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 temple.
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
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
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 floor.
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.
G. Cousin & F. Dürrbach, “Inscriptions
de Némée,” BCH
9 (1885) 349-56; C. W. Blegen, “The American Excavation at Nemea, Season of 1924,” Art
19 (1925) 175-84; id., “The December
Excavations at Nemea,” ibid. 22 (1926) 127-34; id., “Excavations at Nemea, 1926,” AJA
31 (1927) 427-40; M.
Clemmensen & R. Vallois, “Le temple de Zeus à Némée,”
49 (1925) 1-20, pls. I-IV; C. K. Williams, Deltion
18 (1963) 81-82, pl. 94; 20 (1965) 154-56, pl. 138; G.
Daux, “Chronique des fouilles en 1964,” BCH
703-7; D. W. Bradeen, “Inscriptions from Nemea,” Hesperia
35 (1966) 320-30; B. W. Hill, L. T. Lands, & C. K.
Williams, The Temple of Zeus at Nemea
C. K. WILLIAMS