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Bacchus was the Roman god of wild nature and wine – he represented not only its intoxicating influence but also the beneficent one. He was even, according to some myths, a chthonic deity. Dionysus was adopted by the Romans like many other Greek deities. Bacchus was identified with the agricultural god Liber (“the free one”) as early as 494 BCE.
Dionysus appeared in Rome at the beginning of the 5th-century BCE during a famine. By decision of the senate, he was included in the official pantheon along with other Hellenic deities who were to ensure bountiful crops – Core and Demeter.
Despite the popular belief, Bacchanalia were not state-owned. The various associations most often celebrated them in their own way, in addition to the same time as the state Liberalia, which was officially celebrated on March 16 and 17. During Bacchanalia, games and rituals in honour of Bacchus were to take place.
Titus Livius maintains that they originated in Great Greece, from where they moved to Etruria and then Rome, and spread especially in southern Italy. They were associated with numerous condemned abuses, which in time turned into dissolute orgies1. It is recommended to be sceptical about the version of events presented by Livy.
Bacchanalia was reformed by the Senate in 186 BCE. The pretext was a concern for the morality of citizens and for public religion.
Bacchanalia shown on a Roman sarcophagus, dated 210-220 CE.
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