Nemean Games

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The stadion of Nemea. Stadion of Nemea.jpg
The stadion of Nemea.

The Nemean Games (Greek : Νέμεα or Νέμεια) were one of the four Panhellenic Games of Ancient Greece, and were held at Nemea every two years (or every third).

Greek language language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

"Panhellenic Games" is the collective term for four separate sports festivals held in ancient Greece. The four Games were:

Ancient Greece Civilization belonging to an early period of Greek history

Ancient Greece was a civilization belonging to a period of Greek history from the Greek Dark Ages of the 12th–9th centuries BC to the end of antiquity. Immediately following this period was the beginning of the Early Middle Ages and the Byzantine era. Roughly three centuries after the Late Bronze Age collapse of Mycenaean Greece, Greek urban poleis began to form in the 8th century BC, ushering in the Archaic period and colonization of the Mediterranean Basin. This was followed by the period of Classical Greece, an era that began with the Greco-Persian Wars, lasting from the 5th to 4th centuries BC. Due to the conquests by Alexander the Great of Macedon, Hellenistic civilization flourished from Central Asia to the western end of the Mediterranean Sea. The Hellenistic period came to an end with the conquests and annexations of the eastern Mediterranean world by the Roman Republic, which established the Roman province of Macedonia in Roman Greece, and later the province of Achaea during the Roman Empire.


With the Isthmian Games, the Nemean Games were held both the year before and the year after the Ancient Olympic Games and the Pythian Games in the third year of the Olympiad cycle. Like the Olympic Games, they were held in honour of Zeus. They were said to have been founded by Heracles after he defeated the Nemean Lion; another myth said that they originated as the funeral games of a child named Opheltes. However, they are known to have existed only since the 6th century BC (from 573 BC, or earlier). The winners received a wreath of wild celery leaves from the city of Argos.

Isthmian Games or Isthmia were one of the Panhellenic Games of Ancient Greece, and were named after the Isthmus of Corinth, where they were held. As with the Nemean Games, the Isthmian Games were held both the year before and the year after the Olympic Games, while the Pythian Games were held in the third year of the Olympiad cycle.

Ancient Olympic Games athletic competitions in Ancient Greece

The ancient Olympic Games were originally a festival, or celebration of and for Zeus; later, events such as a footrace, a javelin contest, and wrestling matches were added. The Olympic Games were a series of athletic competitions among representatives of city-states and one of the Panhellenic Games of ancient Greece. They were held in honor of Zeus, and the Greeks gave them a mythological origin. The first Olympics is traditionally dated to 776 BC. They continued to be celebrated when Greece came under Roman rule, until the emperor Theodosius I suppressed them in AD 393 as part of the campaign to impose Christianity as the State religion of Rome. The games were held every four years, or olympiad, which became a unit of time in historical chronologies.

Pythian Games

The Pythian Games were one of the four Panhellenic Games of Ancient Greece. They were held in honour of Apollo every four years at his sanctuary at Delphi. They were held two years after each Olympic Games, and between each Nemean and Isthmian Games. The Pythian Games were founded sometime in the 6th century BC and featured competitions for art and dance. The art and dance competitions pre-dated the athletic portion of the games, and were said to have been started by Apollo after he killed Python and set up the oracle at Delphi.


The various legends concerning its origin are related in the argumenta of the Scholiasts to the Nemea of Pindar, with which may be compared Pausanias, [1] and Apollodorus. [2] All these legends, however, agree in stating that the Nemean Games were originally instituted by the Seven against Thebes in commemoration of the death of Opheltes, later called Archemorus. When the Seven arrived at Nemea, and were very thirsty, they met Hypsipile, who was carrying Opheltes (Greek: Ὀφέλτης), the child of the priest of Zeus and of Eurydice. While she showed the heroes the way to the nearest well, she left the child behind lying in a meadow, which during her absence was killed by a dragon. When the Seven on their return saw the accident, they slew the dragon and instituted funeral games to be held every third year. Other legends attribute the institution of the Nemean Games to Heracles, after he had slain the Nemean Lion. The alternative tradition was that he had either revived the ancient games, or at least introduced the alteration by which they were from this time celebrated in honor of Zeus.

Pindar Ancient Greek lyric poet from Thebes

Pindar was an Ancient Greek lyric poet from Thebes. Of the canonical nine lyric poets of ancient Greece, his work is the best preserved. Quintilian wrote, "Of the nine lyric poets, Pindar is by far the greatest, in virtue of his inspired magnificence, the beauty of his thoughts and figures, the rich exuberance of his language and matter, and his rolling flood of eloquence, characteristics which, as Horace rightly held, make him inimitable." His poems can also, however, seem difficult and even peculiar. The Athenian comic playwright Eupolis once remarked that they "are already reduced to silence by the disinclination of the multitude for elegant learning". Some scholars in the modern age also found his poetry perplexing, at least until the 1896 discovery of some poems by his rival Bacchylides; comparisons of their work showed that many of Pindar's idiosyncrasies are typical of archaic genres rather than of only the poet himself. His poetry, while admired by critics, still challenges the casual reader and his work is largely unread among the general public.

Pausanias (geographer) 2nd-century AD Greek geographer

Pausanias was a Greek traveler and geographer of the second-century AD, who lived in the time of Roman emperors Hadrian, Antoninus Pius, and Marcus Aurelius. He is famous for his Description of Greece, a lengthy work that describes ancient Greece from his first-hand observations. This work provides crucial information for making links between classical literature and modern archaeology. Andrew Stewart assesses him as:

A careful, pedestrian writer...interested not only in the grandiose or the exquisite but in unusual sights and obscure ritual. He is occasionally careless or makes unwarranted inferences, and his guides or even his own notes sometimes mislead him, yet his honesty is unquestionable, and his value without par.

The Bibliotheca, also known as the Bibliotheca of Pseudo-Apollodorus, is a compendium of Greek myths and heroic legends, arranged in three books, generally dated to the first or second century AD.

Pindar stated that the games were afterward celebrated in honor of Zeus. [3] Initially the games were warlike in character, and only warriors and their sons were allowed to take part in them. Later on, however, they were thrown open to all the Greeks. The games took place in a grove between Cleonae and Phlius. [4] The various events, according to Apollodorus, [5] were horse-racing, running in armour in the stadium, [6] wrestling, chariot racing and discus, boxing, spear-throwing and archery, as well as musical contests. [7] The prize given to the victors was originally a wreath of olive branches, but afterwards a wreath of green celery. The location of the Nemean Games varied at different times among Cleonae, Corinth, and Argos. They were sometimes called the Cleonaean Games after the first location. The judges who awarded the prizes were dressed in black robes, and an instance of their justice, when the Argives presided, is recorded by Pausanias. [8]

Phlius human settlement

Phlius or Phlious or Phleious was an independent polis (city-state) in the northeastern part of Peloponnesus. Phlius' territory, called Phliasia (Φλιασία), was bounded on the north by Sicyonia, on the west by Arcadia, on the east by Cleonae, and on the south by Argolis. This territory is a small valley about 900 feet (270 m) above the level of the sea, surrounded by mountains, from which streams flow down on every side, joining the river Asopus in the middle of the plain. The mountain in the southern part of the plain, from which the principal source of the Asopus springs, was called Carneates (Καρνεάτης). The territory of Phlius was celebrated in antiquity for its wine. According to Strabo, the ancient capital of the country was Araethyrea (Ἀραιθυρέα) on Mt. Celosse, which city is mentioned by Homer; but the inhabitants subsequently deserted it and built Phlius at the distance of 30 stadia. Pausanias, however, does not speak of any migration, but says that the ancient capital was named Arantia (Ἀραντία), from its founder Aras, an autochthon, that it was afterwards called Araethyrea from a daughter of Aras, and that it finally received the name of Phlius, from Phlias, a son of Ceisus and grandson of Temenus. The name of Arantia was retained in the time of Pausanias in the hill Arantinus, on which the city stood. Hence the statement of grammarians that both Arantia and Araethyrea were ancient names of Phlius. According to Stephanus of Byzantium, Phlius derived its name from Dionysus and Chthonophyle. Phlius was subsequently conquered by Dorians under Rhegnidas, who came from Sicyon. Some of the inhabitants migrated to Samos, others to Clazomenae; among the settlers at Samos was Hippasus, fróm whom Pythagoras derived his descent.

Hoplitodromos ancient foot race

The hoplitodromos or hoplitodromia was an ancient foot race, part of the Olympic Games and the other Panhellenic Games. It was the last foot race to be added to the Olympics, first appearing at the 65th Olympics in 520 BC, and was traditionally the last foot race to be held.

Wrestling form of combat sport involving grappling type techniques

Wrestling is a combat sport involving grappling-type techniques such as clinch fighting, throws and takedowns, joint locks, pins and other grappling holds. The sport can either be theatrical for entertainment, or genuinely competitive. A wrestling bout is a physical competition, between two competitors or sparring partners, who attempt to gain and maintain a superior position. There are a wide range of styles with varying rules with both traditional historic and modern styles. Wrestling techniques have been incorporated into other martial arts as well as military hand-to-hand combat systems.

Regarding the time of year the Nemean Games were celebrated, the Scholiast on Pindar [9] merely states that they were held on the 12th of the month of Panemos, though in another passage he makes a statement which contradicts this assertion. Pausanias [10] speaks of winter Nemean Games, and distinguishes them from others which were held in summer. It seems that for a time the celebration of the Nemean Games was neglected, and that they were revived in Olympiad 51.4 (573 BC), from which time Eusebius dates the first Nemead. Henceforth they were for a long time celebrated regularly twice in every Olympiad, both at the start of every second Olympic year in the winter, and soon after the start of every fourth Olympic year in the summer. About the time of the Battle of Marathon it became customary in Argolis to reckon according to Nemeads.

Olympiad period of four years associated with the Olympic Games of the Ancient Greeks

An Olympiad is a period of four years associated with the Olympic Games of the Ancient Greeks. Although the Ancient Olympic Games were established during Archaic Greece, it was not until the Hellenistic period, beginning with Ephorus, that the Olympiad was used as a calendar epoch. Converting to the modern BC/AD dating system the first Olympiad began in the summer of 776 BC and lasted until the summer of 772 BC, when the second Olympiad would begin with the commencement of the next games. By extrapolation to the Gregorian calendar, the 3rd year of the 699th Olympiad will begin in (Northern-Hemisphere) mid-summer 2019.

Eusebius Greek church historian

Eusebius of Caesarea, also known as Eusebius Pamphili, was a historian of Christianity, exegete, and Christian polemicist. He became the bishop of Caesarea Maritima about 314 AD. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canon and is regarded as an extremely learned Christian of his time. He wrote Demonstrations of the Gospel, Preparations for the Gospel, and On Discrepancies between the Gospels, studies of the Biblical text. As "Father of Church History", he produced the Ecclesiastical History, On the Life of Pamphilus, the Chronicle and On the Martyrs.

Battle of Marathon 490 BC battle in the Greco-Persian Wars

The Battle of Marathon took place in 490 BC, during the first Persian invasion of Greece. It was fought between the citizens of Athens, aided by Plataea, and a Persian force commanded by Datis and Artaphernes. The battle was the culmination of the first attempt by Persia, under King Darius I, to subjugate Greece. The Greek army decisively defeated the more numerous Persians, marking a turning point in the Greco-Persian Wars.

The Hellenistic Stadion (with a vaulted entrance tunnel dated to about 320 BC, according to Stephen G. Miller, 2001, pp. 90–93) has recently been discovered. The Games, under Macedonian control, returned to Nemea at the end of the 4th century BC. In 208 BC Philip of Macedonia was honored by the Argives with the presidency at the Nemean games, [11] and Quintius Flamininus proclaimed at the Nemean Games the freedom of the Argives. [12] The emperor Hadrian restored the horse-racing of boys at the Nemean Games, which had fallen into disuse. But after his time they do not seem to have been much longer celebrated, as they are no longer mentioned by any of the writers of the subsequent period.

Titus Quinctius Flamininus Roman consul and general

Titus Quinctius Flamininus was a Roman politician and general instrumental in the Roman conquest of Greece.

Hadrian 2nd-century Roman Emperor

Hadrian was Roman emperor from 117 to 138. He was born Publius Aelius Hadrianus in Italica, near Santiponce, Spain into a Hispano-Roman family. His father was of senatorial rank and was a first cousin of Emperor Trajan. He married Trajan's grand-niece Vibia Sabina early in his career, before Trajan became emperor and possibly at the behest of Trajan's wife Pompeia Plotina. Plotina and Trajan's close friend and adviser Lucius Licinius Sura were well disposed towards Hadrian. When Trajan died, his widow claimed that he had nominated Hadrian as emperor immediately before his death.

The program of the Nemean Games

The gymnic part

The participants to these parts competed in the nude.

The equestrian part

Taking place in a hippodrome, these were the only games where women could take part, [15] not because they were allowed to ride, but because it was the owner of a horse or chariot - rather than the rider or charioteer - who was considered the victor. This even allowed cities to participate by funding equestrian teams.

So far no ancient hippodrome has been recovered, so the given lengths are assumptions.

The modern Nemean Games

The Society for the Revival of the Nemean Games was founded in 1994, after more than 20 years of archaeological excavation at Nemea. The contemporary games, held every four years since 1996, are a form of popular education in history, as well as a counter to the commercialism of the modern Olympics. Races are organized according to age and gender, open to international participation. No medals are awarded, only crowns of palm branches and wild celery.

In 2008, some 600 people clad in tunics raced barefoot in the ruins of the ancient stadium on June 21. Two races were staged for the runners aged from 10 to 80, one of 100 metres (110 yards) and the other of 7.5 kilometres (4.7 mi). The most striking feature of this attempt was the revival of the Hoplitodromos race.

The last Nemead was held on 11th and 12 June 2016.

See also


  1. Pausanias, ii. 15. §2, etc.
  2. Apollodorus, iii. 6. §4
  3. Pindar, Nem. iii. 114, etc.
  4. Strabo, viii.
  5. Apollodorus, iii. 6
  6. Pausanias, ii. 15. §2
  7. Pausanias, viii. 50. §3; Plutarch, Philop. 11.
  8. Pausanias, viii. 40. §3
  9. Scholiast on Pindar, Argum. ad Nem.
  10. Pausanias, ii. 15. §2
  11. Livy, xxvii. 30, etc.; Polybius, x. 26
  12. Livy, xxxiv. 41; Polybius, x. 26.
  13. Evidence suggests this race wasn't held always.
  14. See J. Jüthner, Die athletische Leibesübungen der Griechen (1968) for a discussion of the classical sources.
  15. After the Romans conquered Greece, women could no longer participate.

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Heroon at Nemea

The Heroon at Nemea is a part of the larger Panhellenic sanctuary of Zeus in the North-West Argolid. A small feature of the sanctuary as a whole, the heroon is a large mound of earth situated on the west side of the Nemea river. This site is dedicated to the mythological hero Opheltes, an infant whose death was foretold by the seer Amphiaraus. Though little remains of the activities of the heroon, it is suspected that the athletic games which took place there were the predecessor of the Nemean games, though this does contrast with the idea that Herakles created the games. Evidence of cult activities and the practicing of magic at the heroon have also been found.

Stadium at Nemea

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