Infobox Holiday
holiday_name = Bacchanalia
type = Pagan
longtype = Pagan, Historical

caption = "The Bacchanal" by Peter Paul Rubens
observedby = Romans
date =
celebrations =
observances =
relatedto =
The bacchanalia were wild and mystic festivals of the Roman and Greek god Bacchus.


Introduced into Rome from lower Italy by way of Etruria (c. 200 BC), 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.

Modern scholars hold Livy's account in doubt and believe that the Senate acted against the Bacchants for one or more of three reasons. First, because women occupied leadership positions in the cult (contrary to the current patriarchical Roman values). Second, because slaves and the poor were the cult's members and were planning to overthrow the Roman government. Or third, 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.

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."

ee also

*Maenad - female worshippers of Dionysus
*Dionysus - another name for Bacchus in Greek
*Thriambus - a hymn sung in processions in honour of Dionysus
*Dionysian Mysteries
*Roman Senate - political body responsible for suppressing the Bacchanalia


*Euripides, "Bacchae", a Greek tragedy, gives some insight as to what was involved in a Bacchanalian rite.
* "Bacchanales. Actes des colloques Dionysos de Montpellier (1996-1998)". Textes réunis par [ Pierre Sauzeau] . Montpellier: Publications de l'Université Paul Valéry, 2000, 300 pp. (ISBN 2-84269-382-5); [ "Cahiers du GITA"] nº 13 (ISSN 0295-9900).

External links

* [ "Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus" in Latin] at The Latin Library
* [ "Senatus Consultum de Bacchaniabus" in English and Latin] at
* [ Description of the Bacchanalia and the Senate's ruling] from Fordham

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  • Bacchanalia — Bac cha*na li*a (b[a^]k k[.a]*n[=a] l[i^]*[.a]), n. pl. [L. Bacchanal a place devoted to Bacchus; in the pl. Bacchanalia a feast of Bacchus, fr. Bacchus the god of wine, Gr. Ba kchos.] [1913 Webster] 1. (Myth.) A feast or an orgy in honor of… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • BACCHANALIA — Bacchi festa, in quibus viri per noctem feminis, et tenerae aetati turpiter per dolum admiscebantur. Iuvenal. Sat. 2. v. 3. Qui Curios simulant et Bacchanalia vivunt. Eorum pompam, et festivitatem breviter describir Plut. περὶ φιλοπλουτείας. De… …   Hofmann J. Lexicon universale

  • bacchanalia — index debauchery Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • bacchanalia — (n.) drunken revelry, 1630s, from the name of the Roman festival held in honor of Bacchus, from neuter plural of L. bacchanalis (see BACCHANAL (Cf. bacchanal)). A participant is a Bacchant (1690s), fem. Bacchante, from French. The plural of both… …   Etymology dictionary

  • Bacchanalia — [bak΄ə nā′lē ə] pl.n. [L] 1. [sometimes with sing. v.] an ancient Roman festival in honor of Bacchus 2. [b ] [usually with sing. v.; with pl. v., often bacchanalias] a drunken party; orgy bacchanalian adj., n …   English World dictionary

  • Bacchanalia — bacchanalian, adj., n. bacchanalianism, n. /bak euh nay lee euh, nayl yeuh/, n., pl. Bacchanalia, Bacchanalias. 1. (sometimes used with a pl. v.) a festival in honor of Bacchus. Cf. Dionysia. 2. (l.c.) a drunken feast; orgy. [1625 35; < L equiv.… …   Universalium

  • Bacchanalia — [ˌbakə neɪlɪə] plural noun [also treated as sing.] 1》 the Roman festival of the god Bacchus. 2》 (bacchanalia) wild revelry. Derivatives bacchanalian adjective Origin C16: from L. bacchanalia, neut. plural of the adjective bacchanalis (see… …   English new terms dictionary

  • bacchanalia — noun (plural bacchanalia) Etymology: Latin, from Bacchus Date: 1591 1. plural, capitalized a Roman festival of Bacchus celebrated with dancing, song, and revelry 2. a. orgy 2 …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • bacchanalia — baccanale ит. [баккана/ле] Bacchanal нем. [бакана/ль] bacchanale фр. [бакана/ль] bacchanalia англ. [бэкэнэ/йлийэ] вакханалия, праздник в честь Вакха …   Словарь иностранных музыкальных терминов

  • bacchanalia — wild revelry. → Bacchanalia …   English new terms dictionary

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