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Information about the place (4)
The Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites
The site of the Panhellenic Games, of which the Sanctuary of Nemean
Zeus formed the dominant element, lies at the head of the valley of the Nemea
river, ca. 19 km N of Argos and 18 km from the Gulf of Corinth. Originally the
games were local and under the control of Kleonai. In 573 B.C. the games were
incorporated into the Panhellenic schedule and held every other year. By the middle
of the 5th c. the games were presided over by Argos. In the first half of the
4th c. the games appear to have been transferred to Argos itself. Aratos of Sikyon
tried to restore the games to their original site on the Nemea river in 235 B.C.,
but without success (Plut. Arat. 28). In 145 B.C. Mummius appears to have revived
the games on their original site; Argos succeeded in becoming, however, the home
of the games during the Roman period. There is no archaeological evidence that
winter games were held within the limits of the ancient Nemean sanctuary during
the Hadrianic period. The site of Nemea was reoccupied in the 4th and 5th c. A.D.
by the Christians, when a basilica and baptistery were erected there, largely
with blocks from the Temple of Zeus.
The site has been excavated intermittently since 1884. The pottery
and small finds are stored in the archaeological museum in ancient Corinth; coins
from the early American excavations are in the National Museum of Athens.
The 4th c. Temple of Zeus lies on the E bank of the Nemea river. It
is built of limestone, on the foundations of the S side of an earlier temple,
probably erected in the archaic period. The later temple, of which three columns
still stand, was completed in the twenties of the 4th c. It is peripteral, with
6 columns across the ends, 12 along the flanks. The columns are extremely attenuated,
with a height 7.34 times their lower diameter. The temple had no opisthodomus.
Inside, the cella had freestanding Corinthian columns along both side walls and
across its W end. These were surmounted by Ionic half-columns applied to piers.
The cella had a reserved area or adyton at its W end, in which stairs led down
into a crypt. The floor of the crypt appears to have been the ground level of
the earlier temple. The only marble used in the temple was the sima, in design
slightly resembling that of the Temple of Athena Alea at Tegea. There are other
stylistic resemblances between the two temples; these are not strong enough, however,
to demand the conclusion that a single architect designed both buildings.
To the E of the temple lies the foundation of an altar 41 m long,
which extends N beyond the limits of the N side of the 4th c. temple. The altar
appears to have been built in two phases; apparently the early altar was centered
on the long axis of the earlier temple and then extended S to go with the later
Between 33 and 42 m S of the temple is a line of three buildings;
the one farthest E has not been completely excavated. Only foundations of these
structures are preserved. The building farthest W, a large rectangular structure
with two interior columns, may have been a lesche. The two buildings at its E
have wide foundations on their N ends, designed to carry columned facades. The
two buildings may have been treasuries facing the temple.
Farther to the S, about 72 m from the temple, is a building 86 m long,
separated by a space of about 9 m from a rectangular building at its W. The W
structure is a three-roomed bath. The SW corner room still has its basins and
plunge preserved. The room has been roofed and now serves as an archaeological
storeroom for the site. The long building at the E appears to have been divided
into five units which opened onto a roadway running along the S. Each of these
units held facilities for drinking and eating; the building probably served as
a xenon. Both bath and xenon were built in the second half of the 4th c., immediately
after the construction of the later Temple of Zeus. (The xenon was built over
a kiln that made the roof tiles for the temple.) Both xenon and bath were aligned
with the roadway rather than with the temple.
A Christian basilica was erected over the remains of the W end of
the xenon. In form the church is a nave with both N and S side aisles, apse at
the E, and narthex with subsidiary rooms at the W. The baptistery lies against
the N wall of the basilica and has a circular baptismal basin in the center of
The roadway at the S of the xenon led to the E slope of the valley
on which today stands the ruin of a Turkish fountain-house. Slightly farther up
the E slope is the water source that once fed it and which is identified as the
Fountain of Adrastos. Here, according to legend, Opheltes, a babe yet unable to
walk, was left by his nurse so that she could draw water for the Seven Warriors
on their way to Thebes. The child was killed by a marauding serpent; the Nemean
Games were then initiated in honor of the dead child. Pausanias (2.15.2-3) mentions
a Temenos of Opheltes in which were altars to the hero, close by which was a tumulus
for Lykourgos, his father. These probably stood close to the fountain. No physical
remains, however, have been identified. A pit filled with votive pottery and terracotta
figurines of the archaic period, apparently dedications to Demeter, was found
on the slope farther to the S.
The stadium for the games was built in a hollow in the E slope of
the Nemean valley, SW of the fountain-house and about 500 m SE of the temple.
This is now partially excavated. The long axis of the stadium is N-S, with the
S end of the track dug into the hillside, the N end built out on an artificial
terrace. The course was lined with water channels and settling basins. Seats for
the spectators appear, however, never to have been built.
C. K. Williams, ed.
This text is from: The Princeton encyclopedia of classical sites,
Princeton University Press 1976. Cited Nov 2002 from
Perseus Project URL below, which contains bibliography & interesting hyperlinks.
Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities
((Nemea) or Nemee (Nemee). A valley in Argolis between Cleonae and Phlius, celebrated in mythical story as the place where Heracles slew the Nemean lion. In this valley there was a splendid temple of Zeus Nemeus surrounded by a sacred grove, in which the Nemean Games were celebrated every other year.
- Perseus: Harry Thurston Peck, Harpers Dictionary of Classical Antiquities (1898)
Greek & Roman Geography (ed. William Smith)
he Nemea, Ion. Nemee: Adj. Nemeios, Nemeaios, Nemeaeus. The name of
a valley in the territory of Cleonae, where Hercules slew the Nemean lion, and
where the Nemean games were celebrated every other year. It is described by Strabo
as situated between Cleonae and Phlius (viii. p. 377). The valley lies in a direction
nearly north and south, and is about two or three miles long, and from half to
three quarters of a mile in breadth. It is shut in on every side by mountains,
and is hence called by Pindar a deep vale (bathupedos, Nem. iii. 18.) There is
a remarkable mountain on the NE., called in ancient times Apesas, now Fuka, nearly
3000 feet high, with a flat summit, which is visible from Argos and Corinth. On
this mountain Perseus is said to have first sacrificed to Zeus Apesantius. (Paus.
ii. 15. § 3; Steph. B. s. v. Apesas; Stat. Theb. iii. 460, seq.) Theocritus gives
Nemea the epithet of well-watered (euudrou Nemees choros,, Theocr. xxv. 182).
Several rivulets descend from the surrounding mountains, which collect in the
plain, and form a river, which flows northward through the ridges of Apesas, and
falls into the Corinthian gulf, forming in the lower part of its source the boundary
between the territories of Sicyon and Corinth. This river also bore the name of
Nemea (Strab. viii. p. 382; Diod. xiv. 83; Liv. xxxiii. 15); but as it was dependent
for its supply of water upon the season of the year, it was sometimes called the
Nemean Charadra. (Aesch. de Fals. Leg. § 168, ed. Bekker; he Charadra, Xen. Hell.
iv. 2. 15) The mountains, which enclose the valley, have several natural caverns,
one of which, at the distance of 15 stadia from the sacred grove of Nemea, and
on the road named Tretus, from the latter place to Mycenae, was pointed out as
the cave of the Nemean lion. (Paus. ii. 15. § 2.)
The name of Nemea was strictly applied to the sacred grove in which
the games were celebrated. Like Olympia and the sanctuary at the Corinthian Isthmus,
it was not a town. The sacred grove contained only the temple, theatre, stadium,
and other monuments. There was a village in the neighbourhood called Bembina,
of which, however, the exact site is unknown. (Strab. viii. p. 377; Steph. B.
s. v.) The haunts of the Nemean lion are said to have been near Bembina. (Theocr.
The chief building in the sacred grove was the temple of Zeus Nemeius.
the patron god of the place. When visited by Pausanias the roof had fallen, and
the statue no longer remained (ii. 15. § 2). Three columns of the temple are still
standing, amidst a vast heap of ruins. Two of these columns belonged to the pronaos,
and were placed as usual between antae; they are 4 feet 7 inches in diameter at
the base, and still support their architrave. The third column, which belonged
to the outer range, is 5 feet 3 inches in diameter at the base, and about 34 feet
high, including a capital of 2 feet. Its distance from the corresponding column
of the pronaos is 18 feet. The total height of the three members of the entablature
was 8 feet 2 inches. The general intercolumination of the peristyle was 7 feet;
at the angles, 5 feet 10 inches. From the front of the pronaos to the extremity
of the cell within, the length was 95 feet; the breadth of the cell within, 31
feet; the thickness of the walls, 3 feet. The temple was a hexastyle, of about
65 feet in breadth on the upper step of the stylobate, which consisted of three
steps: the number of columns on the sides, and consequently the length of the
temple, I could not ascertain. (Leake.) Though of the Doric order, the columns
are as slender as some of the specimens of the Ionic, and are so different from
the older Doric examples, that we ought probably to ascribe to the temple a date
subsequent to the Persian wars.
Among the other monuments in the sacred grove were the tombs of Opheltes,
and of his father Lycurgus. The former was surrounded with a stone enclosure,
and contained certain altars; the latter was a mound of earth. (Paus. ii. 15.
§ 3.) Pausanias also mentions a fountain called Adrasteia. The latter is, doubtless,
the source of water near the Turkish fountain, which is now without water. At
the foot of the mountain, to the left of this spot, are the remains of the stadium.
Between the stadium and the temple of Zeus, on the left of the path, are some
Hellenic foundations, and two. fragments of Doric columns. Near the temple are
the ruins of a small church, which contains some Doric fragments.
(Leake, Morea, vol. iii. p. 327, seq.; Curtius, Peloponnesos, vol. ii. p. 505,
This text is from: Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD). Cited June 2004 from The Perseus Project URL below, which contains interesting hyperlinks
- Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography (1854) (ed. William Smith, LLD)