A humanoid race, elves are typically shorter than humans (though this has been mitigated slightly since Dragon Age: Origins) and have a slender, lithe build, larger eyes, and pointed ears. Long ago, the elves were the dominant race on Thedas, and their advanced civilization was based on nature, the Fade and magic. After the fall of their great city of Arlathan and the empire of Elvhenan, plunder by the Tevinter Imperium and the subsequent generations of slavery, the elves lost most of their cultural heritage and identity. They attempted to rebuild their society in the Dales, but after three centuries the Dales fell to one of the Chantry's Exalted Marches.
Since then, the elves have separated into two distinct groups: the Dalish, who choose to lead nomadic lives and strive to keep elven culture alive rather than submit, and the city elves, who live alongside humans, usually as impoverished outcasts, and have adopted many human customs. Many elves are still held as slaves within Tevinter, and many others have joined the Qunari in hopes for better lives. Overall, the elves are now a people associated with poverty, crime and barbarism, and are often used as scapegoats for humanity's difficulties. In Ancient Tevinter elves were called "rattus". Modern humans use the racial slurs "knife ears," "slant-eared" or, less cruelly, "rabbit." Though most of the elven language has been lost, they once referred to themselves as "elvhen," which means "the People".
Racial benefits of elves: +2 Willpower, +2 magic
Once, my people walked this land as gods. We worked magic that would blind you with its beauty. Now, we lurk in the deep forests and prepare for the next time you shemlen do something that upsets the balance of this world.
- Main article: Elvhenan
Elves were once a race of beautiful, ethereal immortals that originated from the Fade. They manifested into the material world and built their civilization on the earth. The Veil didn't exist and the Fade was considered to be the sky. Their civilization was unchallenged and had coexisted harmoniously with nature and spirits, and the elves have prospered for what looked to be an eternity.
However, this changed following the conclusion of an unknown war. The generals who fought in it gradually came to be revered as gods, becoming the Evanuris. The Evanuris were malevolent despots, they warred among themselves, enslaved their own kin and branded the slaves with the vallaslin, and committed unspeakable atrocities that overshadow even modern despots.
Solas (Fen'Harel) began a rebellion against the Evanuris after they had murdered Mythal (whom he was close to and considered the best of them) and began to threaten the world with their excesses. Unable to kill them and finding every alternative solution worse, Solas sealed the Evanuris away by creating the Veil, banishing the false-gods to suffer eternally for their sins, and sundering the physical world from the Fade.However, though the elves and the world were effectively rid of the Evanuris, the creation of the Veil was catastrophic for Elvhenan and the People. The very foundation of their civilization had been tied to the presence of the Fade, including their immortality. When the Veil was created, their cities and structures crumbled, and the elves became mortal and began to age and die. By the time the Tevinter Imperium had conquered and enslaved them all centuries later, the elves were already severely diminished.
Recorded history and legends
The elves of Thedas live no longer than humans, but elven legends state that this was not always the case. Once they were an immortal race and "magic came as easily to them as breathing" with some of their spells taking years to cast and echoing for decades in an unending symphony. They lived in harmony with the natural world and worshipped a pantheon of their own gods. Their magic was able to accomplish seemingly impossible feats, such as the creation of the unique, Fade-like world of the "Crossroads" and the maintenance of the magical repository of Vir Dirthara.
Elven lore holds that the first shemlen (a term meaning "quick children" that was used by the ancient elves to describe the humans and denote their shorter lives) they encountered were tribal people who came south from Par Vollen. The ancient elves grew friendly with humans, but soon discovered that breeding with humans produced only human babies, while exposure to the "quick children" caused the elves to quicken themselves. For the first time, elves began to age and die.In fear, the elves withdrew from human contact. Unfortunately, the human tribes gave way to the Tevinter Imperium, who, after the disappearance of many of their ambassadors and settlements, viewed the elves' isolation as hostility and declared war in -981 Ancient. Elvhenan, the elven homeland, was besieged for six years, but was invaded when the magisters used blood magic to sink the elves' capital city of Arlathan into the ground, never to be seen again. As a result, elven survivors were quickly enslaved and evidence of their culture was lost. With the enslavement, all elves eventually quickened and their immortality was lost. The elven calendar, established with the formation of Arlathan, was banned by the Imperium. Although its existence is recognized by modern scholars outside of Tevinter, knowledge of how elves marked the passage of time beyond a few events is now forgotten. The exact details of the war are lost to history, though artifacts found in Imperial ruins within the Brecilian Forest suggest Elvhenan was looted or that some elves joined the Imperium bringing artifacts with them. The elves, however, believe Arlathan lost to the Imperium because their gods couldn't intervene, since they were sealed away by the seemingly treacherous Fen'Harel.
After generations of slavery, the elven slaves, under Shartan's leadership, were among the most fervent supporters of the prophetess Andraste's uprising against the Tevinter Imperium. Shartan and the elves fought alongside Andraste in her quest to depose the Tevinter magisters in 1020 TE, and they were rewarded for their loyalty by being granted land in the Dales upon Andraste's victory. They called their journey to their new homeland the Long Walk. Many perished on the way, some even returned to Tevinter, but most continued the walk.
In the Dales, the elves created a second elven homeland and began to restore the lost lore and culture of Elvhenan, including the worship of their elven gods. They built their first city, Halamshiral ("end of the journey"), and isolated themselves from the humans. The borders were guarded by an order named the Emerald Knights. For some years, humans loyal to Andraste's memory respected their elven allies. But over the generations, and as the Chant of Light and the religion of the Maker spread throughout the cities of their human neighbors as Drakon launched his Exalted Marches and established the Orlesian Empire, the diplomatic relationships between the Dales and humans soured, as the elves refused to convert and remained isolated. Human historians claim this hostility was compounded by the Dalish's inaction during the Second Blight. Humans claim the war with the elves began when a small elven raiding party attacked the nearby human town of Red Crossing in 2:9 Glory, leading to the Chantry eventually calling an Exalted March against the elves when they had captured Montsimmard and besieged Val Royeaux, claiming they had been attacked by the Dales. The Dalish claim templars invaded the Dales after the elves kicked out Chantry missionaries from their sovereign territory because the elves refused to convert to the Andrastian faith.
As the Dales fell, the elves were forced to abandon their second homeland and have not had another since, and their culture was torn even further from them. Many elves accepted the terms of their human aggressors, going to live in alienages inside human cities and worshipping the Maker. Those elves who resisted became the nomadic Dalish, maintaining the worship of the elven gods and continuing their efforts to recover the lost culture of Elvhenan.
As of 9:40 Dragon, any Chantry art in Orlais depicting elves has been destroyed save a single original mural of Shartan with his ears docked, and a faithful copy at the University of Orlais. Some modern Orlesian scholars have been asked to author treatises (in part to weaken Empress Celene) on how elves are little more than prey animals based on their "rabbit" ears and bestial intelligence, and that establishing a relationship with one is an insult to the Maker akin to laying with an animal.
In the centuries following the fall of the Dales, some elves have been able to rise above their circumstances: most notably the Grey Warden Garahel, who slew the Archdemon Andoral and ended the Fourth Blight, as well as Briala (who can become the first Elven Marquise).
However, there is still a lot of progress to be made. Even modern-day Ferelden, for example, city elves are not allowed to bear arms. In Orlais, may only carry blades the length of one's palm. Alienage purges still occur regularly.. Many elves are still enslaved in Tevinter, and many elves are often kidnapped, and are even voluntarily, sent to Tevinter to be sold into slavery, Fereldan elves were also considered chattel and bought and sold as property during the Orlesian occupation. As a result, many elves that live in Qunari occupied lands have chosen to embrace the Qun in hopes for better lives, with many even being recruited to become Ben-Hassrath spies.
- Main article: City elves
Alienages are closed communities of elves living in human cities, often walled off and found in the poorest, more crime-ridden parts of the city, while elves in villages lacking alienages make their home in barns or sheds. Their inhabitants are typically impoverished and survive by taking menial and unrewarding tasks or even begging. In the most desperate cases, they might leave the alienage and enter a life of crime, or sell themselves into slavery to support their families. They can join the Chantry, such as becoming a Templar, but this is rare and racial biases usually preclude it.
Though overall treatment varies kingdom to kingdom, city elves are universally second-class citizens. Elves are, by law or prejudice, unable to join most organizations or hold decent jobs, and the law often turns a blind eye to their abuses. Slavery is still legal in the Tevinter Imperium and there's a lucrative demand for elven slaves along with servants for nobles. They are often seen as beautiful by humans despite their low status. In Ferelden, for example, the social position of elves as "Low Freemen" is comparable to that of prostitutes and criminals, though they may make a living as they can.
Having been heavily discriminated by humans for so long, most city elves try to hold onto their remaining heritage. Artifacts from Arlathan like the vhenadahl (literally, "The Tree of the People") and an abiding deep pride in their close-knit communities bolster city elves trying to make ends meet in an otherwise hostile world. As such, elves that leave the alienage and try to enter human society are heavily looked down upon as "flat ears". Families that do try to leave alienages and live among humans will most likely be forced to return because of violence against them.
Marriage is highly important for city elves; it is the rite of adulthood in elven communities and will often be prearranged in order for new blood to join an otherwise concentrated gene pool. The absolute worst thing an elf could do is marry or breed outside their race since only humans are born between elven and human unions; which is adverse for such limited communities that depends on each other and tradition for day-to-day survival.
Furthermore, their closer relationship can sometimes result in what are known as Elf-blooded children, of both human and elven parentage, though these children appear (and technically are) completely human.
- Amaranthine Alienage
- Ansburg Alienage
- Denerim alienage, home of the City Elf Warden
- Ghislain Alienage
- Gwaren Alienage
- Highever alienage, home of the City Elf Warden's fiancé Nelaros or Nesiara
- Kirkwall alienage, Merrill's home
- Minrathous alienage
- Montfort Alienage
- Redcliffe Alienage
- Teraevyn alienage, in the Tevinter Imperium
- Val Royeaux alienage, birthplace of Fiona; a cramped and overcrowded alienage of ten thousand with walls so high sunlight does not reach the vhenadahl until midday.
- Verchiel alienage
- Wycome alienage
- Main article: Dalish
Dalish elves seek to recover, inherit and preserve the knowledge and sacred treasures of the two fallen kingdoms. They lead nomadic lives as a means of survival, wandering throughout Thedas. Due to the numerous threats they face from Andrastian humans, the Dalish are known to be wary and apprehensive of outsiders. Their clans date back to the ruling clans of the Dales and the Dalish themselves are their descendants.
Known Dalish clans
- Alerion, the clan Merrill was born into.
- Ghilain, a clan that descends from Inquisitor Ameridan.
- Lavellan, the elven Inquisitor's clan.
- Ralaferin, whose Keeper is Elindra (formerly Gisharel), and whose First is Neria.
- Sabrae, the Dalish Warden's clan.
- Tillahnnen, once headed by Keeper Ellathin
- Virnehn, the clan of Thelhen and Mihris.
- Unnamed Velanna's clan.
- Unnamed Yevven's clan.
- Unnamed Zathrian's clan.
- Unnamed Ariane's clan.
- Unnamed clan that found young Loghain and Maric in the Korcari Wilds.
- Unnamed Hawen's clan
Interaction between city and Dalish elves
The Dalish elves and city elves in particular have a strange and bitter relationship, dating from the splitting of the People after the fall of the Dales. Some Dalish view their city brethren suspiciously and with pity as "flat-ears," culturally human elves who are no different "than their shemlen masters." To some, they are seen as having given up on and forgotten their culture, and the hope is to teach these elves their past when a new homeland is founded. Not all Dalish share this view of the city elves, however.  Some Dalish also hope that the two can learn from one another once they gain an autonomous homeland. 
On the other hand, some city elves see the Dalish as near-myths: strange and savage "wood elves" living far from humans and preying upon the unwary; and yet somehow noble, as well. To others, the Dalish are seen as "savages", primitive elves who refuse to see the promise of the alienage, and live off the land in ways the average city elf could not. Indeed, city elves who choose to leave or live beyond the Alienage are labeled "flat-ears" as well by their city kin, ironically similar to how some Dalish view the Andrastian elves, and subject to violence or resentment from other city elves.
And yet, for all this uncertainty, city and Dalish elves still interact positively now and then. For Alienage elves who seek to leave their home due to desperation, poverty or abuse, wandering Dalish clans are often seen as a sort of "last resort" haven. They are normally willing to take in a refugee from the cities and to largely refrain from attacking a city elf on the road, despite their uncertainty, and train them in the ways of their Creators and culture. Similarly, Alienages may take in a Dalish elf who has broken with their clan voluntarily or involuntarily.
Elven mages tend to be grouped to the Dalish mindset along with city elves. This is particularly the case as they have turned not only their lives but their magic over to the human Chantry and Maker, and the Circle of Magi, with the Circles being implied to have played a role in the fall of the Dales. 
- Main article: Elven language
The elven language, or Elvish, was largely lost when Elvhenan fell to civil war and its people eventually defeated and enslaved. When the elves settled their second homeland, the Dales, they aimed to restore their lost language and lore, but the Dales fell to an Exalted March. The Elvish of the Dragon Age is thus a fragmented remnant, a few words that are thrown into conversation rather than a working language used to conduct everyday life. The Dalish Elves, self-appointed custodians of the elven language and lore, use more Elvish than their City Elf brethren. Living among humans, the City Elves now retain only a few old Elvish words whose origin is almost forgotten, such as "shem"—derived from "shemlen", or "quickling", the old elven term for humans—and "Hahren"—the leader of an alienage, meaning "elder" in Elvish.
The Dalish have more of the language. They are more capable of forming whole phrases and sentences, but the language is still fragmented and largely incomplete despite their efforts. Da'len, which means "little child" and is typically used to address elves younger than oneself. Andaran atish'an, a phrase used for greeting to friends and fellow Dalish. Serannas is “thanks”, while ma serannas is "my thanks" or "many thanks". Aneth ara is an informal greeting often used among friends. Dareth shiral is a way of saying good-bye.
- The children of elves and any other race are not elven. Elves and humans produce a human child, elves and dwarves produce dwarves etc. Such children may be referred to as "half-elf" or "half-breed" in a slanderous fashion, while the term "elf-blooded" is a legal distinction. Children between elves and dwarves are extremely rare due to the small number of surface dwarves, the innate low fertility of dwarves, and the elves' reclusive mating practices, all attribute to the increased difficulty in mating between the two races.
- When female elves become broodmothers, they produce shrieks and Emissaries .
- Elves see better in the dark than humans, and their eyes glint like those of a cat in the dark. This is likely the result of an ocular structure called tapetum lucidum. This ability is also shared by the dwarves; however, as dwarven eyes are never described as shining, likely for different reasons.
- Elves tend to be more susceptible in following the Qun than other races, which is considered a particular danger in the Tevinter Imperium. As spies for the Qunari they may go so far as to sell themselves back into slavery in order to move undetected through non-Qunari lands.
- Banter between Fenris and Varric Tethras in Dragon Age II reveals that elves are unable to grow facial hair.
- Despite historic hostilities and long-lived defamation towards the elves, humans often find them to be beautiful and physically attractive, as explained by both Zevran Arainai and Leliana in dialogue.
- Unlike the elves of many other fantasy settings, the elves of the Dragon Age setting are not antagonistic towards the dwarves, though Zevran and Oghren's dialogue contains a joking reference to this fantasy trope.
- The elves in Dragon Age II, as with other races, have been redesigned to create more space between the individual races. The Dalish now feature Welsh and Irish accents (city elves retain the accent of whatever region they live in) and have been given tall, willowy frames and thin faces with large eyes, straight noses and small features, as opposed to being the "short, pointy-eared humans" in Dragon Age Origins. In Dragon Age: Inquisition, these changes have been reverted to a point, though elves still appear very distinct from humans, in particular in regards to ears, nose, eyes and body structure.
- David Gaider stated that the Dalish elves were inspired by Northern Native Americans.   He also revealed that the inspiration for Andrastian elves came from the Jewish people (i.e. lost homeland, ghettos, ect). 
- It is unknown whether or not Dalish elves live longer than the city elves, since David Gaider and Mary Kirby have given conflicting information regarding their longevity.
- Though elves are much diminished from what they once were, they nevertheless retain an unusual connection to the Fade that makes them unfortunately useful as subjects in magical rituals.
- To many of the nations of Thedas, but especially Orlais and the Tevinter Imperium, elves--of common blood and as a rule without titles--are generally little respected. Using them as messengers or emissaries may actually be considered an insult.
- City elves participated in the Fereldan Rebellion under /the leadership of Loghain Mac Tir, in his Night Elves unit.