Ancient Nemea is a village in the prefecture of Corinth with 592 inhabitants (2011 census). It is a homonymous municipal district of the Municipality of Nemea. Famous city of antiquity, also known from the mythical lion, killed by Hercules. The ruins of the temple of Nemea Zeus, from which only three columns and the vertebrae of some others survive, are located at a very short distance from the current village of Ancient Nemea. The Nemea wines produced in the area are also famous.



Like any other ancient sanctuary, the founding of Nemea and the agonal games were tied into a specific mythical context. At first glance, it may seem surprising that there are two founding myths.

This is how ancient authors name the hero Herakles, who, as the first of his twelve works, strangled the Nemean lion, a child of Typhon and Echidna, with his bare hands, as he could not be wounded with normal weapons. In gratitude for this victory, Heracles donated the sanctuary and the games to his father Zeus. The connection between the killing of the monster and the founding of Nemea did not take place until the 1st century AD, at a time when the sanctuary had long since been left to decay.

The second surviving explanatory legend for the founding of the Nemean Games comes from the legends of the Seven against Thebes: The Nemean king Lykurgus, who is also referred to in several sources as a priest of Zeus, was warned by a Delphic oracle against laying his son Opheltes on the ground before it could run. Lykurgos entrusted the child to the nurse Hypsipyle, the former queen of Lemnos and lover of Jason. However, in order to show the seven generals who came via Nemea on their way to Thebes a source, Hypsipyle bedded the child on wild celery. A large snake then strangled Opheltes, whom the seer Amphiaraos gave the name Archemoros, "beginning of fate", and thus foresaw the disastrous outcome of the campaign. In order to favor the gods, the seven funeral games were held for Opheltes-Archemoros, the winner of which was crowned with celery.


Research history

One of the earliest excavations in the Nemea area was undertaken in 1766 with financial support from the London Society of Dilettanti. The main search for architectural sculptures of the temple was unsuccessful. Since the discharge of the high groundwater was suspended during the Turkish rule, further excavations could only be started after a French team of engineers had drained the valley in 1883. The efforts made by French archaeologists in the following year, and also in 1912, to uncover the sanctuary, however, did not achieve the desired success, so that in 1924 the École française d’Athènes ceded their excavation licenses for Nemea to the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Under the direction of Bert Hodge Hill and Carl Blegen, extensive parts of the sanctuary, such as the altar, the bath and the western part of the xenon, were discovered in three campaigns. Overall, the excavation area was expanded by more than one hectare.

In the following decades, Nemea moved from the focus of archaeological interest. It was not until 1962 that the American archaeologist Charles K. Williams resumed excavations for two years, focusing in particular on the Temple of Zeus. Since 1973, the University of California, Berkeley, has carried out ongoing campaigns to research the sanctuary. The main excavations were finished in 2001.

The sanctuary
A heroon (probably of Opheltes) from the early 6th century BC is still from the sanctuary Chr. As well as some treasure houses, also a large bath for the athletes with several wash troughs.

The main attraction of the sanctuary was and is the Temple of Zeus. A first building from the 6th century BC Was destroyed in the 5th century. About 350-330 BC A new building in the Doric style was built with material from Kleonai, the columns of which inside the cella were Corinthian below and Ionic above. Such a mixture of styles can also be found in the Temple of Apollo at Bassae and in the Temple of Athena at Tegea. Other peculiarities of this temple are a kind of crypt in the rear part of the cella, possibly an adyton and the complete lack of an opisthodome, as would have been expected in a Doric temple. As a result, the temple, as is often found in the late classical period, is not canonical.

The stadium
The stadium has a changing room (apodyterion) with a portico and a vaulted passage as access for the athletes. Two Kalos inscriptions are still visible in this passage. The building visible today dates from the 4th century BC. BC and held about 40,000 spectators who stood on the bare ground. The starting system (as in Isthmia) consisted of wooden pegs to which crossbars were attached, which could be lowered with a cable to open the track for all runners at the same time. The track length is about 178 m.