Nemea (Greece)

Roman aqueducts: Nemea (Greece) Ancient Nemea - NEMEA
For the photo's, see below
Home / the complete website

The aqueduct of ancient Nemea, 20 km SW of Corinth on the Peloponnesos, is from east to west almost 1 km long, tapping a river by a tunnel, runs parallel to the Xenon (hostel) towards the bath house and probably also to a tripartite reservoir. The aqueduct is special because of it cross-section. Apart from that, the bathhouse could be one of the earliest bathing systems known in the Greek world (4th c BCE).
Nemea was in particular known because of its temple of Nemean Zeus and the Nemean games. Central element in the games was the stadium.

The aqueduct

Storage amphora reused as a settling basin in a hydraulic system of the early Roman period. The water channel bisected the stadium and ran through the entrance tunnel after the Nemean games had been moved to Argos, first c BCE.
Photo Gary Robbins
South of the Xenon [hostel] and along the edge of a gravel surface of an ancient road runs a section of the terracotta aqueduct which brought water to the baths. This simple aqueduct was constructed of U-shaped tiles, curvilinear inside, rectilinear outside, about 0,14 m high and 0,86 m long with an additional flange of about 0,065 m. Each tile is about 0,26 m wide at one end but tapers to a width of 0,21 m at the flanged end.
Covering the channel formed by these tiles were ordinary roof tiles, most frequently (as here) rectilinear, peaked Corinthian cover tiles, but occasionally curvilinear Lakonian cover tiles or even flat pan tiles, apparently used in making repairs.
The aqueduct for the baths was fed by a copious spring near the head of a ravine. That spring was tapped by a tunnel with a vaulted ceiling cut back some 16.40 m. into the bedrock.
Stone slabs and tiles suggest that the Xenon was built shortly before the aqueduct in the late 4th century B.C. The baths, firmly dated to the last third of the 4th century B.C., is one of the earliest bathing systems known in the Greek world.

The water and the baths

A hole in the south, or back, wall of the Central Pool of the baths marks the entry point for its water; its height shows that the water in this pool would have been about chest high or slightly lower and that the pool itself was intended as a plunge bath. The tubs in the flanking rooms were too shallow and short to be individual bathing tubs. Ancient representations show clearly that they were meant to be used as basins from which to splash or throw water on the body.

Parts of the reservoir system that supplied water are visible from the southwestern corner of the East Room. These would have been fed by the aqueduct, but the remains at the point of connection have been obliterated. Nonetheless, the general workings are clear. Two long narrow reservoirs, originally about 1,00 m. deep and 0,60 m. wide, run alongside the exterior south wall of the building. The one closer to the building is interrupted just at the southeastern comer of the East Tub Room where a smaller tank, a 0,60 m. square 'water closet', is formed. Both the larger and the smaller reservoirs served only the East Tub Room, and the existence of the water closet shows that the flow of water was not constant but rather was regulated by periodic flushing of the water closet. The reservoir west of the water closet and the entire southern reservoir served the Central Pool and the West Tub Room. Whereas probably the pool was completely filled and emptied at intervals of several days, the West Tub Room would have been regulated in the same manner as the East Tub Room. Unfortunately the reservoirs west of the inlet to the Central Pool are not preserved, so that the details of operation are not certain.
[text mainly from: S.G. Miller 1990]

The triple basins

Three basins are located west of the Nemea River and west of the bathhouse. Note that they are built of hewn stone and lined with plaster. They were fed by the aqueduct, see the pipe. The basins still hold water when this picture was taken (April 2015). Some suppose that these basins were used as water troughs for horses.

The second aqueduct
The stadium, 400m east of the museum, was the heart of the Nemean games. It had an interesting starting mechanism, a mini-aqueduct, and water channels along the full length of the walk way for drinking water for the public, washing water for the athletes, and preventing dust raised by the wind. A similar facility was present along the stadium in Epidaurus.
For more details about the stadium and the modern Nemean games, see Nemean Games
A. The south end of the stadium from the west during the excavations in 1975. A = water pipes in situ. Originally the aqueduct brought fresh water from a spring on the eastern side of the valley to the stadium where it ran along the track in an open water channel.
B. The entrance point for the water at the head of the stadium of Nemea. C. The channel along the track including some troughs to draw water for the public and the athletics.

A short history of NEMEA

The site of ancient Nemea lies in a small upland valley. Its name derives from the Greek word 'nemos', which means meadow, pasture. Its location in neutral ground, on the borders of Achaia, Arkadia, Argolis, and Corinthia, was ideal for the creation of a pan-hellenic religious center and the conduct of the fourth pan-hellenic games, the Nemean Games.

The sanctuary only came to life during the summer, when Nemean Games took place. Therefore, it was always controlled by the nearby city-states, originally by Kleonai, with Argos becoming dominant in the 5th century BCE.
The first building activity dates back to the early 6th century BCE, when the early Temple of Zeus and the Heroon of Opheltes were constructed. Towards the end of the 5th century BCE the sanctuary was destroyed and, as a result, in the following years the games were held in Argos.

In 330 BC, the games returned to Nemea; this was probably connected with the pan-hellenic politics of the Macedonians. At the same time, the Temple of Zeus was reconstructed, one of the first buildings to combine all three ancient Greek architectural orders (Doric, ionic, Corinthian). Several buildings were also constructed in order to serve more practical needs: the Xenon (guesthouse), the Oikoi (a series of Treasure Houses), the Bath, the dining area and the houses.
In 271 BC the games were transferred again to Argos and after that, the Nemean sanctuary was gradually abandoned.

In the early-Christian era (late 4th-5th century CE) a large agricultural settlement was created on the site. In 453 CE emperor Theodosius banned all pagan activities and so began the systematic destruction of the Temple of Zeus: its architectural parts were used for the construction of a Basilica with a central nave and one aisle at each side. The settlement was abandoned around AD 580.

Wilke D. Schram

Ancient Nemea - NEMEA

Item Info
Length < 1 km
Cross-section m x m
Volume m3/day
Fall %
Period Late 4th c BCE
  • Special aqueduct tiles
  • tripartite reservoir

Recommended literature :
  • S.G. Miller (ed): Nemea, a guide to the site and the museum (1990), also on the web:
Recommended websites   :
How to visit                  : GPS coordinates of the museum and site: 37 48 28N and 22 42 40E
HOME More literature on more aqueducts Last modified: May, 2015 - (webmaster)

Map of ancient Nemea


The roof tiles



The aqueduct

Plan of the Nemean bath house

Basins of the bath house

Central pool

Western tub

Eastern bath tub

Details of the tub

Triple reservoir