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NE´MEA (Νεμέα) was a valley in Argolis, between Kleonae and Phlius. It was the reputed scene of many famous mythical events. Here (it was said) Argos had watched Io: and here Herakleês slew the lion. Pausanias (2.15, 2) relates that in his time the den of the Nemean lion was pointed out in a mountain range, a little less than two miles from Nemea. And here too, in historic times, stood a splendid temple of Nemean Zeus, with a sacred enclosure (ἄλσος, not to be rendered “grove” ), in which the Nemean games (Νέμεα or Νέμεια) were held (Strab. viii. p.377). Pindar describes the locality of these games by a variety of imaginative expressions: e. g. Νεμεαίου ἐν πολυυμνήτῳ Διὸς ἄλσει (Nem. 2.4, 5); ἀσκίοις Φλιοῦντος ὑπ᾽ ὠγυγίοις ὄρεσιν (Nem. 6.45, 46); χόρτοις ἐν λέοντος (Olymp. 13.44). The valley of Nemea from its situation belonged naturally to the people of Kleonae, who for a long time were presidents of the games (ἀγωνοθέται). But, before Olymp. 53, 1, the Argives obtained possession of the temple and the presidency at the games. At a later time the Kleonaeans recovered the right of presiding, but did not retain it (Pind. Nem. x.; Paus. 2.15, 3).

In prehistoric times we find the institution of the Nemean festival connected with the expedition of the Seven against Thebes (Apollodor. 3.6, 4), or with the slaying of the Nemean lion by Heraklês (Schol. Pind. Nem.). Writers who held the former opinion uniformly describe the festival as an ἀγὼν ἐπιτάφιος, established to commemorate the youth Archemoros, who was killed by a serpent (Apollodor. l.c.), but differ as to the particular Archemoros whose death was thus honoured. Some represented him to have been the son of Lycurgus, king of Nemea, while others (among whom was Aeschylus) related that he was the son of Nemea, daughter of Asopus (Schol. Pind. Nem.). Apollodorus in the passage referred to gives the names of the victors, together with the contests, in which they were victorious at the first Nemean games. The second celebration of these games is attributed by Pausanias (10.25, 2, 3) to the Epigoni.

As regards the first historic occurrence of the festival, we have but scanty evidence. In its local character it had no doubt been in existence from immemorial antiquity; but not until long after the Olympic games had become famous did those of Nemea rise to the rank of a Pan-Hellenic festival. Eusebius dates the first Nemead from Olymp. 53, 2: but it is probable from the dissertation of G. Hermann, whose conclusions are supported by Boeckh, that the series of historical Nemeads began in the winter of Olymp. 51 (Boeckh, C. I. i. n. 34, p. 53). The Nemean games, like the Isthmian, in this respect were biennial (ἀγὼν τριετηρικός), i. e. two complete years elapsed between each festival. Accordingly they fell twice within the Olympic period, occurring alternately in winter and summer in the second and fourth years respectively of each Olympic πεντετηρίς. We read in the Schol. to Pindar's Nemean odes that they took place on the 12th of the month Pan[ecedil]mos (μηνὶ πανέμῳ δωδεκάτῃ), but such authority helps us but little in settling the matter.

The games comprised musical, gymnic, and equestrian contests (ἀγὼν μουσικός, γυμνικός, ἱππιλός). (Plut. Phil. 11; Paus. 8.50, 3; Schol. Pind. Nem.) The gymnic contests at Nemea, as regards the subjects of competition, corresponded closely with those at Olympia. The following are expressly mentioned:--The simple foot-race (γυμνὸν στάδιον) for men and boys; the wrestling bout (πάλη) for men and boys; the πένταθλον for men and boys; the παγικράτιον for men and boys (Pind. Nem. passim; Hdt. 6.92, 9.75). That boxing (πυγμαχία) was a subject of competition may be inferred from Paus. 8.40, 3. We learn further from Pausanias (2.15, 2) and Pindar that, besides the simple foot-race, the Nemean games included the armour-race (ὁπλίτης δρόμος) and the long race ( δόλιχος--notice accent). In the equestrian contests we know that Alcibiades, Chromios of Aetna, and Polyklês of Sparta (Paus. 1.22, 6) were victorious.

That the games occupied more than one day may be inferred from Liv. 27.31, where he uses the words per dies festos in reference to them.

The Argives, as has been said above, ultimately supplanted the Kleonaeans as presidents of the Nemean festival, but they occasionally delegated this function to military chieftains, like Philip of Macedon or Titus Quintius Flamininus (Liv. 27.30, 34.41). In a late. inscription the officers who actually presided are referred to as Hellanodikae (Ἑλλανοδίκαι). Boeckh conjectured that these were twelve in number, while those who discharged the like duty at Olympia, and bore the same title, numbered only ten (Boeckh, C. I 1126, p. 581).

Like the other great Pan-Hellenic festivals, the Nemean was an ἀγὼν στεφανίτης, i. e. one in which the victor obtained a wreath in token of his victory. The Nemean wreath was, according to some accounts, at first woven of olive-sprays (ἐλαία), the garland of green parsley (χλωρὰ σέλινα) having replaced it afterwards; according to others, the parsley wreath, was the original prize (as it continued to be throughout historical [p. 2.228]times) on account of its special fitness, as an emblem of mourning, to be associated with the memory of Archemoros. But a different myth, already alluded to, represents Heraklês, when he instituted the games after overcoming the lion, as having also appointed the parsleywreath to be the victor's reward. And this latter account seems to have been present to the mind of Pindar, for he speaks of the wreath as βοτάνα λέοντος (Nem. 6.71, 72).

During the celebration of each Nemean festival a cessation of hostilities (ἐκεχειρία, σπονδαί) between belligerents was an imperative duty (cf. ἐν ἱερομηνίᾳ Νεμεάδι, Pind. N. 3.2, with schol.). A sacred embassy, too, was on these occasions sent by each of the several Hellenic states to Nemea, with offerings to Nemean Zeus (Demosth. Meid. p. 552.115).

Historians, as well as late coins and inscriptions, testify that the (still so called) Nemean games came to be regularly held in Argos (Plb. 5.101, 5; Diod. 19.64; Liv. 30.1; Boeckh, C. I. 234, p. 356). On a comparatively early occasion, indeed, Argos had been the scene of the festival. For the circumstances, vid. Plut. Arat. 28. Local festivals, named after the great Nemean, were established in many places, e. g. at Aetna in Sicily (Schol. Pind. O. 13.158) and at Megara (Schol. Pind. O. 7.157). That Nemea were also instituted at Anchialos in Thrace may be inferred from a medal stamped under Caracalla, bearing the name ΝΕΜΑΙΑ (instead of the usual ΝΕΜΕΙΑ); and, from the fact of its bearing also the word ΞΕΟΨΗΠΙΑ, the further inference has been drawn that the Thracian Nemea were founded in honour of Sept. Severus. (For more detailed information respecting Nemea, see Krause, Pythien, Nemeen, u. Isthmien, whose guidance has been mainly followed in the present article.)


hide References (22 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (22):
    • Herodotus, Histories, 6.92
    • Herodotus, Histories, 9.75
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 10.2
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 10.25
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 10.3
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.22
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 1.6
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.15
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.2
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 2.3
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 8.3
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 8.40
    • Pausanias, Description of Greece, 8.50
    • Polybius, Histories, 5.101
    • Polybius, Histories, 5.5
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 34, 41
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 27, 30
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 27, 31
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 30, 1
    • Plutarch, Philopoemen, 11
    • Plutarch, Aratus, 28
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 19.64
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