What Was the Name of the River in Ancient Greece?

In ancient Greece, one of the most important rivers was the Alpheus River. This river, which is now known as the Alfeios River, played a significant role in Greek mythology and history.

The Mythological Significance

The Alpheus River is closely associated with the goddess Artemis, who was the twin sister of Apollo and the goddess of hunting, wilderness, and childbirth. According to Greek mythology, Artemis was born on the island of Delos but quickly made her way to Mount Cynthus in Delphi.

Legend has it that Artemis then traveled through various places until she reached Olympia, where she established her main sanctuary. It is said that during her journey, she crossed several rivers and streams, including the Alpheus River.

The Love Story of Alpheus and Arethusa

One of the most famous myths associated with the Alpheus River is the story of Alpheus and Arethusa. Arethusa was a nymph who caught the attention of Alpheus. She tried to escape his pursuit by fleeing to the island of Ortygia in Sicily.

Arethusa prayed to Artemis for help. The goddess transformed her into a spring that flowed underground until it emerged on Ortygia. However, even this transformation couldn’t stop Alpheus from finding her.

In his determination to reach Arethusa, Alpheus diverted his course and created an underground river that connected with her spring on Ortygia. This romantic connection between the two rivers symbolizes their eternal love for each other.

The Historical Importance

Besides its mythological significance, the Alpheus River played a crucial role in the history of ancient Greece. It flows through the region of Elis, which was home to the ancient Olympic Games.

The Olympic Games were held in Olympia, a sacred site dedicated to Zeus. Every four years, athletes from various Greek city-states would gather to compete in honor of the gods. The Alpheus River was an essential water source for the athletes, as well as for bathing and purification rituals.

The Stadium and Hippodrome

In Olympia, the Alpheus River is connected to two significant structures: the stadium and the hippodrome. The stadium was where most track and field events took place, including running races.

The hippodrome, on the other hand, was used for chariot races. The river served as a natural boundary for these structures, making them easily accessible to participants and spectators alike.


The Alpheus River holds both mythological and historical significance in ancient Greece. It is not only associated with Artemis but also played a vital role in the ancient Olympic Games. Its importance is evident not only in its mention in various myths but also in its connection to important structures in Olympia.

So next time you read about ancient Greece or visit Olympia, remember the name Alpheus River and appreciate its rich cultural heritage.