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Reviving Nemea's Games "Ancient Olympics Guide"
April 6, 2004
by Mark Rose
(Courtesy S.G. Miller/ [LARGER IMAGE]

In June of 1996, more than 650 people from some 30 countries doffed their shoes, donned tunics, and ran in the stadium at Nemea in southern Greece, bringing the games held there in antiquity back to life after a 2,300-year hiatus. The ancient games at Nemea were one of the four panhellenic competitions that also included contests at Olympia, Delphi, and Isthmia. This year, on July 31, the second full moon after the summer solstice, the Third Modern Nemead will take place.

Excavated since 1974 by Stephen G. Miller of the University of California, Berkeley, the site includes ruins of a locker room, a tunnel (marked with the graffiti of ancient athletes) leading into the stadium, and the stadium itself. According to tradition, Nemea became host to biennial games in 573 B.C. Following the destruction of the sanctuary of Zeus at Nemea in 415-410, the powerful city-state of Argos took over the games. Reconstruction of the sanctuary and stadium at Nemea in the 330s allowed for a return of the games until Argos took them over permanently in 271 B.C.

Inspiration for the revival came from races run in 1994 to mark the opening of the stadium as an archaeological park. A Society for the Revival of the Nemean Games was formed, composed of archaeologists, classicists, citizens of modern Nemea, politicians, and business people. The society's statement of purpose reads, "It is our belief that the modern Olympic Games, despite their obvious success in many respects, have become increasingly removed from the average person. Our goal is the participation, on the sacred ancient soil of Greece, of anyone and everyone, in games that will revive the spirit of the Olympics. We will achieve this by reliving authentic ancient athletic customs in the ancient stadium of Nemea."

The revived games are truly democratic: no records and no medals, but all participants will be rewarded "by feet sore from contact with the same stones and the same soil where ancient feet ran more than 2,000 years ago." If you would like to participate in the Third Nemead, you must register by June 1, 2004.

For the ancient and modern games at Nemea, including registration, see, especially, the sections on the stadium, history of the site (Archaic-Classical, Late Classical-Hellenistic), and new games (with the "Step Into History" video).

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© 2004 by the Archaeological Institute of America