The acclaimed archaeologist Stefanos (Steve) Miller who died in Corinth on 11 August 2021 was one of the most important figures involved in the archaeology of ancient Greece, and the founder of the Society for the Revival of the Nemean Games. His name stands alongside some of the finest Greek archaeologists in the country such as Manolis Andronikos (Vergina), Minos Kalokairinos (Knossos), Dimitrios Pandermalis (Dion) and Spyridon Marinatos (Thera).

The great archaeologist was passionate about his work. He excavated the site of ancient Nemea, including the stadium and the temple of Nemean Zeus, and created the local museum; laying many of the bricks there with his own hands.

The ancient games in Nemea, part of the Panhellenic Games and similar to the ancient Olympics, were revived due to his great enthusiasm and energy. The ancient games started as funeral games for the local hero Opheltes. They are first are recorded from 573 BC and carried on until 271 BC. After that time they moved to the powerful ancient city of Argos. The first Modern Nemean Games took place in 1996 and then every four years thereafter. It is a hugely inclusive games with participants from the age of 8 to 88 taking part and experiencing the spirit of ancient Greek amilla (noble competition). The temple of Nemean Zeus was the focal point of the games and was used by athletes, pilgrims and priests alike. There was also a practice track for the athletes so that they could warm up before competitions. Miller was at pains to explain to students and lovers of antiquity how the Nemean Zeus was entirely different in character from the Olympian Zeus, not the master of the thunderbolt but a protector and father of shepherds.

READ MORE: Vale Stephen Miller, Ancient Nemea archaeologist and Philhellene

Miller had hoped that the hippodrome in Nemea, which he identified during his investigations, will be also excavated in the near future so that the horse races of ancient Nemea can be added to the current footrace and pankration (kickboxing) events of the modern Games. It would be a great tribute to his memory if this could be prioritised. Miller also conducted excavations in Sicily, Olympia and the Athenian Agora and published widely.

Born Stephen G. Miller in Goshen, Indiana, USA. He studied ancient Greek at Wabash College, Crawfordsville, Indiana and Classical Archaeology at Princeton. He was Professor of Classical Archaeology at University of California at Berkeley and Director of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens (1982-87). His work emphasised the central place of ancient sport in the life of the Greek city states. He believed in sport as a great force for friendship between people and nations and a bringer of peace. He demonstrated his belief in practice through the wonderful modern Nemean Games, which are a major draw in the town and customarily close with a communal meal in honour of all participants.

READ MORE: Two intact Mycenaean tombs unearthed in Nemea

Spectators watch barefoot runners wearing tunics as they take part in a footrace in the ancient stadium of Nemea, southwest of Athens. Photo: AAP via AP/Yorgos Karahalis)

The archaeologist had a deep love of Greece. He adopted the Greek version of his name, Stefanos, long before the Greek President awarded him Greek citizenship for services to archaeology in 2005. With his wife Effie, a Greek-American from Utah, Miller created a beautiful home in Nemea which housed a scholarly library of 2,000 books. There are plans for it to serve as a study centre for scholars of Nemea. Since his retirement in 2005 they divided their time between Nemea and California. Loved by the local people, he worked hard and lived like a local. Stefanos was called the ‘lion’ and was truly the soul of Nemea. His ashes returned to Nemea, where three days of public mourning were declared upon his death. A street in Nemea and a Primary School are named after him. At the news of his death the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis praised him for ‘his devotion to the universal values of Classical Greece’ and added that the Greek people bid him farewell as one of their own.

Stefanos (Stephen G.) Miller, archaeologist, born on 22 June 1942 and died on 11 August 2021.