Ancient Nemean Games

the Greek god Heracles, who the ancient Greeks credited with founding the Nemean Games (c. 1st century AD) - Ancient Nemean Games
the Greek god Heracles, who the ancient Greeks credited with founding the Nemean Games (c. 1st century AD)

The ancient Nemean Games were a series of athletic festivals held in honor of Zeus, much like the ancient Olympic Games. This festival was hosted at three different cities throughout its history; Klonai, Argos, and Corinth. It was one of the four Panhellenic Games, the other three being the Olympic Games, Pythian Games, and Isthmian Games. The Nemean Games took place every two years, separated by an alternation of the Olympic and the Pythian Games, which each took place every four years.

By the end of its history, this festival hosted even more events than the Olympic Games due to the inclusion of the hippios race. A list of the known athletic events that were part of the Nemean Games is as follows:

Event Description
Stadion  a sprint the length of the stadion track, around 200 meters
Diaulos  a two stadia sprint, around 400 meters
Hippios  a four stadia race, around 800 meters
Dolichos  an endurance race of 18-24 laps on the stadion – about 3 miles
Hoplitodromos  an encumbered race in which athletes had to wear pieces of hoplite armor
Pentathlon  a fivefold event consisting of the discus toss, javelin throw, long jump, stadion sprint, and wrestling
Palé  Greek wrestling
Pygmachia  Greek boxing
Pankration  a brutal combat sport with few rules
 Harmatodroia  chariot racing

Origins and History

The Nemean Games were established during the 51st Olympiad in 573 BC, though there is a possibility that they were celebrated centuries before and only revived at that date. One legend attributes the origins of the festival to a series of funeral games held in honor of the son of the mythological Nemean king Lycurgus, Opheltes, who was strangled by a snake as an infant. Other legends associate its beginnings with Heracles, son of Zeus, who established them in his father’s honor.


Competitors

Only Greek-born men could participate in the athletic events at the Nemean Games. Some sources claim that initially only soldiers and their sons could compete, but this there appears to be no extant historical evidence to support this . Much like the other Panhellenic games, it is likely Roman men were allowed to participate in the festival beginning in the 3rd or 2nd century BC.

Women couldn’t compete in the athletic events, but were included in the musical contests. (Only women were allowed to compete in the Heraean Games, however.)

Bibliography

Potter, J. (1837). Archæologia græca; or, the antiquities of Greece (J. Boyd, Ed.). T. Tegg, London.

P., & Frazer, J. G. (1913). Pausanias’s Description of Greece. London: Macmillan and, Limited.

A., & Frazer, J. G. (1921). Apollodorus: The library. London: W. Heinemann.

Miller, S. G., & Abraldes, A. M. (1990). Nemea, a guide to the site and the Museum. Berkeley: University of California Press.