Nemea lies in a valley in the far northeastern region of the Greek Peloponnese, near Argolis. This location held great importance for people in the ancient world. They believed a number of significant events had occurred here.
The Nemean Lion
Legends in Greek mythology described a ferocious lion which resided in the vicinity of the Nemean Valley. It possessed claws capable of penetrating armor. Local people greatly feared this animal.
A Greek hero named Hercules agreed to kill the ferocious Nemean lion. This individual, the son of the Greek god Zeus and a human mother, possessed incredible strength. He successfully fought and killed the lion. During his lifetime, Hercules reportedly performed a number of amazing feats of strength and endurance. The ancient Greeks referred to these accomplishments as the “labors of Hercules.” Hercules fight with the Nemean lion became the First Labor of Hercules.
The Nemean Games
In ancient Greece, people greatly prized athletic performance. The Olympic Games of this period set a precedent for the establishment of the modern Olympic Games. Athletes would gather from many different Greek cities in order to compete against one another.
Reportedly, four sites served as settings for these types of athletic events on a rotating basis. One of them occurred near a temple erected to the Greek god Zeus in the Nemean Valley. Athletic competitions occurred in Nemea during the years before and after the Olympic Games. Foot races, wrestling matches, and horse races occurred as some of the popular events. The Nemean Games reportedly began sometimes during the 6th century B.C. Eventually, these games moved to Argos sometime after 271 B.C.
A Famous Battle
In 394 B.C. an historic battle occurred several miles outside Nemea. During the Corinthian War, the city state of Sparta (and its allies) battled an alliance formed by Athens, Thebes, Argos, and Corinth. Sparta prevailed in a fight conducted in the dry river bed of the Nemean River not far from Corinth. However, the war continued until 386 B.C.
The Temple of Zeus in Nemea
Reportedly, the ancient Greeks constructed a temple to the god Zeus in Nemea during the Sixth Century B.C. It stood near the site of the Nemean Games. After a fire destroyed this structure, the Greeks later erected a new Temple of Zeus in 330 B.C. in the same place.
The builders used limestone on the exterior, and created a marble floor in the interior of the structure. Archaeologists believe a large statue of the god Zeus probably stood inside the building. Today visitors can still see remnants of this huge temple.
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