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 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 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. (C. K. WILLIAMS) Chronique des Fouilles linkWikidata ID: Q748108
Info: Princeton Encyclopedia
(Princeton Encyclopedia of Classical Sites, from Perseus Project)