The Nemean Games

Peloponnese

 The Nemean Games, like the Olympic Games, take place every four years but, unlike the Olympics, anyone can apply to take part and run in the original stadium.

Boys running in the Nemean Games in Greece

Everyone knows the Olympic Games, but there were several other regular sporting events held by the ancient Greeks, including the Nemean Games. Like the Olympics, these too live on, although without the worldwide fame of the Olympics. However, unlike the Olympics, anyone can apply to join in the Nemean Games.

Nemea is in the northeast Peloponnese, between Corinth and Nafplion. Here the original Nemean Games took place, and here they are re-created every four years. Sadly due to COVID-19 the 2020 games were postponed until 2021.

History of the Nemean Games

The Nemean Games usually take place in June and, like the Olympics, were held in honour of Zeus, and have been dated back to the 6th century BC. They have not, though, adopted the ancient Olympic practice of requiring contestants to run naked. If you get to participate you'll do so wearing a conventional ancient Greek outfit of chiton, or tunic, and zoni, or belt, as will the judges and other officials.

The games were revived in 1994 by archaeologists and volunteers from the University of Berkeley, California, who were working on the Temple of Zeus at the site of ancient Nemea. They became interested in the games that were held there, and inevitably someone wondered if they might be revived, like the Olympics but on a much smaller and more local scale. 

About 10,000 people turn up for the two-day event, and hundreds participate in the races, which are divided according to sex and age, with 12 runners in each race. The races are all over a standard length of 100 metres (109.361 yards). The original Olympic Games only had one running event, which was to run the length of the stadium, but gradually other events were introduced. The Nemean Games stick to the original notion of just one standard-length race for all.

Nemean Games Stadium in Greece

Athletes assemble in the locker room, or apodyterion, which has only partly survived, so a tent of the same size is erected over the top to complete the building. A judge, dressed in black, enters to collect each group of runners and, as in the old days, he will be carrying an olive branch. This is not a symbol of peace but will be used to beat anyone who breaks the rules or disobeys his orders.

Contestants then run in the same stadium and on the same track that was used more than 2,500 years ago. At the original games the winners were awarded a wreath made from wild celery leaves from Argos, but today's winners receive a palm branch, a ribbon, a pin, a T-shirt, and a place at the victors' dinner.

How to Join in the Nemean Games

To join in the games you must register your interest two months before the event on the official website: https://nemeangames.org/

See our other Peloponnese pages...

  • Peloponnese: Travel Information about the Peloponnese in Greece

    The Peloponnese in Greece has such sights as Olympia, Mycenae, the Mani, Nafplion, Corinth and Epidavros.

  • Ancient Olympia

    Travel guide to Ancient Olympia in the Peloponnese of mainland Greece, home to the original Olympic Games.

  • Nafplion

    Nafplion in the Peloponnese was the Greek capital before Athens and today is a charming waterfront town with good restaurants, museums, shopping, beaches, old fortresses and a delightful atmosphere.

  • Mystra

    The ruined Byzantine city of Mystra sits on the top and the slopes of a hill that juts out from the plain and is one of the most remarkable places in Greece.

  • Mycenae

    Mycenae in the Greek Peloponnese was a royal palace and is famous for the royal tombs, Lion Gate, and was excavated by archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann.

  • Monemvasia

    Monemvasia in the Peloponnese is the Greek Rock of Gibraltar and is a huge offshore rock which conceals a tiny town connected to the mainland by a single road.

  • Monemvasia Book Review

    Greece Travel Secrets reviews the photography book Monemvasia with extracts from works by Yiannis Ritsos and Nikos Kazantzakis.

  • Epidavros

    The ancient theatre at Epidavros is one of Greece's greatest attractions, ranking alongside the Acropolis and the Palace at Knossos in Crete, and it is easily the finest theatre in Greece.

  • The Mani

    The Mani in the south of the Peloponnese is the most southerly part of the Greek mainland and famous for its rugged landscape, feuds, and tower houses.

  • Bradt Guide to the Peloponnese

    The Bradt Guide to the Peloponnese is the best book on the Greek region which includes attractions like Mycenae, Epidavros, Olympia, Monemvasia and Nafplion.

  • Corinth

    Corinth has four aspects to it, which are the Corinth canal, the modern town of Corinth, nearby Ancient Corinth, and above that Akrokorinthos or Upper Corinth.

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