The Politics of Ethnicity and the Crisis of the Peloponnesian League

  Funke, Peter, and Nino Luraghi, eds. 2009. The Politics of Ethnicity and the Crisis of the Peloponnesian League. Hellenic Studies Series 32. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

III. Elis

James Roy


These accounts of warfare between Elis and Pisatis, though varying and even contradictory in detail, have been broadly accepted by many modern scholars (including the present writer). Recently, however, a view originally propounded by Niese has been revived and developed with good arguments by several scholars: [3] put simply, the central proposition of these arguments is that the concept of Pisatis arose in the fourth century, and with it a suitably elaborated history for Pisatis (and in due course, anti-Pisatan counter-history). Scholars adopting this view do, however, generally agree that in the classical period Pisatis (as it became) was an integral part of the Elean state proper. [4] This view of a late-emerging Pisatis is very attractive. One minor comment on it is that Elean expansion must have led to some complications in the area near Pisatis since the three minor states of Marganeis, Amphidoloi, and Letrinoi, situated side by side west of Olympia, all became perioikoi of Elis; some consideration of which we are entirely unaware must have induced Elis to make these three insignificant communities into subordinate allies rather than including them in the Elean state proper. More importantly it seems that, even if Pisatis had no authentic collective archaic past, some sentiment of regional identity was emerging by the end of the fifth century, since the unnamed group who sought to take over control of Olympia at the end of the Elean-Spartan war (Xenophon Hellenica 3.2.31) must have been from the Pisatan area. [5]

Geographical Scope of Expansion

The Eleans’ Image of Themselves

The most obvious focus for the expression of pro-Elean views was the sanctuary of Zeus at Olympia, once the Eleans took control of it. It would take too long to analyse the wealth of material from Olympia, and only a few items are selected here as illustrations. The Eleans enjoyed a remarkable number of Olympic victories from the fifth century onwards, and as a result there was a very large number of victors’ statues dedicated in the sanctuary by Eleans. [15] Other items put in the sanctuary by Elis may have shown more sympathy for the viewpoints of others, but interpretation is difficult. Herrmann (1987:3) sees the sculptural decoration on the temple of Zeus built by the Eleans from the 470s or 460s as appealing to several groups, with the myth of Pelops on the east pediment being local/Olympic, while the Herakles myth on the metopes was of general Dorian interest, and the battle of the centaurs on the west pediment was panhellenic. Kyrieleis (1997), however, sees Pelops on the east pediment as an indication of the political ambitions of Elis, and Heiden (2003) sees an expression of a connection between Thessaly and Elis on the west pediment. Jacquemin (2001a:299–300), accepting accounts of early Elean conflicts, sees in Pausanias’ account of the sanctuary at Olympia not so much a panhellenic setting for games in honour of Zeus as a panelean sanctuary uniting the two main elements of the Elean community, the Eleans of the Peneios valley and the Pisatans of the Alpheios. It seems that as the sanctuary developed it offered the visitor a complex set of messages, no doubt read by different Greeks in different ways. Some of the messages were of course not Elean at all: Olympia offered many Greeks a setting in which to project their self-image. [16] Olympia had, however, to be at the same time panhellenic and Elean: the Games were the most obvious expression of panhellenism, but the Eleans could also assert the Elean nature of the sanctuary. They did so, for instance, on the coins struck after Elis regained control of Olympia, lost during the Elean-Arcadian war of 365–362: on these Elean staters appeared a female figure and the legend “Olympia,” interpreted—convincingly—by Ritter (2001) as Elis proclaiming its restored control of Olympia after the brief Pisatan regime. And Olympia was of course a functioning sanctuary between the Olympiads, the scene of continuing ritual that was largely Elean. [17]

Cohesion within the Elean State

Pisatan Separatism

Elis and the Perioikoi [32]

When the Eleans began to lose some of their subordinate territories from the early Peloponnesian War onwards, their determination to recover and retain anything they had lost seems to have been unwavering. For instance, in the 420s with Spartan support Lepreon was able to free itself from Elean control (Thucydides 5.31.1–5). Then in 418, when Elis was allied to Athens, Argos, and Mantinea, the allied forces first operated against Orchomenos in Arcadia and then debated what to do next. Eventually they decided to proceed against Tegea. The Eleans, however, had urged the allies to help them retake Lepreon, and, when they failed to persuade the others, they went home in anger (Thucydides 5.62.1–2). It is hard to avoid the impression that Thucydides relates this episode in such a way as to bring out the Eleans’ blinkered focus on their own interests in Triphylia. Again at a peace conference in 371/0 the Eleans, according to Xenophon Hellenica 6.5.2, formulated their claim to communities in Triphylia in very blunt terms: these poleis, they said, were theirs.

The perioikic communities south of the Alpheios were united into a new Triphylian state. Siewert (1987–1988) regarded this new creation as ephemeral and serving the interests of Sparta, but Nielsen (1997) has put forward good arguments for the view that unity in the area was in the interests of the local communities, allowing them to resist Elean attempts to re-establish control over them. Ruggeri (2001–2002 and 2004:73–143) has analysed the political and constitutional history of the Triphylian state, known especially from two inscriptions (both cited in full by Ruggeri).

After Leuctra the political situation in the Peloponnese changed greatly as Spartan power declined (but did not disappear) and the Arcadian confederation came into being. Both Lasion and Triphylia declared themselves Arcadian, and joined the Arcadian confederation (Xenophon Hellenica 7.1.26; Xenophon does not name Lasion in this passage, but it is widely recognised that “the others” must refer to Lasion, because of Hellenica 7.4.12). Claims that Lasion was Arcadian had apparently already been raised c. 400, and it is not surprising that Lasion chose to be politically Arcadian in the 360s. For Triphylia to become Arcadian was a greater shift in ethnic identity, but it seems to have been welcomed by the Arcadians, who included Triphylos among the sons of their mythical ancestor Arkas on the Arcadian monument dedicated in these years at Delphi (CEG 2.824). [51] It is not clear whether the Arcadian confederation admitted Triphylia to the confederation as a single member or as several poleis. [52] In 365 Elis, or Arcadian exiles backed by Elis, captured Lasion, but it was soon recaptured by the Arcadian confederation (Xenophon Hellenica 7.4.12–13, Diodorus 15.77.1). Given the Eleans’ evident desire to recover their former perioikic communities (e.g. Xenophon Hellenica 7.1.26), it seems clear that in adopting formally an Arcadian identity and joining the Arcadian confederation, Triphylia and Lasion were also protecting themselves against the threat of renewed Elean domination.

Thus the collective identities of communities within Elis and its perioikic territory were frequently exploited in the period from the end of the Peloponnesian War to the 360s. Triphylia was created. Akroreia’s collective identity was given independent political form, twice. Lasion developed an Arcadian identity, probably from the early fourth century and certainly in the 360s. Triphylia too became Arcadian, in a remarkable adaptation of its still fairly new collective identity. The ancient identity of Pisatis, expressed in accounts of the region’s early history, was elaborated. No doubt in this catalogue of shifting identities there was a degree of opportunism, but it is hard to believe that all these developments were due simply to cynical political manoeuvring. Triphylia for instance, whose identity evolved in the most remarkable way, could presumably have secured Arcadian support against Elis in the 360s by an alliance rather than by actually becoming Arcadian. The exceptional case of Letrinoi, Amphidoloi, and Marganeis, the three insignificant communities west of Olympia, is illuminating because, though feeble on their own, they were included neither in the new Triphylian nationality after the Elean-Spartan war nor in either the Triphylian nationality or the adjacent Pisatan nationality in the 360s. Underlying sentiment helped both to shape and to limit the identities that emerged among the Elean perioikoi in the fourth century, and these three small communities were neither Triphylian nor Pisatan, just as Lasion was not Akroreian. Adopting a common identity, so far as sentiment allowed, became a common method of seeking to secure a community’s freedom from the threat of Elean control.


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[ back ] 1. Eder 2001b.

[ back ] 2. On the early history of settlement on the site of the town Elis see Eder and Mitsopoulos 1999.

[ back ] 3. Nafissi 2003, Möller 2004, and Giangiulio in this volume.

[ back ] 4. E.g., Möller 2004:265. Ruggeri (2004:52–53, 196–197 and elsewhere) takes the view that the Pisatans, though controlled by Elis from the later archaic period, did not become Elean citizens until 400 (i.e. the end of the Elean-Spartan war); this view leaves the status of the Pisatans in the fifth century unclear, and would cause difficulties in explaining the peace terms at the end of the war, when Pisatis remained Elean although Elis lost all its subordinate communities.

[ back ] 5. Unless one regards Xenophon’s reference to these counter-claimants as anachronistic, provoked by knowledge of Pisatis’ separation from Elis and control of Olympia in the 360s, as suggested by Nafissi in discussion at Munster.

[ back ] 6. Roy 1997b. On the war generally see Schepens 2004.

[ back ] 7. Strabo 8.3.9; on the report see Rizakis 1995:521, cf. 160.

[ back ] 8. On Teichos Dymaion see Rizakis 1995:449 and 504, and Morgan and Hall 1996:188–189.

[ back ] 9. Julius Africanus Ol. 28, Eusebius Chronicon 1.28; cf. Philostratus de Gymnastica 7 = C264: see Rizakis 1995:10, 129, and 371.

[ back ] 10. Roy 2000.

[ back ] 11. Roy 2002b:259–260, noting the chronological uncertainties in the reports by Strabo in 8.3.30 and 8.3.33.

[ back ] 12. On the expansion see Roy 2002b:259–260.

[ back ] 13. Yalouris 1972:96, Swoboda RE 5.2422 on Elis.

[ back ] 14. Bilik’s argument that Ephorus’ source was Hippias of Elis has however been questioned by Nafissi 2003:29n59.

[ back ] 15. Crowther 1988; Jacquemin in Casevitz, Pouilloux, and Jacquemin 2002:xii.

[ back ] 16. See for instance on the western Greeks, Ioakimidou 2000.

[ back ] 17. Jacquemin 2001b.

[ back ] 18. Eder and Mitsopoulos 1999.

[ back ] 19. Samikon: Strabo 8.3.13; Kombothekra: Sinn 1978, 1981. See also Taita 2001.

[ back ] 20. Morgan 1990:57–105, Eder 2001a.

[ back ] 21. Roy 2002b 254–255. On Armatova: Coleman 1986. Generally on Elean and perioikic settlement see Roy 1999.

[ back ] 22. Walter 1993:121; van Effenterre and Ruzé 1994–1995 e.g. 1.21.

[ back ] 23. Hansen and Nielsen 2004:87–94.

[ back ] 24. Roy 2002b.

[ back ] 25. On Pisatis see recently Nafissi 2001 and 2003, Moller 2004; on settlement in Pisatis see Roy 2002a.

[ back ] 26. Roy 1997b:283–284, 297–298: see Nafissi 2001:311 correcting the interpretation of Pausanias 5.10.2 in Roy 1997b:310n12.

[ back ] 27. On which, see Schepens 2004.

[ back ] 28. On the events of 365–362 see Roy 1994:203–204, Nielsen 2002a:118–119, 483–484.

[ back ] 29. Decree: IvO 36 = DGE 422; treaties: Ringel, Siewert, and Taeuber 1999; coins: Head 1911:426. See Nafissi 2003 and Ruggeri 2004:178–207.

[ back ] 30. Möller 2004:263–265 shows that in the Pisatan area there were elements of myth-history that could be combined into a Pisatan past.

[ back ] 31. Herodotus was perfectly capable of recording a complex ethnic interaction in a limited region, as 4.148 on Triphylia shows.

[ back ] 32. Generally on Elis’ relations with its perioikoi see Roy 1997b and Ruggeri 2004.

[ back ] 33. Ebert and Siewert 1997; see also Roy 1997b:292–293.

[ back ] 34. Roy and Schofield 1999.

[ back ] 35. Gauthier 1972:43–45; Sordi 1984:29–30; Roy 1997b:296 with note 89; Gehrke 2003:18; Nafissi 2003:41n139; Möller 2004:257.

[ back ] 36. Roy 1997b:296–7.

[ back ] 37. IvO 9: Roy and Schofield 1999.

[ back ] 38. Thucydides 5.49.1–50.4: Roy 1998.

[ back ] 39. Jacquemin in Casevitz, Pouilloux, and Jacquemin 2002:302 suggests that the statue of Poseidon was transferred in the period 245–146 BCE; Ruggeri 2004:107–108 suggests a date after 146.

[ back ] 40. Roy 1997b:311n17.

[ back ] 41. Hornblower 2000:223n6.

[ back ] 42. Roy 1999.

[ back ] 43. Among the considerable literature on these events see Roy 1997b:291–292, Roy 1998, and Hornblower 2000. On the war see Schepens 2004.

[ back ] 44. Roy 1997a, 1997b:299–304; Schepens 2004; Ruggeri 2004:21–28.

[ back ] 45. Siewert 1987–1988; Ruggeri 2004:144–161.

[ back ] 46. Diodorus 14.17.8; Xenophon Hellenica 7.4.14 writes of poleis in Akroreia, but names only Thraustos, i.e. Thraistos, individually.

[ back ] 47. Siewert 1991 no. 3.

[ back ] 48. Siewert 1987–1988:8n3.

[ back ] 49. Roy 2000:138, Nielsen 2002a:98.

[ back ] 50. See also Ruggeri 2004:36–42.

[ back ] 51. Ruggeri 2004:95–96 also draws attention to the hitherto neglected figure Triphyle, mother of Klytios and so ancestor of the Klytiad line of seers at Olympia.

[ back ] 52. Nielsen 1997:152–155, Ruggeri 2004:140–143.

[ back ] 53. Xenophon Hellenica 7.4.14: the Arcadians did not capture Thraistos on this occasion, and it is unknown whether they took it later. The Eleans had evidently recovered Akroreia, though we do not know when.

[ back ] 54. Nielsen 2002a:118–119.

[ back ] 55. Nielsen 2002a:118–119.

[ back ] 56. Ringel, Siewert, and Taeuber 1999; Ruggeri 2004:184–188.

[ back ] 57. Ruggeri 2004:35–36 and 46–53 (and elsewhere) redevelops the argument that Elis granted citizenship to its perioikoi in (or shortly before) 368 and withdrew it by 364. Having argued (Roy 1997b:297–298) that no such grant was made, I hope to support that view with fresh arguments at a forthcoming conference.

[ back ] 58. See Gehrke 1985, Bultrighini 1990.