The Ayleids were an ancient race of Elves in The Elder Scrolls franchise who inhabited Cyrodil, and enslaved the ancestors of the Imperials.
Although their race is believed to be extinct (having never been encountered in any of the games save for Online where one Ayleid was encountered), their nightmarish legacy still haunts the games.
Most of the books the Ayleids wrote during their reign were destroyed after they were exiled from Cyrodil, so little is actually know about the Ayleids. But if players look hard enough, they can find books that shed some light on the Ayleids. Players can also find Ayleid artifacts in Ayleid ruin dungeons.
According to various lore books, Ayleid society revolved heavily around magic, and the Ayleids were very good magic users. Ayleids were reported to be masters in all forms of magic regardless of origin and always craved more, no matter how much they had.
Ayleids were able to preserve some of the oldest magic in all of Tamriel, as well as lore of the Ehlnofey, the Aedric ancestors to humans and elves. Ayleids lived in many diverse Kingdoms and city states, rather then a single Empire and their society was reported to be tribal. Despite this, lore books indicate that the Ayleids were the first to dream of unity.
Ayleid ruins also contain numerous magical stones which the Ayleids used to replenish magicka to themselves, and to weapons. Ayleids also found ways to draw magicka from the stars, in the form of Ayleid wells, which will restore Magicka to an individual who has exhausted their Magicka.
Ayleids were also very talented builders as their white stone cities, temples, and other structures were built both above and underground. The most famous structure the Ayleids built was the White Gold Tower, which later became part of the Imperial City.
However, the one aspect of Ayleid culture that would forever immortalize them as monsters would be slavery. Ayleids enslaved the ancestors of the Imperial race and forced them into manual labor, house service and other slave duties. According to legend, some Ayleids turned cruelty into an art form, from setting human children on fire, making sculptures out of human bones, making gardens out of human entrails, and even sacrificing slaves to appease the Daedra.
The Ayleids believed that Nirn was made of 4 elements, earth, water, air, and light. (They considered fire a weak form of light) The Ayleids believed that the most spiritual form of light was starlight, since the stars were the links between Mundus and Atherius, the source of all magic. As a result, the Ayleids knew the Aedra were strong providers of magic, and worshiped them. In fact, the White Gold tower they built, was originally a monument to the Aedra, called the Temple of the Ancestors.
However, the Ayleids believed that any source of magic was worth exploring, regardless of where it came from, or the price. As a result, the Ayleids also worshiped the Daedra. Daedra worship became so prolific on Ayleid society, that the Ayleids were able to command entire armies of Daedra in battle. Aylied city states were known to worship an individual Daedric prince, for example the Ayleids of Delodiil worshiped Meridia, while the Ayleids of Abargarlas worshiped Molag Bal. Due to Meridia and Molag Bal's rivalry with each other, Delodiil and Abagarlas were rivals as well. The Ayleids of Varsa Baalim worshiped Mehrunes Dagon and the Ayleids of Bisnensel worshiped Hermaous Mora.
It is believed that the Ayleids worship of the Daedra is what ultimately drew them to become slave masters.
Like all Elven races in The Elder Scrolls the Ayleids were descendants of the ancient Aldmer who left the continent of Aldmeris and settled in the Summerset Isles. After a while, the continent of Tamriel was found and various groups of Aldmer broke of from their brethren to seek out a new life. Those who settled in Cyrodil became the Ayleids. Why the ancestors of the Ayleids broke of from the Aldmer is unknown, though most assume they left because Daedra worship is not tolerated in Summerset, meaning the ancient Ayleids left to avoid religious persecution.
Upon their arrival, the Ayleids built magnificent cities, temples and other structures. They also employed Daedric armies to help them enslave the humans residing in Cyrodil. From their colonization and conquest, the Ayleids built the first Tamrielic Empire, the Ayleids even expanded their empire into Black Marsh, Valenwood, High Rock, and Hammerfell.
For thousands of years the Ayleids ruled Cyrodil, however they would one day fall. For reasons unknown, the Ayleids took to fighting among themselves in a civil war. In addition, the slave woman Alessia's prayers for freedom had been heard by Akatosh himself who gave her the Amulet of Kings, to prevent the Daedra from directly aiding the Ayleid and lessen their activities in Nirn. Alessia managed to start a great rebellion with her fellow slaves and the Nords of Skyrim. And in just one year, the White Gold tower was captured, and the Ayleid empire fell.
However, unbeknowist to many modern humans in Tamriel, some Ayleids actually aided Alessia and fought alongside the humans. In fact whole Ayleid kingdoms and city states even joined her cause. Some joined because they did not worship the Daedra and therefore did not have any slaves, other Ayleids did not believe in slavery as a good part of life. At the end of the slave rebellion, the Ayleids who fought for Alessia stayed in Cyrodil as vassals and helped Alessia maintain her Empire with their own skills in ruling an Empire.
But after Alessia's death, a religious order called the Order of Alessia (who still felt grudges against their former masters) ordered that all Ayleids be exiled from Cyrodil, or die. As Ayleid city states and kingdoms began to be destroyed, Ayleids began leaving Cyrodil for Valenwood and High Rock. Over time the Ayleids intermarried and interbred with humans and Bosmer, and their bloodline dwindled. No Ayleid has been seen in the third and fourth eras and they are now believed to be extinct. However the Bretons are direct descendants of the Aylieds and some of the modern Bosmer are also descended from the Ayleids.