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.
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.
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.
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.
Trapped in Thedas after the Veil's creation, elves mourned the past while new generations slowly lost understanding of it, and many elders wept as they entered uthenera.
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.
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.
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.
It covered most of Thedas, from the city of Arlathan to Ferelden, Orlais and lands west of Orlais.