contains treasures, discovered in various excavations. It also has one of the most well-preserved ancient theaters in Greece. Built in the 4th century BC, the theater had a capacity of 8,000 people; below it Early Helladic, sub-Mycenaean and Protogeometric graves have been found. Elis is well known for breeding horses and its hosting of the Olympic games.

Notable Eleans


  • Coroebus of Elis, the first Ancient Olympic gold-medalist
  • Troilus of Elis, 4th century BC equestrian

In mythology

  • Salmoneus, Aethlius, Pelops mythological kings of Elis
  • Endymion
  • Sons of Endymion:
    • Epeius
    • Aetolus
    • Paeon
  • Augeas, king of Elis related to the Fifth Labour of Heracles
  • Amphimachus, king of Elis and leader of Eleans in Trojan War
  • Thalpius, leader of Eleans in Trojan War
  • Oxylus, king of Elis


  • Alexinus (c. 339-265 BC), philosopher
  • Hippias of Elis, Greek sophist
  • Phaedo of Elis, founder of the Elean School
  • Pyrrho, philosopher

Eleans as barbarians

Eleans were labelled as the greatest barbarians barbarotatoi by musician Stratonicus of Athens

And when he was once asked by some one who were the wickedest people, he said, "That in Pamphylia, the people of Phaselis were the worst; but that the Sidetae were the worst in the whole world." And when he was asked again, according to the account given by Hegesander, which were the greatest barbarians, the Boeotians or the Thessalians he said, "The Eleans."

In Hesychius (s.v. βαρβαρόφωνοι) and other ancient lexica Eleans are also listed as barbarophones. Indeed, the North-West Doric dialect of Elis is, after the Aeolic dialects, one of the most difficult for the modern reader of epigraphic texts.

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