Projects at the Nemea Center
Research: archaeological research (includes excavation and study) of material and monuments from the ancient site. Currently, we are undertaking an in-depth study of the characteristic ceramic deposits recovered in past excavations that will define the chronological history of Nemea. Graduate and undergraduate students facilitate much of this work as part of an archaeological field school.
In addition to research at the Nemea site, the Center’s Director, Professor Kim Shelton will continue her research in prehistoric Greek archaeology at Mycenae, the largest and wealthiest of the palatial citadels of the Late Bronze Age.”
Conservation and presentation of archaeological monuments: As a primary mission of the Center, members work diligently to preserve and make public presentation of the archaeological monuments which includes the Early Christian Basilica, the Xenon, water reservoirs, the entrance tunnel of the Stadium. Conservation work is necessary on the Early Christian Basilica, the Xenon, water reservoirs, and especially in the entrance tunnel of the Stadium. It is careful and deliberate conservation methods that will ensure future possibility of research and visible understanding of the sites’ complex and long history. The Reconstruction of the Temple of Zeus is another major project of the Center with cooperation of the Earthquake Engineering Research Center that is rebuilding in part the outer Doric colonnade of the late 4th century monument to preserve its elements and for a better understanding of visitors to the site.
EARLY HELLENISTIC STADIUM
Aerial View of the Stadium
The ancient stadium at Nemea was constructed circa 330 BC when the games returned from Argos. This stadium is similar to others constructed during the Early Hellenistic such as the stadia at Olympia and Epidaurus. The southern portion of the stadium was carved into a natural depression between two hills, where as the north was built up using fill material from the excavations to the south.
The stadium was in use as long as the games were held at Nemea which lasted until circa 271 BC. During the Roman and Early Christian periods the stadium was used for non-athletic activities such as farming and herding. After abandonment, the stadium fell into disrepair and was forgotten.
This information originated on Professor Emeritus S.G. Miller's Nemea.org website.
The Dromos, or running surface of the stadium, was 600 ancient feet of hard packed yellow clay. The surface was prepared for competition by digging up this clay, then rolling it so as to form a hard crust over a softer substrate.
Below: Water channel and 200-ft marker
The track was marked every 100 feet by a small stone marker. Around the edges of the track, a water-channel of stone carried fresh water to thirsty athletes and spectators from a small spring (link) 500 meters away via a terracotta pipeline.
At both ends of the the track a balbis (above left), or starting line, was located. The balbis consisted of a line of stones with two toe grooves. In addition to the stone starting line itself, the balbis included a starting mechanism called a hysplex (above right), which functioned using the same torsion concept as a catapult. This mechanism allowed Greeks to have consistently fair starts to races.
Although excavation of the Ancient Nemea site started around 1776 it was not until the 1800’s that there is mention of the early Hellenistic Stadium. Extensive excavation of the Stadium did not begin until 1974 under the aegis of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens (ASCSA) and under the leadership of Professor Stephen Miller. Located 400 meters southeast of the Temple of Zeus, the Stadium Tunnel or the Krypte Eisodos, dates back to approximately 320 BC. This limestone barrel vaulted tunnel, with its arched opening, measures 2.5 m wide by 36.35 m long. Access to the tunnel is from the Apodyterion (locker room), the room in which the athletes would undress and prepare themselves for the competitions. The tunnel served not only as the athletes’ dramatic entrance to the Stadium but as a protective barrier from the crowds who might jeer, strike out at them or distract them as they made their way to the Stadium. The tunnel also provides an interesting detail, that of the ancient graffiti that covers the tunnel walls, which provides scholars with names of some of the athletes, as well as small insights into the athletes’ thoughts as they sprint through the tunnel to the stadium to participate in the games.
Like many other structures of antiquity, the tunnel has deteriorated over time. As part of the on-going mission to conserve the Nemea monuments, the Nemea Center has started preliminary planning and fundraising for the structural and restoration study of the tunnel, immediately necessary to abate the decay and possible collapse of this extremely important and unique monument. The Center has requested and endorsed a preliminary study of the structural issues and necessary conservation protocol be conducted by engineer Dr. Kostas Zambas in preparation for submission of a proposal to the Ministry of Culture and its Central Archaeological Council. This vital conservation work will be difficult and costly, but imperative to maintain the unequalled experience of following “in the footsteps of the ancients”, and as is the case with the majority of the reconstruction of the Nemea monuments, only possible through private donations.
Above: Apodyterion during excavations with Krypte Esodos behind from the West.
This structure is the small building to the west of the stadium outside of the west end of the tunnel where the athletes undressed and prepared for competition. This building allowed athletes to prepare not only their bodies by the application of oil, but also to separate themselves from the jeering/cheering crowds of spectators and focus on the upcoming competition. This building is positioned in such a way that one must pass through it to reach the Krypte Esodos (Stadium Tunnel), thus giving it the function of gateway to the stadium for contestants. When the time came, they would proceed through the Krypte Esodos into the stadium.
Above: Apodyterion from above the Krypte Esodos (Southeast)
The tiles from this building tell us an interesting story regarding the civic government of Argos. Many tiles have a stamp bearing the name Sosikles in one form or another. Instead of being interpreted as the manufacturer's mark, it was found through documentary sources that during the time of construction a man named Sosikles was the official architect of the city state. This stamp indicates the contractor for whom the tiles were made.
Above: Tile with Sosikles Stamp [AT 324]
This information originated on Professor Emeritus S.G. Miller's archived Nemea.org website
The seating for spectators at the Nemean games was of a very simple and informal nature. At the south end of the stadium, rough ledges were carved into the soft bedrock of the hillside to afford a slightly more comfortable vantage point for spectators. Being as that the bedrock in this area is so soft, such ledges had to be recut from time to time as heavy rains could destroy such tenuous features. The only true stone seats were located on the west side of the stadium, and stretched between the tunnel, or Krypte Esodos (Stadium Tunnel), and the Balbis, or starting line. These seats were only two to three rows deep and were constructed of reused material.
Above: Balbis, or Starting Line Foundations for Hellenodikaion from the South A Reconstruction of Hellenodikaion
The judges, called Hellenodikai, had a special platform on the east side of the stadium at the hundred foot marker in the track. From this vantage point, called the Hellenodikaion, they could oversee the games and correct any possible infractions in the various competitions. It is interesting to note the numismatic evidence regarding the presence of cheering sections in the stadium.
Left, a map of the locations of coins found at the Stadium site.
By examining the assemblages of coins recovered during excavations, it is clear that the Argives congregated behind the Hellenodikion, where as the Corinthians viewed the games from the opposite side of the track. This would be in keeping with the rivalry between the two city states.
This information originated on Professor Emeritus S.G. Miller's archived Nemea.org website.
The ancient Greeks celebrated festivals at Nemea that were part of the cycle of games at Delphi, Isthmia, and (best known today) Olympia. At each one of these four sites in rotation, for a brief period each year, wars and hostilities were suspended by a sacred truce, and all Greeks — Spartans and Athenians, Corinthians and Argives, Macedonians, and Cretans — gathered in recognition of their common humanity. This impulse toward peace — albeit limited to a few days each year — was the first in the history of an organized, regular, and international scale. Thus, the ancient festivals at Nemea, Olympia, Delphi, and Isthmia are the direct ancestors of today's Olympic games as well as of the United Nations.
The society for the Revival for the Nemean Games (which now has more than 12200 members from around the world) was founded in the belief that there is today scope and perhaps even the need for the average person — regardless of ethnicity, language, religion, gender, age, or athletic ability — to participate in an international athletic festival. And so it happened in the last three Nemeads. More than 1800 people from 45 different countries, ranging in age from 15 to 93, added their footprints to those of ages long ago while thousands of spectators looked on.
No records were kept and no medals were awarded. Families with picnics on the slopes of the stadium were as much a part of the festival as the runners. Races were organized by gender and age, and were interspersed with music and dances. All the participants ran barefoot and in ancient tunics which they put on in the ancient locker room. And they entered the stadium through the same tunnel where athletes passed in the 4th century B.C. They started from the same stone line and with the same starting mechanism, and the winners received the same initial tokens of victory — a ribbon tied around the head and a palm branch. At the end of the day the victors received the same crown of wile celery that was the ephemeral symbol of the victory at the ancient Nemean Games. But all the participants were rewareded with feet sore from contact with the same earth where ancient feet ran more than 2,000 years ago — and by the knowledge that they had been in direct physical contact with an ancient idea, an ancient spirit, that still lives at the earth of Nemea.
The Fifth Nemead will take place in 2012. and all who would share in that idea and that spirit are invited to participate. If you would like to help that idea live by becoming a member of the Society for the Revival of the Nemean Games, visit nemea.org or please call (+011-30) 746-24125, or send your information (name, address, telephone/email, age, gender) to:
Society for the Revival of the Nemean Games
P.O. Box 2008
GR 205 00 Nemea
Built c. 330 BC over the remains of an earlier temple, the Temple of Zeus lies in the center of the Sanctuary of Zeus at Nemea. The 9,240 square foot Temple played a significant role in the Nemea Games, one of the original Pan-Hellenic Games of Ancient Greece. It was before this Temple that, prior to the Nemea Games, the athletes would pay homage to the father of their gods, Zeus. The Temple’s construction included three Greek architectural forms, the Doric, the Corinthian, and the Ionic. 32 limestone columns each standing 42 feet tall, and composed of 13 cylindrical stones, called “drums”, each weighing approximately, 2.5 tons, surrounded the Temple of Zeus. Of those 32 original columns, only three columns remain standing today, the rest gave way to nature, specifically, earthquakes and human intervention—the latter through looting and the removal of the Temple’s material to build other monuments.
Beginning work on the Temple’s reconstruction was aided by the previous work of Professor Frederick Cooper, Professor of Architecture, University of Minnesota, under whose leadership 1,100 stone blocks located on and around the Temple’s ground were catalogued. It would be in part these catalogued blocks that would be used to re-erect the columns. In 2002 with the Greek government’s permission, Professor Miller began the reconstruction of two columns on the north side, near to where the three original columns still stand. Just prior to his retirement in 2004, and after successfully reconstructing the two columns, Professor Miller, formally established the Temple of Zeus Reconstruction Project, with the Earthquake Engineering Research Center (EERC) and the Nemea Center providing oversight and guidance for the project. Although the Nemea Center is primarily responsible for the conduct and work on the project, the responsibility for overseeing day-to-day reconstruction is held by architect and on-site supervisor Ms. Katerina Sklere, along with civil engineer and restoration consultant, Dr. Konstantinos Papantonopoulos.
From 2004 to 2009, Professor Nikos Makris directed the Project and by the end of 2009, four additional columns were successfully re-erected in the Northeast corner of the Temple. Significant work was completed on the foundations and krepidoma on the east end and in the pronaos, as well as the completion of the placement of all the drums, and the final carving of the exterior surfaces of three columns on the east side. All the columns have been re-erected by using as many of the available original stones, previously catalogued by Professor Cooper, and by the extraction of limestone from a nearby rock quarry, from which the additional blocks are made. Over the following year, infrastructure and reconstruction work not only improved the condition and maintenance of the site but helped to prepare and transport new building material to be placed in their final positions. In 2010, the scaffolding was removed from the previously re-erected columns, offering a more appreciable understanding of the architecture of the Temple to the general visitor. The reconstruction project is a costly venture with each column roughly costing a quarter–million euros. Although Professors Miller and Makris raised much of the funds, including donations from Mr. T. Papalexopoulos, the Opheltes Foundation and the Club Hotel Casino Loutraki, additional private donations are needed to complete the reconstruction of the Temple, including funds for the positioning of the epistyles that will provide the need stability and endurance to the newly re-erected columns.
When completed, the reconstruction of the Temple of Zeus will provide the visitor with a clearer sense of the magnitude and magnificence of the original Greek temple, and most importantly the site will be preserved for generations to come.
For more detail account on the progress of the reconstruction project, please refer to the following five Progress Reports which are attached below:
2008 - Progress Report (pending)
2007 - Progress Report
2006 - Progress Report
2005 - Progress Report (unavailable at this time)
2004 - Progress Report
The Basilica Project
Aerial picture of the Early Christian Basilica
Along with the Temple of Zeus and the stadium, the early Christian Basilica is one of
Ancient Nemea’s major monuments. Considered one of the earliest Christian structures founded in the Peloponnese, the Basilica was constructed during the 5th century A.D., under the reign of the Byzantine Emperor, Theodosius II. Situated approximately 100 meters south of the Temple of Zeus, like other monuments of its time, the Basilica was not only built on top of an earlier structure of antiquity, in this case the Xenon (a hotel where Nemean games participants once stayed), but the Basilica was also constructed largely of materials pillaged from the 4th century B.C. Temple of Zeus. The Corinthian columns that once graced the interior of the Temple of Zeus for example, were used for constructing the interior of the Basilica.
Excavation of the Basilica began in the 1920’s and then resumed in the 1960’s and 1980’s. Unfortunately, although the excavation of the Basilica provided scholars with an understanding of the 5th-6th century A.D. architecture and religious life, as well as visual access to the ancient Xenon, it also contributed to the deterioration of the Basilica’s foundation. The excavations had exposed the Basilica to the elements, and by early 2000 the Basilica foundation began to display serious signs of deterioration due to the disintegration of the mortar and the collapse of masonry. In keeping with its primary mission, the conservation and presentation of archaeological monuments, the Nemea Center, first under Professor Steve Miller and then under Director Kim Shelton took immediate action to conserve the Basilica. Professor Miller immediately on seeing the deterioration of the foundation, began to backfill the central hall of the Basilica with clean earth and to raise the soil level on the exterior as much as possible without obscuring the surrounding earlier remains. Professor Shelton, as a supplement to the proposal of conservation submitted to the Greek Ministry of Culture (still outstanding), commissioned from Ms. Ioanna Dogani and Ms. Amerimni Galanou, of LITHOU SYNTIRISIS, Lithics Conservation & Conservation Resources (Greece), to conduct a study on the ancient mortar used in the foundation in order to recognize its components and create a substance to be used today in harmony with the ancient materials.
While the deterioration of the Basilica’s foundation has been temporarily abated, it is only with continual careful and deliberate conservation measures that will ensure the future possibility of research and visible understanding of the entire site’s complex and long history. Specifically, the conservation of the Basilica will continue to provide scholars with research of the Early Christian sanctuary at Nemea and its relationship to the earlier pagan sanctuary of Zeus and visual access to the Xenon. Although some of the conservation work is performed, under the direction of the Nemea Center’s Director, by the students participating in the archaeological field schools, as with all other Nemea Center projects, conservation of the Basilica is dependent on private donations.
Future excavation at Nemea will be an essential focus as we move ahead, hopefully for decades to come. This will happen over several multi-season campaigns interspersed with seasons of study and museum research and will encompass many different areas geographically within and around the site, as well as chronologically distinct periods. One interest is to discover more information and evidence of the early prehistory and history of the site, including the possibility of occupation and/or cult continuity down to the 6th century sanctuary and its development. Other important areas of interest include the exploration of the area west of the Temple where the early stadium and hippodrome should be located, and the space between the two “sites” (sanctuary proper and stadium) to understand the circulation routes, access and structures associated with this part of the festival and to create a single unified archaeological park.
The first of the campaigns will be 2010-2012, having been granted a permit from the American School for Classical Studies at Athens.
The Nemea Center plans to continue and expand on the previous investigations, spatially and chronologically, by exploring to greater depth several areas in and around the sanctuary. The areas that will be targeted in these first three seasons of excavation indicate a strong potential for prehistoric and early historic architecture and ceramics, as well as possible well-stratified Archaic, Classical and Hellenistic remains that will aid in our continuing study and publication of the material from these periods.
The primary research agenda for the 2010-2012 excavation campaign is to more fully access and understand the pre-Classical sanctuary and its nature, especially during the prehistoric and early historic periods. We will also explore more generally the extent of occupation in the surrounding area during these periods.
The proposed work is likely to expose the potential domestic material of these earlier periods lying under the sanctuary. It should thus also highlight the period/s of the area’s use and illuminate the circumstances of the changing character and use of the area in the early historic period – changes that resulted in local hero worship and ultimately the pan-Hellenic sanctuary. There are still many questions about the early prehistoric and historic use of the sanctuary area, not to mention potential indications of the origin of cult and early cult use on the site and even the possibility of cult continuity from the prehistoric period. The other pan-Hellenic sanctuaries (Olympia, Delphi, Isthmia) all exhibit signs of prehistoric occupation, regional importance and possible indications of early cult practice. We should expect evidence of similar or related phenomena at Nemea.
The first season of renewed excavation in 2010 began in late May. An archaeological field school was apart of the project with graduate and undergraduate student participation, as well as other interested parties. See the Field School to learn more.