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