Bacchanalia - Encyclopedia


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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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