Elvhenan, meaning "place of our people" in the elven language, was the original civilization of the elves, or elvhen. It covered most of Thedas, from the city of Arlathan to Ferelden, Orlais and lands west of Orlais.
Dalish Legends 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. 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.” ― Dalish tale
The Dalish retained vague memories of early history, when elven gods walked the earth, spoke to the people and provided them with knowledge, counsel and protection, while the people prayed and made offerings to them amongst lush forests and ancient trees. Elves did not age. They were not immortal, but they did not suffer from deterioration of mind or body. The Dalish believe that magic is the gift of their gods, and all elvhen once had it.
It is said that elves built multiple cities. Most Dalish stories, however, focus on the fabled city of Arlathan, or "this place of love". As a result, human scholars came to believe that it was the only elven settlement of note. According to the elven calendar, it was founded around -7600 Ancient. The city was presumably located in the great forest in northern Thedas. Arlathan was a place where the best of the ancient elves would go to trade knowledge, greet old friends, and settle disputes that had gone on for millennia, with homes, galleries and amphitheaters that stood for ages.
According to the elven calendar, they made first contact with the dwarves in -4600 Ancient. The Dalish have no legends about fighting the dwarves, although they have a story about how the dwarves fear the sun because of Elgar'nan's fire. The dwarven Shaperate also speak of a Thedas entirely devoid of humans, when elves reigned over the land and dwarves ruled the underground. A rare few ancient works of great beauty depicting cooperation between them still remain.
The Dalish tell that when humans first arrived, elves named them "shemlen", or "quicklings" for their short life span. Elves viewed the other race as brash, warlike and impatient. They contracted human diseases, some of which proved lethal. Furthermore, those who spent time with the humans found themselves aging. Fearful, elves immediately moved to close Elvhenan off from the humans to preserve their civilization.
But it was almost too late. As the human Tevinter Imperium rose to power, they moved to conquer Arlathan (aided, it is said, by demons and dragon thralls). According to the Dalish, when the city was breached their ancestors chose to flee rather than fight. Then Tevinter magisters used their great destructive power to force the very ground to swallow Arlathan whole. Elves were enslaved, and human contact quickened their veins until every captured elf turned mortal.
The Dalish attribute the failure of their gods to protect the people to the trickster god Fen'Harel, who had deceived both the elven pantheon and their nemesis, the Forgotten Ones, and had trapped them in heaven and in the abyss, respectively.
History and society Edit
- “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
- See also: Category: Ancient elven lore
Elves were once a race comprised of beautiful, ethereal immortals who lived in harmony with nature and who never changed. They existed in a world without the Veil and called the Fade the "sky". Ancient memories tell of a city of blue glass spires and enormous green parks, with figures strolling along the pearly, glowing strips as if they walked on solid ground and bodies of lovers colliding in the air in an endless dance.
- “They made bodies from the earth. And the earth was afraid. It fought back. But they made it forget.” ―Cole
Elvhen sought both to explore the stillest roots of the Fade and to master the unchanging material world, delicate and stubborn when subjected to magic. Some of them manifested outside the Fade and built cities on the Earth. Elves maintained close relationships with spirits, who acted as keepers of knowledge and teachers.
However the Earth was the demesne of its pillars, the titans. It rang with its own harmony, and elvhen hoped that if they listened to it, great works would unfold and they would make the Earth blossom. But earthquakes shook the cities they'd built, throwing down their work. Intent to tame the land, elves prepared to hunt the pillars of the earth and their witless and soulless workers. They believed their cause just and the death of their enemies a mercy and waged war upon the titans with burning light and Winged Death. Eventually, elvhen defeated the titans, killed at least one of them and started to mine their bodies for their blood, lyrium.
War breeds fear and a desire for simplicity. Slowly elven generals became respected elders, then kings, and finally claimed divinity and were recognized as gods, the Evanuris. They declared the Earth their right and exiled spirits they proclaimed the Forbidden Ones for abandoning the People in their time of need and casting aside form to flee to where the Earth could not reach. Elven gods used orbs, or foci, to harness magical power. Powerful magic allowed the Evanuris to enslave tens of thousands of their kin who were branded with the symbols of the gods, the vallaslin. The Evanuris restricted others from assuming some winged forms by labeling it sacrilege and took it upon themselves to dispense justice. Few, forgotten, refused those who would exert will upon them and lurked in the Void, preparing to strike.
- “We were everyone. There were no humans, no dwarves, no race but the elves.” ―Felassan
The Evanuris built temples and lured the faithful with promises. These were no simple shrines but cities with buildings radiating out of the main edifice, with dedicated temple guards and a multitude of functionaries who conducted rituals, ablutions, and prayers overseen by High Keepers. At least some of them would shed their names the day they began their service and would pass their memories on through an artificial "well" at the end of their days. High priests who drank from the well gained collective knowledge of all priests before them, but became bound forever to the will of a particular deity, compelled to act as commanded. Elvhen also used veilfire to convey sights, sounds, and even emotions.
Arlathan was the capital of the empire, but elvhen civilization existed before it and was not confined to the city nor to Thedas itself. Elves employed elaborate magical rituals to create "places between" from the fabric of time and space,made with yet different from both the waking world and the Fade. Such feat was a collective effort of thousands of elves who pulled raw essence from the Fade and formed pockets within it with their own rules of reality. These realms facilitated travel, were dedicated to one of the gods or served as a repository of knowledge. Both mortals in the flesh and spirits could inhabit them. Elvhen settlements and structures were interconnected with magical mirrors serving as portals, eluvians, and were protected by creatures they called varterrals.
Some elvhen were deemed the "chosen" of the Evanuris, and less restrictions were imposed upon them. Elven nobles owned slaves and worshiped one of the gods. As in any empire, they committed unspeakable atrocities upon their subjects. Elvhen did not age, but could get wounded and die. Noble elven dead were cleaned up, with the internal tissue burned away by mages, and buried in intricate tombs inside urns and sarcophagi. Some noble dreamers entered uthenera, the eternal sleep. They were resting in great underground bedchambers while their bodies were tended to by servants - bathed in scented oils and fed by brushing a potion across the lips until they learned to draw sustenance from the Fade itself. Before entering uthenera at least some elvhen recorded their memories in Vir Dirthara. Supplicants followed rites to get counsel from elders in uthenera.
The Evanuris were arrogant and fickle and warred amongst themselves. Thus, Andruil hunted mortals in addition to animals and was known as the Goddess of Sacrifice. Elgar'nan and Falon'Din had to appoint champions to fight to death in their stead to settle a dispute, and thousands of servants toiled to carve an enormous monument as a testament of Elgar'nan's victory. Falon'Din's appetite for adulation was so great that he began wars to amass more worshipers, slaying countless victims. Only when the rest of the Evanuris blooded him in his own temple did he surrender. A song reveals rivalry between Sylaise and other gods, and her followers could kill each other over the color of a temple's roof trim.
Mythal was the only voice of reason who genuinely cared for her people. Thus, when Andruil went hunting in the Void, grew mad and brought "plague" to her lands, Mythal challenged the hunter and stole her knowledge of how to find the Void, and peace returned. An aeon passed since the defeat of the titans, when the Evanuris in their greed discovered something terrible deep underground. In fear, elves sealed the tunnels with stone and magic and vowed to forget the place. At long last, the realization that false gods would destroy all sparked a rebellion.
- “There are no gods. Those with will to earn dominance over others gain title not by nature but by deed.” ―Geldauran
The resistance was led by Solas, a close friend of Mythal who was falsely named a god but posed as a mortal himself and refuted the claim of the Evanuris for divinity. In turn the gods called him the Dread Wolf, an insult Solas took as a badge of pride. They warned elvhen against him. Solas sought to set his people free from slavery to would-be gods and broke the chains of all who wished to join him. He created a refuge for former slaves in a remote valley and removed their vallaslin. The secret greeting from those Fen'Harel trusted features the name of a Forgotten one, Anaris, and was known to Mythal.
Followers of Solas then fought back against the Evanuris. During the infighting, most eluvians were sealed to prevent an enemy from using them to attack. As a result some servants got trapped in unreachable destinations and were left to die from starvation. Servants killed sleeping dreamers in their beds out of revenge. Solas also admitted that he got his hands bloody.
As a last straw, the Evanuris murdered Mythal. Solas was unable to kill them, so he created the Veil to banish them forever. The act was referred to as "holding back the sky" and was performed in Skyhold, Solas' own castle. The results were catastrophic. The Veil blocked most people's conscious connection to the Fade and caused elvhen to begin aging. Places like Vir Dirthara that were intrinsically tied to the Fade collapsed in on themselves, and paths between them crumbled, destroying eons of knowledge, killing many elvhen and even fracturing spirits. Solas himself was greatly weakened and fell into a centuries-long slumber.
- "Time won’t help when the land of dreams is no longer our journey.
- To the inevitable and troubling freedom we are committed." ―Ancient carving
Elven calendar holds that humans first arrived in Thedas around -3100 Ancient. Some suggest that they came from across the ocean from the rainforests of Par Vollen to the north. For a while, humans and elves interacted and traded peaceably. Ancient underground ruins in the Brecilian Forest built by humans but bearing elven elements stand testament to those early contacts. It was a place of serenity, where the elders came to slumber and were visited by those who offered tribute to the gods on their behalf, until both local humans and elves perished in a war with an unknown enemy.
- “In my time, we called your people rattus. You are nothing; a race of snivelling cowards that shrank before Tevinter power!” ―Corypheus to an elf
Centuries passed, and in -1195 Ancient human kingdoms in the north united to form the mighty Tevinter Imperium, unaware that the elven city of Arlathan was hidden next to them, in the forest of the same name. As the Imperium expanded eastward, settlers were met with hostilities from strange magic-wielding creatures with pointed ears, and human emissaries sent to make contact with the new neighbors never returned. Tevinter then built a fortress to watch over the border.
Violence escalated over the next few decades, until in the summer of -998 Ancient several human settlements vanished into the forest. In retaliation in -981 Ancient, in the reign of Archon Thalasian, imperial legions laid siege to the city of Arlathan. It lasted for six years and consumed significant resources of the attackers, leaving them vulnerable to an uprising of rival Inghirsh tribes to the south. Finally in -975 Ancient, pressed to swiftly end the war, Tevinter magisters resorted to blood magic. Together they worked a spell that sank Arlathan into the ground, destroying collected knowledge, culture, and art. However, in the light of previous elven history it was no more than "carrion feasting upon a corpse."
Most fleeing elves of Arlathan were captured by Tevinter and enslaved almost overnight. Yet some found shelter in the Cad'halash thaig. When dwarves of Kal-Sharok learned of this, they destroyed the thaig to cover all evidence that would jeopardize their alliance with the human empire.
Battles also took place in other parts of Thedas, such as Sundermount near Kirkwall. Arcane warriors known as the Enasalin'abelas, or "sorrowful victory" made their last stand there, bound by duty to protect their slumbering elders. Both sides unleashed horrors into the waking world, and Fade creatures they summoned still prowl the heights.
- Abelas: “All that we were. All that we knew. It would be lost forever.”
- The Inquisitor: “Look around you. Everything your people were… it's already gone.”
- See also: Elf#History
Of the elves taken as slaves, their magical ability - thought a sign of the Old Gods' favor in Tevinter - was not acknowledged by the Imperium. It was to be centuries before the elves were freed by Shartan and Andraste and found a new homeland in the Dales. By then, much of the lore, history and language of ancient Elvhenan was lost. What little remains is now preserved by the keepers of the Dalish.Ancient ruins are still found in the Arlathan forest that is often called "the Mourning Lands" by those who visit it. Few elvhen managed to counter the passage of time and survive in isolated places, such as the Temple of Mythal, for thousands of years until Dragon Age.
- Main article: Elven language
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.
- Main article: Elven pantheon
Ancient elves worshiped a pantheon of five gods and four goddesses known as the Creators or the Evanuris. 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.
- Ancient elvhen architecture is characterized by the copious use of Ogee arches, a feature of English Gothic architecture in the later thirteenth century.
See also Edit