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Bacchanalia: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Bacchanal by Peter Paul Rubens
Observed by Romans
Type Pagan, Historical

The bacchanalia were wild and mystic festivals of the Roman god Bacchus (or Dionysus). It has since come to describe any form of drunken revelry.



The bacchanalia were originally held in secret and only attended by women. The festivals occurred in the grove of Simila near the Aventine Hill on March 16 and March 17. Later, admission to the rites was extended to men, and celebrations took place five times a month. According to Livy, the extension happened in an era when the leader of the Bacchus cult was Paculla Annia — though it is now believed that some men had participated before that.

Livy informs us that the rapid spread of the cult, which he claims indulged in all kinds of crimes and political conspiracies at its nocturnal meetings, led in 186 BC to a decree of the Senate — the so-called Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus, inscribed on a bronze tablet discovered in Apulia in Southern Italy (1640), now at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna — by which the Bacchanalia were prohibited throughout all Italy except in certain special cases which must be approved specifically by the Senate. In spite of the severe punishment inflicted on those found in violation of this decree (Livy claims there were more executions than imprisonment), the Bacchanalia survived in Southern Italy long past the repression.

Bacchanalia by Auguste Levêque
Frieze in Seefeld (Zürich) by A. Meyer (1900)

Some modern scholars who view the period with 21st century eyes doubt Livy's account and argue that the Senate acted against the Bacchants for one of the following reasons:

  • Women occupied leadership positions in the cult (contrary to the patriarchical Roman values of the time).
  • Slaves and the poor were the cult's members and were planning to overthrow the Roman government.
  • According to a theory proposed by Erich Gruen, as a display of the Senate's supreme power to the Italian allies as well as competitors within the Roman political system, such as individual victorious generals whose popularity made them a threat to the Senate's collective authority.[citation needed]

In Empires of Trust: How Rome Built—And America Is Building—A New World by Thomas Madden, the author cites the words of a Roman investigative consul in his report to the Roman Senate:

there was no crime, no deed of shame, wanting. More uncleanness was committed by men with men than with women. Whoever would not submit to defilement, or shrank from violating others, was sacrificed as a victim. To regard nothing as impious or criminal was the sum total of their religion. The men, as though seized with madness and with frenzied distortions of their bodies, shrieked out prophecies; the matrons, dressed as Bacchae, their hair disheveled, rushed down to the Tiber River with burning torches, plunged them into the water, and drew them out again, the flame undiminished because they were made of sulfur mixed with lime. Men were fastened to a machine and hurried off to hidden caves, and they were said to have been taken away by the gods. These were the men who refused to join their conspiracy or take part in their crimes or submit to their pollution.


Modern usage

The term bacchanalia has since been extended to refer to any drunken revelry. In A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens uses the phrase "the law was certainly not behind any other learned profession in its Bacchanalian propensities." Also in A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens uses the phrase "No vivacious Bacchanalian flame leaped out of the pressed grape of Monsieur Defarge: but, a smouldering fire that burnt in the dark, lay hidden in the dregs."

In Donna Tartt's debut novel The Secret History, four of the central characters hold a bacchanal, which leads to two murders.

See also


  1. ^ citation needed

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

BACCHANALIA, the Lat. name for the wild and mystic festivals of Bacchus (Dionysus). They were introduced into Rome from lower Italy by way of Etruria, and held in secret, attended by women only, on three days in the year in the grove of Simila (Stimula, Semele; Ovid, Fasti, vi. 503), near the Aventine hill. Subsequently, admission to the rites were extended to men and celebrations took place five times a month. The evil reputation of these festivals, at which the grossest debaucheries took place, and all kinds of crimes and political conspiracies were supposed to be planned, led in 186 B.C. to a decree of the senate - the so-called Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus, inscribed on a bronze tablet discovered in Calabria (1640), now at Vienna - by which the Bacchanalia were prohibited throughout the whole of Italy, except in certain special cases, in which the senate reserved the right of allowing them, subject to certain restrictions. But, in spite of the severe punishment inflicted upon those who were found to be implicated in the criminal practices disclosed by state investigation, the Bacchanalia were not stamped out, at any rate in the south of Italy, for a very long time (Livy xxxix. 8-19, 41; xl. 19).

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



From Latin Bacchānālia (feast of Bacchus), plural of Bacchānal (a place devoted to Bacchus), from Bacchus (the god of wine), from Ancient Greek Βάκχος (Bakkhos).




Bacchanalia (uncountable)

  1. (mythology) A feast or an orgy in honor of Bacchus.
  2. Hence: A drunken feast; drunken revels; an orgy.

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