The Nemean games

The Nemean games were founded in 573 BC, as the last of the four top games. They took place at Nemea, a sanctuary dedicated to Zeus, in whose honour the games were held. According to the foundation myth, the games started as funeral games for prince Opheltes, also called Archemoros, who died at Nemea as a baby. Originally the games were organized by Kleonai, a small town north of the sanctuary. At the end of the fifth century, however, Kleonai came under the control of Argos. Eventually, namely in the mid-third century BC, the games themselves also moved to Argos. For this reason, Pausanias found the sanctuary dilapidated, when he visited Nemea in the second century AD.

The Nemean games were held every two years, alternating with the Isthmian games. They took place in the summer of the year in which no Olympic or Pythian games were held. In the Roman imperial period, the Nemean games in the year after the Olympics were moved to winter.

The program originally contained only athletic contests and horse races, like the Olympic games. In the Hellenistic period musical contests were added. In the first century AD, there were also Nemean contests for girls. Victors were originally honoured with an olive crown. From the Persian wars onwards, this prize was replaced with a crown of wild celery.

© KU Leuven, 2012