The revival of the Νemean games


The answer to the above might seem obvious. I am the archaeologist who, since 1973, has excavated the Ancient Stadium at Nemea. But it was never a goal for me to bring the ancient Games back to life in that Stadium. Rather, I wanted to discover as much as possible about the history of the athletic festivals that took place at Nemea, and I wanted to share that knowledge with the widest possible audience both in academia and in the general public. I never dreamed that I would ever see real puffs of dust from real feet running down the ancient track, or hear the roar of thousands of spectators seated on the ancient earth embankments.

Such a vision came not from me, but from the local people of Nemea. It was their imagination that began the effort to revive the Nemean Games, but their idea seemed a natural corollary to my own goals to share my discoveries. As the vision has taken hold, however, and as positive reactions to the revived Nemean Games have come from around the world, it has become clear that there is much more than the dissemination of knowledge to be gained from this effort.

Many of us who believe in the ideals that lie behind the Olympic movement have been dismayed by developments in the modern Olympics. We cannot participate in the modern Games for they belong only to the very best athletes. And the commercial value of those Games seems sometimes to overwhelm their basic goals.




On June 1, 1996, a different idea came to life. The world came to Nemea and walked from the ancient locker room through the tunnel and onto the stadium floor. Almost 700 people from 29 different countries came into direct physical contact with the Olympic Idea by putting their bare feet in the ancient starting blocks and on the ancient track. They moved from the 20th century to the 4th century B.C., and they left at the end of the day with ancient dust on their feet.

Dressed alike in white tunics, they acknowledged not only their common humanity, but also the need to know ourselves by knowing our history. My work in the Stadium of Nemea took on a significance far greater than the scientific goals that I originally set. The possibility became stronger that we might, every four years, celebrate our human race on the ancient track. Indeed, we now approach the Fifth Nemead on June 23, 2012.

The Olympic Games will go to England this year, Brazil four years later, burdened with the baggage of their travels of the last century. But the Nemean Games will remain at Nemea and perhaps the Olympic Idea may grow once again for all of us from the earth where first it was born.

Stephen G. Miller