Ancient Lepreum is located at the heights of the west end of Mount Minthi, above the homonymous modern town, in southern Triphylia, Elis. Herodotus mentions Lepreum as being part of the Hexapolis founded by the Minyans in Triphylia, which, according to Kallimachos, was inhabited until then by the Caucons. Lepreum was the only city of Triphylia to fight against the Persians at Plataiai. Lepreas or Lepreos, son of Pyrgeas or of Caucon, who was killed by Hercules, is considered the city's mythical founder. The city flourished in the Classical and Hellenistic periods, when it became the capital of Triphylia.
The site of Lepreum was first inhabited in the Neolithic period. This early settlement exploited the area's natural resources and had contacts with the Aegean. The prehistoric acropolis developed on the Agios Dimitrios hill, where a number of architectural remains of the Early Helladic period (2500-2000 BC) were identified. Several scholars identify Lepreum as the Homeric city of Aepy.
In historical times, Lepreum was the leading city of ancient Triphylia. It controlled the roads connecting Elis with Messenia and Arcadia, and was Triphylia's main stronghold against any pressure exercised by its neighbours, Elis in particular. Strabo considered Lepreum a 'blessed country': it controlled the Aepasion fields, Triphylia's most fertile valley, it was located near the Nedas river and the sea, and had a mild and pleasant climate thanks to the surrounding mountains. The historical city extended from the heights of the acropolis, north of the modern village, to the hill once occupied by the prehistoric settlement. A temple dedicated to Demeter was built in the Classical period inside the acropolis, which dates from the Classical and Hellenistic periods.
When Pausanias visited Lepreum in 170 AD the city was in demise. He nevertheless refers to it as the capital of Triphylia and mentions the temple of Zeus Leukaios or Lykaios, the tombs of Lykourgos and Kaukon, and the temple of Demeter. The city lived on until the Byzantine period and was abandoned in 800-1000 AD after a series of pirate and barbarian raids. East of the Classical acropolis are the ruins of a medieval castle (Paliopyrgos), which incorporate ancient building material.
Travellers of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries mention a large number of archaeological remains in the area of the ancient city.
Ancient Lepreum, one of the most important cities in Trifylia, was strategically located with access to an abundance of natural resources. Lepreum had two citadels, the prehistoric acropolis on the naturally fortified hill of Agios Dimitrios, east of the modern village, and the acropolis of the historical period to its north. The peripteral temple of Demeter is the most important monument on the Classical acropolis. The historical city extended all the way to the prehistoric acropolis.
The earliest traces of habitation on the prehistoric acropolis date from the Neolithic period. The Early Helladic settlement on the hilltop covers an area of approximately 5.000 square metres. The buildings had foundations of unworked limestone and carved bedrock (poros), and walls of mud brick. They were oriented north-south, their doors facing north, away from the fierce south winds. The remains of a paved street were also identified. The settlement's architecture recalls other Early Helladic settlements in southern Peloponnese. Traces of Middle and Late Helladic habitation and pottery fragments of the Classical and Byzantine periods were found in the same area.
The remains on the Classical and Hellenistic acropolis, particularly the well-preserved enceinte of isodomic and polygonal masonry with its square towers, show that the city thrived during these periods. Inside the enceinte are several buildings including the Classical Doric peripteral temple of Demeter, mentioned by Pausanias.
(Odysseus, Greek Ministry of Culture)