Before the fall of Arlathan, even before Arlathan itself, the civilization of the elves stretched across all of Thedas like a great, indolent cat.
—From Codex entry: Ancient Elven Armor

Elvhenan, meaning "place of our people" in the elven language, was the civilization of the elves, or elvhen, in the time when elves were still immortal and the dominant race on the surface of Thedas. Elvhenan covered most of Thedas; particularly Ferelden, Orlais, and lands west of Orlais.[2]

Background Edit

We hear stories of them living in trees and imagine wooden ramps and Dalish aravels. Imagine instead spires of crystal twining through the branches, palaces floating among the clouds. Imagine beings who lived forever, for whom magic was as natural as breathing. That is what was lost."
-Solas about Arlathan

Elvhenan's political, economic and cultural centre was the great city of Arlathan, or ar lath’an, meaning "this place of love". Arlathan was located in a great forest in the north of Thedas, not far from where the Tevinter Imperium first emerged. The most famous of elven cities of legend, it was neither the only[3] nor the oldest one.[4]

The Imperium is said to be the cause of Arlathan's downfall, leading to centuries of slavery for the elves, during which time much of the lore and history of ancient Elvhenan was lost. What little remains is mainly in the memories of the Keepers of the Dalish elves, who hold the responsibility of gathering, remembering and teaching the lost lore, passing it down from generation to generation through the oral tradition rather than through the written word.

History Edit

And thus was mighty Arlathan cast down, its people swallowed by darkness—never to rise again.[5]

Elves were once a race comprised of beautiful, ethereal immortals who lived in harmony with nature and who never changed.[6] The elven calendar starts with the founding of Arlathan around -7600 Ancient[7], though the date is so far removed from recorded history it's difficult to pinpoint in Chantry years. Elves had presumably been living in Thedas for quite some time already. They are believed to make first contact with the dwarves in -4600 Ancient.

Elven lore holds that the humans first arrived from Par Vollen to the north. They are thought to have arrived around -3100 Ancient[8], some 4,500 years after the founding of Arlathan. For some time, humans and elves interacted and traded peaceably. The elves named the humans shemlen, or "quicklings", because, in comparison to the immortal elves, their lives blinked by in an instant. To the elves, humans appeared brash, warlike and impatient. Even worse, the elves proved susceptible to human diseases, and for the first time in history, elves died of natural causes. Furthermore, elves who spent time with humans found themselves aging. The ancient elves moved to close Elvhenan off from the humans, for fear that this quickening effect would crumble their civilization.[9]

However, the elves' attempted retreat into isolation only facilitated the expansion of the Tevinter Imperium and it continued to gain territory, enslaving any captured elves as it did so. The first “dreamers” learned the use of lyrium to enter the Fade from elven captives, and these dreamers later became the first of the Imperium’s ruling magisters.[10]

At first the early Tevinter empire hardly believed the elves existed at all, not crediting the existence of another people in a forest which was more likely simply haunted. Settlers began to report seeing elven scouts, however, and legionnaires reported spotting strange beings with pointed ears who wielded magic, and humanity began to realize it was not alone.[11]

This realization did not bring peace, however. Outlying Tevinter settlements began to disappear. Emissaries never returned from attempts to make contact in the forest. When the people demanded a war against their neighbors, Tevinter forces marched into the Arlathan forest and laid siege against the city for six years. The siege was consuming much of Tevinter's resources, and the Inghirsh took the opportunity to rise up and strike the southern settlements. To make an end of it, Archon Thalasian along with the Magisterium worked a powerful Blood magic spell to sink the city.[12] According to elven lore, the Tevinter magisters used their great destructive power (aided, it is said, by demons and dragon thralls) to force the very ground to swallow Arlathan whole, destroying eons of collected knowledge, culture, and art as a final insult.[13]

Old magic-0

Relics of the ancients remain, some still guarded by powerful magic

Despite this, little is really known about how or why the Tevinter Imperium came to conquer the great city of Arlathan, but elven lore tells that, rather than fight, the elves chose to flee. As the Tevinter Imperium continued to spread over Thedas, Elvhenan fell and the elves were enslaved, losing their lore and supposedly losing their immortality. It was to be centuries before the elves were freed by Shartan and Andraste and found a new homeland in the Dales. Of the elves taken as slaves, their magical ability--thought a sign of the Old Gods' favor in Tevinter rather than being something anyone might be capable of--was never acknowledged by the Imperium out of a sense of snubbed pride.[14]

Splr wh
“"Do not follow me," I said, and slipped into the shadows.” — Morrigan
This article contains spoilers for Witch Hunt. Click here to reveal them.
Several ancient elves who fled Arlathan, sought refuge in the ancient thaig of Cad'halash. However, when Kal-Sharok learned of this, they attacked Cad-halash and destroyed it in order to cover all the evidence and not jeopardize the alliance of the dwarves with the Imperium.
Splr tme
“I have no wish to discuss our family's bloody history. I know it quite well, thank you.” — Empress Celene
This article contains spoilers for Dragon Age: The Masked Empire. Click here to reveal them.
Felassan claims that the society of Arlathan was no better than that of present-day Orlais, and that the ancient elves in fact instituted a ruthless class system tantamount to slavery, or very near, against their own kind. When the empire was destroyed, the servant class of elves rose up and killed any Dreamer mage they could find.
Splr dai
“Whatever we were before, we are now the Inquisition.” — The Inquisitor
This article contains spoilers for Dragon Age: Inquisition. Click here to reveal them.
Abelas, a sentinel of the Temple of Mythal from ancient times, claims that the elves warred upon themselves long before the Tevinter Imperium enslaved their people[15] and in fact the "war" that the Tevinters had with the elves was likened by Abelas to be "no more than scavengers picking over a corpse."
Splr dait
“I suspect you have questions.” — Solas
This article contains spoilers for Trespasser. Click here to reveal them.

The final conversation with Solas, and notes the Inquisitor finds while travelling through the Crossroads, reveal many things about Elvhenan, some in direct contradiction with previous accounts of its fall.

According to Solas, also known as Fen'Harel, war (against an unknown enemy) led to the victorious generals becoming respected elders, then kings, until they were finally remembered as gods: the Evanuris. Far from the benevolent figures of elven religion, Solas describes them as bloodthirsty and power-hungry slave masters, all save Mythal, whom he calls the best of them and the voice of reason. There are also accounts of the Evanuris hunting the dwarven Titans, whom they called "the pillars of the earth," to make the earth blossom from their passing.[16] It appears that Mythal led a charge against a Titan and killed it. They mined lyrium (and something else) from its body.[17]

The murals in the Crossroads show that Fen'Harel led a rebellion against the elven gods, freeing slaves, removing the vallaslin branding them as such, and granting them sanctuary from their tyrannical masters. Many of those he freed joined him in his fight for freedom from would-be gods.[18] Solas reveals that the name of Fen'Harel was given to him by the Evanuris as an insult, one he took as a badge of pride as it inspired his allies and elicited fear from his enemies. The Evanuris finally went too far: they murdered Mythal, and Solas claims that their excesses threatened the entire world. To strike them down, Solas created the Veil.

It was the Veil rather than the proximity of humans that caused the elves to lose their immortality and weaken their magic. The great cities of Elvhenan collapsed in on themselves as a result of being sundered from the Fade.[19][20] The Veil's creation directly led to Elvhenan's demise at the hands of the Tevinter Imperium.

Culture Edit

Before the ages were named or numbered, our people were glorious and eternal and never-changing. They felt no need to rush when life was endless. They worshipped their gods for months at a time. Decisions came after decades of debate, and an introduction could last for years. From time to time, our ancestors would drift into centuries-long slumber, but this was not death, for we know they wandered the Fade in dreams.
—From Codex entry: Arlathan: Part One
"Take the richest district in Val Royeaux, and add the magic that was part of our everyday life. Every statue fountain could speak through the water that poured from her mouth. Every column glowed with runes the fools in Tevinter copied by rote like children tracing letters. When night fell, the roads were lit by stones like these, bright enough to find your way safely, but soft enough that you could still see the stars."

Ruins of a once-magnificent bath in the Exalted Plains

The life of the ancient elves was leisurely: the immortal have no need to hurry. Elven settlements included galleries and amphitheaters in which elves could while away some of the endless time they had at their disposal. They had crystal fortresses interwoven with trees and palaces floating among the clouds. And through it all, magic wove harmoniously through seemingly every aspect of the lives of the ancient elves.[22]

At the center of the ancient elven world stood the great city of Arlathan, a place of knowledge and debate, where the best of the ancient elves would go to trade knowledge, greet old friends, and settle disputes that had gone on for millennia[9].

Elvhenan had, however, a far more complex--and sometimes troubled--society than may be imagined from the outside. As an empire, Elvhenan relied on a class system, one that often elevated its nobility at the expense of its servant class (and even, potentially, slaves); little different than the societies and cultures of any other race on Thedas.[23] Indeed, the lower classes of elves were treated little different by their fellow elves than City elves are treated by human nobility in modern-day Orlais.[24]

As mortality began to touch the elven people, the dead would traditionally be brought with great ceremony to burial chambers and placed in luxurious beds with satin sheets and soft pillows. Their bodies would be cleaned and the inner tissue would also be burned away by the mages, to preserve it in eternity.[25]


Ancient elven architecture

Dreamer mages seemingly comprised the top of ancient elven society, and that this may have created some resentment among the lower classes, particular as the empire fell and Dreamers were perhaps seen as failing to help. Some Dreamers have been discovered to have been murdered while in Uthenera. [26]

Temples to the individual gods were overseen by High Keepers[27] and priests. Some of those survived into the Dragon Age, becoming known as "Sentinel elves."

Uthenera Edit

Main article: Uthenera

While the ancient elves did not die, the oldest of the elves were said to be weary of life. Memories became too much to bear, and rather than fade into complacency, they voluntarily stood aside to let newer generations guide their people. This practice was known as uthenera, or "the endless dream".

Language Edit

Main article: Elven language

Along with their lore, much of the language of the ancient elves was lost with the fall of Elvhenan and the long enslavement of the elves by the Tevinter Imperium. Some words survive, however, and are used by modern day elves, primarily the Dalish.

Religion Edit

Object-Elven Statue

In ancient Arlathan, statues like this honored the creators. This particular example was found in ruins that probably post-date Elvhenan.

Main article: Elven pantheon

Ancient elves worshipped a pantheon of five gods and four goddesses. Their religion also mentions another set of gods called the "Forgotten Ones", the enemies of the elven pantheon. Only Fen'Harel, the trickster god of the elven pantheon, was able to walk freely between both groups. Elven legend attributes the failure of their gods to intervene in the fall of Elvhenan to Fen'Harel, who, it is claimed, deceived both the elven pantheon and the Forgotten Ones, trapping the former away in heaven and the latter in the abyss, where they could no longer influence events in the mortal world.[13]

Trivia Edit

  • During the Dalish Elf Origin, Paivel will recite another poem about uthenera.
  • During their campaign, the Warden can discover two Elven Ruins (one only in the Dalish Elf Origin) with architecture and decoration that mixes human and elven styles, implying that, in some places, elements of the culture of Elvhenan survived beyond the human conquest.
  • When you first meet Merrill in the quest Long Way Home and comment on her magic abilities after the first battle, she mentions that all elves had the "gift"(magic) in the days of Arlathan. However, it's only known in stories instead of in records or other evidence.
Splr dait
“I suspect you have questions.” — Solas
This article contains spoilers for Trespasser. Click here to reveal them.
Solas confirms this during the final conversation in Trespasser; it was creating the Veil that blocked most people's conscious connection to the Fade.
  • Relics and tombs of the ancient elven empire lie just beneath the surface of the many present-day nations where it once reigned, particularly in Orlais.[28]
  • Ancient elvhen architecture is characterized by the copious use of Ogee arches, a feature of English Gothic architecture in the later thirteenth century.

Gallery Edit

Codex entries Edit

Ico codex entry Codex entry: Arlathan: Part One
Ico codex entry Codex entry: Arlathan: Part Two

Codex icon DA2 Codex entry: The Pickled Apples of Arlathan

Codex icon DA2 Codex entry: Girdle of the Elders

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. Dragon Age logo - new Dragon Age: The World of Thedas, vol. 1, p. 27
  2. According to Imshael.
  3. Codex entry: The Temple of Mythal, Codex entry: Song to Sylaise, Codex entry: Song to Elgar'nan, Codex entry: Varterral, Codex entry: Enasalin
  4. Codex entry: Varterral, Codex entry: Ancient Elven Armor
  5. Matt Rhodes tumblr and Official Dragon Age: Inquisition Facebook page
  6. Dragon Age: Origins: Prima Official Game Guide, Collector's Edition, Traveler’s Guide, Race: Elves.
  7. Dragon Age logo - new Dragon Age: The World of Thedas, vol. 1, p. 23
  8. Dragon Age logo - new Dragon Age: The World of Thedas, vol. 1, p. 11
  9. 9.0 9.1 Codex entry: Arlathan: Part One
  10. Dragon Age: Origins: Prima Official Game Guide, Collector's Edition, p. 341
  11. Dragon Age logo - new Dragon Age: The World of Thedas, vol. 2, p. 37
  12. Dragon Age logo - new Dragon Age: The World of Thedas, vol. 2, pp. 37-38
  13. 13.0 13.1 Codex entry: Arlathan: Part Two
  14. Dragon Age logo - new Dragon Age: The World of Thedas, vol. 2, p. 38
  16. Codex entry: Old Elven Writing
  17. Codex entry: Veilfire Runes in the Deep Roads
  18. Note: Ancient Mosaics
  19. According to the Archivist in the Sundered Hall or the Broken Tower of the Shattered Library, whichever is visited later
  20. According to Solas in Trespasser
  21. Dragon Age: The Masked Empire, pg. 283.
  22. According to Solas.
  23. Patrick Weekes. Dragon Age: The Masked Empire, pg. 283-284.
  24. The corpses of elven servants have been discovered sealed, intentionally or no, within the burial chambers of elven nobility and left to die. Dragon Age: The Masked Empire, pg. 291.
  25. Dragon Age: The Masked Empire, pg. 265.
  26. Dragon Age: The Masked Empire, pg. 317.
  27. Codex entry: The Lost Temple of Dirthamen.
  28. According to Imshael.