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BACCHUS AND THE ROMAN RELIGIO

 

Bacchus

Bacchus is the best known name of the Greek God Dionysus (Διόνυσος). According to one of the most probable interpretation, composed by Διός and νυσος he is "the son of Zeus.” In fact, νυσος means "son" in the Thracian-Phrygian language (Donini, Breve storia delle religioni, Roma 1991, p. 140; Burkert, Griechische Religion der archaischen und klassischen Epoche, Stuttgart, 1977, p. 253). In the past, were discussed the origin, the date of the introduction of the cult of Dionysus in the Greek world and the belief of the Greek resistance against the foreign God.

When Michael Ventris, in 1953, revealed that the God Dionysos was already part of the Mycenaean pantheon, there was a great surprise among the scholars. His name was found engraved in two tablets of Pylos in Linear B (PY Xa 102; PY Xa 1419). They can be dated around 1250 BC. The name of the god is in the genitive: di-wo-nu-so-jo (=Διόνυσοιο). The subject is missing and could contain an indication of the extent and the sense perhaps was "so much of that of Dionysus." The expression "of that of Dionysus" can only refer to wine (Kerényi 1993, p. 83). However, the fragmentary tablets alone did not prove the divinity of Dionysus and the scholars were puzzled. But in 1989-90 Greek-Swedish Excavations at Kastelli hill (Khania, western Crete) brought to light 4 Linear B tablets. One of these (KH Gq 5: 1 di-wi-jo[ ]di-(we) = to the sanctuary of Zeus to Zeus 1 amphora of honey; 2 di-wo-nu-so = to Dionysus 2 amphora of honey) hands down amphorae with honey are being offered to Zeus and Dionysos in the shrine of Zeus. The occurrence of Dionysos in this tablet, of undeniable religious contest, was conclusive proof that in Crete a God called Dionysus existed in the Mycenaean Age. You can add that his connection with Ariadne, Minos’s daughter, cannot be just a coincidence. The connection of Dionysos with Zeus the great Indo-European deity, already evident in his name (Διός νυσος) is confirmed by this tablet. Thus, the Linear B texts put an end to the prolonged controversy concerning the early period of Dionysus’ cult in Greece.

Homer, though with occasional references, mentions almost everything that is characteristic of his myth and his worship, but does not make the slightest reference to any possible foreign origin. We can then believe that Dionysus was part and parcel of Greek civilization at least since the last centuries of the second millennium and his connection with the wine, as evinced from the tablets of Pylos, confirmations the original and fundamental component of his cult. If before that time, his worship in Greece has come from other foreign locations is not possible to know.

From the Bacchae of Euripides (vv. 88-94; 243-245; 527), we learn that he was the son of Semele, daughter of Cadmus, and Zeus. This datum about his origins is confirmed also by oldest evidences (Homer, Iliad, XIV, v. 325; Homer, Hymn to Dionysus, vv. 56-57; Hesiod, Teogonia, vv. 940-942.) When Semele was burned by the thunderbolt of Zeus, because she asked to see him in his divine power, Dionysus was born premature. Then Zeus hid him in his thigh, to avoid the wrath of Hera. As the fate wanted, he gave birth to Dionysus a second time. Dionysus came to light again, no longer as man but God and was reared by Ino, her maternal aunt who would later become a Nereid, and by the Muses. Since the birth, this deity shows his unique feature: unlike men and other Gods he was born twice, first by a mortal woman, the second time by Zeus.

A variant of this myth, among the oldest and closely linked to the Orphic mysteries, says that he, originally called Zagreus, was the son of Semele and Zeus, who had a special affection for him. This unleashed the wrath of Hera. One day Zeus was forced to leave and fearing that his wife wanted to kill the child, recruited a few guards to protect him. Hera, however, managed to bribe the guards and, with some toys, pulled out of the building Zagreus and made massacre him by the Titans. They dismembered the body of the young God, boiled and roasted pieces and ate them. Only his heart was saved, because it was stolen by Athena and was kept in a casket. When Zeus returned, revenged himself horribly on the Titans; he fulminated and reduced them to ashes.  Then he constructed a statue of plaster inside which he placed the beating heart of her son so that he returned to life with the name of Dionysus.

Also in this version of the myth, the God was born twice, but, the second time he was born after being dead. In this story, articulated as passion, death and resurrection of a God child, are evident the vitalistic aspects. At the basis there is a concept linked to regeneration, to rebirth, a ritual initiation in which death by dismemberment is, in fact, just the premise of a new life (Perniola, Dioniso, in Grande, Studi sul Dionisismo, Roma 1988, p. 137). From both variants emerges a deity from the singular characteristics. It is, in fact, a God that expresses in himself from the beginning the contradiction of life and death, since his conception he belongs to both the human and the divine realms. 

The myth of his birth is, therefore, the most grandiose expression of his nature. When the land element was united with the divine, the burden of the sufferings and pain that is characteristic of human life was not abolished but reached, in a stark contrast, the splendor of that which is superhuman. So he who was born in a so remarkable way was not only the God who gives joy and happiness but also the God who suffering and dying (Otto, Dioniso, p. 84).

From what was briefly said, it is clear that the myth of Dionysus who is born and then dies cannot be simply connected to the changing of the seasons and to the inherent story of vegetation. Its meaning must be much larger and more complex. Dionysus is, in fact, expression of the primal force of life, which belongs to a much deeper layer of being, not simply to the development of the vegetation that affects the men (Otto, Dioniso, p. 198). At that depth, alongside the ecstasy and the rise of new lives, emerges the horror and destruction of death. The Greek man realized that the earthly nature was dominated by two huge forces, immeasurable, uncontrollable: eruption of the lush life and of the violent death. These two forces counter the one with the other, but at the same time, are closely linked: death is inseparable from all that is alive.  The Greek man had to face this reality in all its enormous size and he begged like a God named Dionysus (Otto, Dioniso, p. 149). Dionysus is the God of all that reality, his spirit is manifest from those deeps: all living things breathe the same motherly warmth, all the air is full of joy,  until the joy turns into terror and the ecstasy becomes cruelty and destruction.

As his birth, even the physical appearance of Dionysus presents an image of opposition and duality, especially in regards to gender, age and culture. When the young God makes his first appearance among the men at the court of Lycurgus, he wears yellow shoes, a dress of purple and a belt of woman. Likewise, he makes his return to Thebes in clothing more appropriate for a woman than a man. Fragrant, light-skinned and long golden locks of girl, Dionysus unites the male and female. But Dionysus in his appearances not only highlighted the paradox of male-female, but also that of young not young, no longer a male child but not yet a man. It has been defined as the eternal adolescent, a person in whom the social conflict moves between liability and interests as a child (Segal, Dionysiac Poetics, Princeton 1997, pp. 10, 159-16 and 165-166).

 Another apparent paradox is in his appearances, his mediation between nature and culture. The young God comes to Thebes wearing a fawn skin, but also brings a cup of his wine as gift to civilized men. His long blond hair seem a symbol of sexuality uncontrolled and wild, but contrary to what believes Pentheus, is not rude, but chaste and his followers are not lewd and drunken, but are only filled with the spirit of the God. We can say that in his myth, Dionysus is the mediator of oppositions and often reverses what the listener can normally expect. The reversal emphasizes that the various elements are mediated (Hoffman, Ritual license, in «Athenaeum», 77 (1989), p. 104–105).

The social relations of Dionysus are punctuated by major upheavals of the behaviour in use among men. Men love to live together in cities while he prefers to spend time on the margins of society and in a free state, and accompanied by wild animals of all kinds. Instead of attending his peers, he breaks all the rules of society that wants the two genres separated and prefers to be accompanied by women. These, however, do not constitute a harem or behave like normal women. They do not marry and give birth to children but give their milk to the young wild animals then  are asexual too and not women: virgins, young, older women leave their homes, not to give themselves to debauchery, as commonly believed, but to honor the God.

 Since Dionysus is an adolescent, a marriageable young man, one would expect sexual interest in women that accompany him. Moreover, the long hairs, the magic thyrsus, the phallic accompaniment during the ceremonies show great power of sexual prowess. Instead he is not known for weddings, casual sex or children; although is always surrounded by women, he does not be attracted by them and his interests are elsewhere. The sex life of Dionysus, God of fertility, is remained completely unrealized (unknown).

To these reversals in social relations, we must add what is one of the most disturbing aspects of the social side of the God: the pandemonium. Wherever he comes (to the kingdom of Lycurgus, in Thebes, at Orchomenus, in Argos, etc.), he literally upsets the previously established social order. So the relationship of Dionysus with the various communities with which he comes into contact is always disastrous: his appearances were characterized by the destruction of families, the mockery of marriage and the death or sudden departure of the king (Hoffman, «Athenaeum», 77, p. 106). One could perhaps conclude that Dionysus is a guy who does not ever decide to become man and in the various contrapositions he never comes to a choice of field: for this reason he cannot find a regular place in society. Considered from this point of view he is the God of the abnormality, the unsociability, and the irrationality.

Another ambiguity is also apparent from the forms of worship: suddenly he disappears; no one knows how, from the circle of his followers then after some time suddenly reappears in different forms. He is the God from the double aspect (Diodorus, 4, 5; Orphic hymns, 30, 3) and many figures (Plutarch, de E, 9). In the Bacchae of Euripides the chorus invokes the God to reveal himself in the figure of a bull, or a dragon with many headed or a lion breathing fire and flames (v. 1018). In the fight against the Giants is a lion (Horace, Odi, 2, 19, 23 s). But more than the multiplicity the element that most characterizes him is duplicity and contrast. He is the God of the opposites, of the paradoxes, of the ambiguities (Hoffman, «Athenaeum», 77, p. 103 s).

Even in the context of other deities there are conflicts, but no one is torn by the contradiction as Dionysus. For some he is a friend and a giver of blessings but to many others he appears as a feral and wild God. Even more sharply, a contrast between animals that follow the god; some (the bull, the deer, the donkey, etc.) are a symbol of fertility and fecundity, while others (the wolf, the panther, the lion, etc.) are images of the most horrible ferocity (Otto, Dioniso, p. 117). He is the one who has given men the wine, who free from pain (lύσιος), restores health (ιατρός), promotes love (Anacreon, West: Elegies: fr. 2, vv. 9-12), puts an end to the troubles (Alcaeus, Lobel-Page, fr. 346, vv. 3-4), the remedy for old age (Plato, Laws), II, 666b), delight of mortals (Homer, Iliad, 14, 325), full of joy (πολυγηθής), the inspirer of the Dionysian song (Archilochus, Iambi: fr. 120 West). At the same time he is also regarded to the deity as creepy. Some of the epithets that were assigned to him were frightening and terrifying. He was defined as one who devours men (Elianus, De natura animalium, 12, 34), devourer of raw flesh (Plutarch, Themistocles, 13), one who feels joy in the sword and the shed blood (Orphic hymns, 45, 3). 

It is evident from these epithets that, in these cases, we find ourselves in the sphere of death. In fact, these expressions were used for the monstrous creatures of the underworld (Cerberus, Echidna, etc.). When the God and the Bacchae, possessed by him, become greedy for blood, they appear as emblems of that kingdom. Dionysus thus reflects not only the exuberance of life but also the underworld. One can then understand because in many of the most important Dionysian festivals were celebrated the dead (Otto, Dioniso, p. 120).

The vital spirit of the God works frantically and in different ways in all the manifestations of the natural life, and also as a luxuriance of all plant life. The connection of Dionysus with the exuberance of plant life also had its emotional dimension which the Greeks expressed by the word γάνος, for us untranslatable (Perniola, Dioniso, pp. 122-123). Γάνος combines the notions of light, glow, sparkle (sparkle like running water), the action of a moisture fertilizing and the promise of a nurturing that is placed beyond the psychological need and fill with joy. In the Greek tragedians is underlined the γάνος of source, river, water, honey, wine, etc.

He is honored throughout Greece as the God of trees (δενδρίτης) and is even considered the protector of all the fruit trees (Diodorus, 6, 3). In some plants, however, the activity of his divine power is particularly evident: the vine, the ivy, the fig tree, the myrtle.

The myrtle, a plant of the dead, was also favored by Dionysus (Aristophanes, Scholia of the Frogs, v. 330) and is clearly an expression of the other side, the horrible and terrifying, of the double God.

The fig, the tree symbol of sexual life was sacred to Priapus but also to Dionysus, who would have been the discoverer of it (Sosibios, FGH, 595 F 10).

The plants, which are characteristic of the Dionysian cult, however, are the ivy and the vine. The specific attribute of God, the thyrsus, was, in fact, a knotty stick and twisted with, at the end, a bunch of ivy or vine leaves in the form of a pine cone. The branches of ivy and vines were the symbols of the exuberance of plant life, of which Dionysus was also an expression.

The relationship between the ivy and Dionysus is ancient and privileged (Homer, Hymn to Dionysus, 21, 1; Pindar, Olympians, II, v. 27). This plant was particularly linked to the myth of Dionysus: it had the power to calm the excitement, if placed in the crowns on the head, or procured the Bacchic frenzy if ingested (Barbantani, in his comment to: Euripides, Alcestis, Milano 1994, p. 122). It is said that the ivy appeared shortly after the birth of Dionysus to repair the child from the flames that burned the mother's body (Euripides, Phoenicians, v. 649-656: « Here, the mother, bent at the wedding by Zeus, gave birth to Bromius.  Ivy soon grew around and covered the spine of the newborn baby with its twisted branches and the shady green leaves, consecrating him to the Bacchic dance of the virgins of Thebes and to the evoè of the women».) His movements, with which he creeps on the ground or surrounds the trees, remind us the snakes wrapped around the hair of the Bacchae, the wild companions of the God. The ivy looks like an epiphany of Dionysus. The connection of Dionysus and Ivy is evident in Athens, where, according to Pausanias, the god was invoked under the name of Κισσός (ivy). But it was the custom in Greece crown with ivy its statues and poets called him κισσόφορος (the one who brings ivy) κισσοκόμης (the one that produces the ivy), κισσοχαίτης (the one who is crowned with ivy).

But the real symbol of the God is the vine, the surest guarantee of his presence. He appears originally in the exuberance of the wild vineyard, sarmentous, and then becomes the god of the vine cultivated. Then his power is concentrated in the cluster from the grapes swollen, with the tense zest for juice. Thus Dionysus is σταφυλίτης (the one that is in the cluster of ripe grapes) (Elianus, Various history, 3, 41). Now in cluster of ripe grape, the Greeks believed to feel the presence of Dionysus, of course, but in a particular form, that of ga@nov. The cluster owns the ga@nov (maybe you have to say that the γάνος possesses the cluster). It then passes into the wine from grape. Through the γάνος that it contains, the wine triggers the joyful exuberance of drinkers. We can therefore say that Dionysus is the god of γάνος, of the thrill experienced as bright and fruitful experience, upward as the ascent of lymph.

His prodigious juice increases the Dionysian frenzy which is shared by all those who drink it. The wine may be defined as the ga@nov of vine and corresponded to the joy of Dionysus (Euripides, Bacchae, v. 261). Since very ancient times it has been considered as the most appreciated gift of Dionysus. He who has experienced pain and suffering, wanting to consular and free humanity from the sorrows of life, has bestowed to men the gift of wine. this, produced by the wild nature, the fiery potion of black mother (Euripides, Alcestis, v. 757), is the perfect image of the God. Dionysus is called born of the fire (Diodorus, 4, 5; Orphic hymns, 45, 1), but also the wine is a naturally fire (Archilochus, fr. 77 West). As the God, considering the mysterious process of fermentation and maturation, reaches its perfection by the miracle of a double birth (Otto, Dioniso, p.155).

 

The wine too is itself ambiguous and contradictory. On the one hand it is the delight of mortals, bringing forgetfulness of the sufferings and joy, it dissolves from the element of fear and teaches men to be mutually true and brave, on the other hand, the wine also has the characteristic to do violence: the strongest and most stubborn can be made malleable, excessive drinking can have dire consequences.

Of all the products of the earth, the wine is therefore the most obvious symbol of the dual God, the clearest manifestation of its exceptional nature, the essence of wilderness that can be sweet and gentle, but also terrible and shocking.

The first impression one gets from this God is to have a great liking since he is bearer of instances revolutionary and transgressive. He is a God-farmer who lives in the open air, he is a God democratic not tied to a framework of priestly kind and all without exception may honour him and share the joy that gives to his followers (Euripides, Bacchae, v. 112 s.).

He is a God anti familiar: in the Bacchae, women left their family duties to take refuge in the wilderness. It is a God anti political: no city has ever put himself under his protection. Dionysus, as we have said, is the son of Zeus and Semele, daughter of Cadmus, king of Thebes, but is not recognized as a God even in this city where he was born as well.

 The starting point of the Bacchae of Euripides is the fact that he feels a stranger at home and decides to show his compatriots his divine power.

In addition to the element of foreignness, another aspect of Dionysism little seductive is the loss of self-control implicit in the trance, the Dionysian possession, which can lead to the σπαραγμός, the clawing of the members of the sacrificial victim.  Euripides describes the σπαραγμός in a really creepy way that highlights one of the most negative aspects of the cult of Dionysus, the extreme cruelty of his revenge, through the trance, the Dionysian possession.

Bacchae, vv. 1122-1142: «Agave, possessed by Bacchus, was out of his senses: emitted slime from the mouth and swirled the distorted eyes. The son Pentheus could not persuade her. She grabbed the left hand of the son and pointing the foot on the side of him, tore his shoulder.  She did not use her forces but his hands were made ​​strong by the God. Ino (sister of Agave) acted from the opposite side. Autonoe (other sister) and other Bacchae completed the work. It was all a confused shout. Pentheus moaned until he had breath. Those raised cries of victory. Somebody carried off an arm, somebody else took away a foot with the same shoe. The ribs were bare for lacerations. Everyone with bloody hands threw like the ball a piece of the body of Pentheus. The body of Pentheus lies in scattered places, partly under massive cliffs, part among the thick foliage of the trunks. The mother took the poor head with his hands and stuck it on top of the thyrsus like a mountain lion, and then he went with it through Citerone».

In this description dominates an atmosphere of high tragedy and horrid and lurid colors. There is also a powerful irony painful:  Agave, with the other women, believes perform a ritual and kill a beast, but the alleged fair is a man, or rather her son.

 

Finally, we must remember that in the Greek world of the motherland and the colonies scattered in the East and West, were many different variants of the myth of this great God, as well as the consequent ritual practices: they symbolized one or more aspects of his complex and multiform divinity.

 

Bacchus in Rome

Bacchus penetrated very soon in Rome by means of the relationship with the Magna Graecia, but also through trade with Greece proper and import of decorated vases where the depictions of Dionysus were very frequent. He was associated with the Italic God Liber and entered from very ancient age in the Roman public religion.

Modern archaeology has revealed the worship of the God extended and practiced throughout Italy dated at least two centuries before 186 BC. Painted vases, terracotta figurines, decorations of tombs, sarcophagi and frescoes, all attest to the popularity of Dionysus in southern Italy, Campania and Etruria in the third and fourth centuries (Gruen, Studies in Greek Culture, Los Angeles 1990, p. 50).

 Another source of crucial importance to demonstrate the presence of Bacchus in the Roman world since ancient times, but also not considered, is the corps of bronze baskets and engraved mirrors dating from the late fourth century to the first third. These artefacts are usually called Prenestini because the cemeteries of Preneste have been explored more thoroughly than those of other Latin cities, but as one of the finest baskets was certainly made ​​in Rome, this material could be understood as illustrating the history of the world Lazio in general, just like his contemporaries painted vases of Etruria, Campania and southern Italy (Wiseman, Liber, in The Roman middle republic, Rome 2000, p. 266).

How on the vases imported, so Dionysian images engraved on bronze are ubiquitous. The interesting thing is that on the whole they account nearly all aspects of the cult of Dionysus, even if here is called Liber, which therefore should not differ much from him. It is so obvious that throughout Italy, including Latium, the iconography of the thiasos was perfectly familiar in the fourth and third centuries, as it was in the sixth and fifth (De Cazanove, L’Association Dionysiaque, Rome 1986, pp. 185-190).

So when the consul in the narrative of Livy in 186 alerts the Roman people against foreign strange rituals, we cannot consider these words as real evidence. If something like that was said then, it can only have been an insincere excuse to intervene with a cult that had become politically undesirable (Wiseman, The Roman middle republic,, p. 266 s).

The festivals of Liber (Liberalia) were recorded in the Roman calendar and he was celebrated in the spring on March 17 and in the autumn, on October 15, at the time of harvest (Jeanmaire, Dionysos, Paris, 1991, p. 453). These festivals were characterized by a procession of the phallus, beneficial and apotropaic symbol, called fascinum by the Latins, the suspension of masks on the trees (oscilla), by the sacrifice of a goat, from jokes accompanied by dances and songs which led to a kind of comedy of the art (Atellanae). Today it is not possible to ascertain whether the characteristics of these festivals were derived from folk customs Italic or imports from the Greek world.

The assimilation of the God was carried out through Greek cults that were celebrated in Southern Italy. The Greek triad of Demeter, Persephone and Dionysus was adopted in Rome. The three Greek Gods were assimilated to the Roman Gods of the rural world. Demeter became Ceres; Dionysus was identified with Liber Pater, a native Roman deity who was then split into Liber Bacchus and Libera who became a Roman Goddess corresponding to Persephone. During the struggle that led the plebeians for equal rights with the patricians, the cult of the new triad of Ceres Liber and Libera took a strong popular and democratic connotation and opposed to the Capitoline triad of Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, always bastion of power aristocratic (D’Onofrio, Baccanali, Firenze 2001, p. 10).

In particular Liber always maintained his character as a protector of the people and defender of the freedom (Scheid, in Le délit religieux dans, Paris 1981, p. 158). A well-known verse of Naevius tells us that, during the Ludi Liberales, everyone could freely express their thoughts (Comedies 113 R: Libera lingua loquemur ludis Liberalibus).

Already in 493 a temple was dedicated to these deities in the plebeian quarter, the Aventine (Jeanmaire, Dionysos, p. 453); the tradition attributes its construction to Spurius Cassius. The Bayet (La religione romana, Torino, 1959, p. 167) believes that, both before and after his association with the Ceres of Aventine, Liber must have been approached to Dionysus-Bacchus and since the Roman domination was extended to the entire Magna Graecia, a large number of groups and private chapels honored  Bacchus same.

This cult, that could not even be called foreigner, since Dionysus in his role as the Latin Liber had full citizenship in Rome, was regulated and controlled by the priests and could not pose a threat to the Roman state. But in the shadow of the public religion of Bacchus that is of Liber could be developed for a long time without arousing suspicion among the authorities the Bacchanalian cult which was something completely different (Pastorino, La religione romana, Milano 1973, p. 47).

The Bacchanalian cult

The Bacchanalian cult was in fact a religion with particular characteristics. It was an orgiastic and esoteric religion with myths that were connected to Orphism, religion that referred to the mysterious figure of Orpheus: he would have been the prophet and Dionysos-Zagreus the God (Pastorino, La religione romana, p. XXII.). From the ashes of the Titans fulminates from Jupiter were born the men, as well as bad as their fathers, but they retained a little of the divinity of the child God that they had absorbed when had eaten the flesh of him.

The man in this life then had the task of exalting the divine element in him. The fate in the next life depended on the success of his efforts. The Orphism was, therefore, a religion of salvation (Grenier, Les religions de l’Europe  ancienne, p. 144).

The element idealist and ascetic of Orphism were then reinforced by Pythagorism, a philosophy of universal harmony, according to which the number, the essence of all things, regulated the lives of men and the course of the planets. His idealist metaphysics was surrounded by forms borrowed from the Orphism and the Dionysian religion. As the Bacchantes, the Pythagoreans formed a sect of believers, as the Orphic, they had their myths, or, rather, they seized, at least in part, of symbols created by Orpheus (Grenier, Les religions de l’Europe ancienne, p. 145).

At the end of the third century, after an evolution lasted for centuries, Pythagorism, Orphism and Bacchic religion were more or less confused in a secret religion with its dogmas, its rites, to which gave access the initiation and which had to ensure to the adepts the good in this world and the life after the death. In this set the Pythagorism - Orphism was the current of spiritualism idealist and the Bacchic religion was the materialist form of union with God (Grenier, Les religions de l’Europe ancienne, p. 145).

The Bacchanalia in Rome were expression of a new spirituality that spread in some sections of the population, the religion of the man that was in contrast sharply to the religion of the Roman state (Bayet, La religione romana, p. 169).

The cult of Bacchus, that had inspired to Euripides one of the most poetic and darkest of his tragedies, the Bacchae, joined in the enthusiasm of life the feeling of the nature to that of the infinite, was a hymn to the beauty, to the joy and a challenge to death (Grenier, Les religions de l’Europe  ancienne, p. 145).

It, with its symbols more or less purified, responded best to the most pressing problems of humanity: "the individual destiny of man, his problems of life and death, his existential situation in relation to the universe and the Gods (Bayet, La religione romana, p. 169). The Dionysian religion introduced disturbing themes: the struggle of good against evil, the resurrection after death, the rapture that leaves the ground and approaches the heaven that is the world of the Gods, it expressed the same time the pleasures of life and purity of the soul and the faithful were certain that it ensured the happiness and made serene.

La religion romana

It was therefore a religion very different from the Roman that, through the popes, was strictly controlled by the Senate and was an expression of collective feeling of the people. The concept of life in religion in Rome was inspired by the Roman virtus, was permeated by an ideal of civic and human moral and bound to an ethical code that had at the foundation the austere and hardworking life of the Roman man considered essentially as a citizen of the earth and linked to it (Pastorino, La religione romana, p. 51).

The ceremonies in Rome had fixed rules from a college and were strictly public, the priests were duly elected state officials and therefore controllable. They did not admit nor the secret cult nor personal feeling. Of course, in the ceremonies was excluded any mysticism, because by its very nature essentially individual and the secret around it eluded the control of the authorities (Grenier, Les religions de l’Europe  ancienne, p. 197).

As part of the state religion, for the Roman citizen religious and social loyalty were inseparably linked with each other. On an individual basis the different contents of faith did not create any problems. But in the exercise of religious ritual every citizen had to comply with social norms and not influence others with his personal faith. When he did this and spread his opinion in public, then this for the community of citizens was no longer tolerable (Linke, Mos Maiorum, Stuttgart 2000, p. 273).

The Roman state religion was practiced only in common. In addition, in the performance of rituals and in the declaration of faith, the citizens participated not as individuals with a personal emotion, but as connecting links of a social community. In practice, religious and social actions intersected with each other, and a practice of religion, separate from social life, through the individuals could not be there (Linke Mos Maiorum, p. 273). They formed a unit in several ways and an exercise of worship in the Roman religion was not possible without the common structures of the res publica (Linke, Mos Maiorum, p. 274).

Roman Gods were a part of the community whose rules they accepted and guaranteed through them superhuman strength (Linke, Mos Maiorum, p. 274). They were always linked to the desired effects, by which for the Romans manifested themselves. The Romans believed that, if they worshiped the Gods, made ​​sacrifices, and also performed accurately prescribed rites and then their hopes and desires would be fulfilled. The ritual Formalismus is described by Cicero in De haruspicum Responso, 23. Therefore, in the opinion of the Romans was important for the Gods, in the performance of religious rules, not the private conduct, but in particular the proper observance of the established provisions (Linke, Mos Maiorum, p. 275).

These requirements should be observed by all, and unanimously carried in common. Every Roman prayed not for himself and for his own good physical and spiritual, but for the community. Therefore, the rites were to be performed accordingly. The Romans were convinced that the exact execution of the ritual prescriptions had been the main cause of the rise of the Roman community in a world power (Linke, Mos Maiorum, p. 276). Cicero (de haruspicum Responso, 19) proudly points out that the Romans surpassed all peoples through knowledge in the practice of worship.

The almost maniacal observance of the rules, however, could have led, according to the most common location of modern research, to the fact that Roman religion ultimately did not arouse longer any emotion and was ended now in an empty formalism that had put aside important areas of religiosity (Linke, Mos Maiorum, p. 276).

We must also add that not only the social plan was dominated by religion, but also for the political plan it had a big significance. The spheres of organization of the state and faith were closely interpenetrated and the same principles were worth in politics and religion. Even in the political sphere were not allowed meetings that were not guided by state authorities.

The mass of the people could gather just to the order of a guide, he "needed a rector legitimus adequate to the social order." The policy from the bottom had to be excluded as well as the religion from below. In both areas the act was to take place in the context of an order driven by state authorities.

Every emotion, that took an autonomous way, threatened the public order and was therefore rejected. Such behavior, therefore, fell under the suspicion of coniuratio, rebellion against the order of life handed down (Heilmann, «AU», 1985, p. 27). Religion was the basis for the success of the political and military actions; it consistently provided an exemplary relationship between the community and the divine powers. The Romans, through religion, tried to discern the will of the Gods, to appease their anger and to venerate them in the right way. The priests of the Roman religion on the one hand had no chance to act in a political level, but on the other hand they were organs of the state as an important part of the Republic. "It is characteristic that the political leaders were simultaneously priests State (Heilmann, «AU», 1985, p. 27).”

Policy exerted a constant influence on religion and also the policy actions needed to be based on a religious legitimacy so that could be performed. In the complex mechanism of the Roman religion the role of individuals were completely passive because it was always the state to decide everything.

The Roman people was, therefore, constantly dissatisfied with the official religion and aspired to a new religion that would meet even the individual needs of every single citizen so that he could get a grace from God in the different occasions of his life. The ruling class pretended to meet these people's needs and provided itself to introduce new foreign cults. So many Greek or Asian Gods were introduced from time to time in Rome, but not in their original form. Whenever the authorities introduced a new cult, they sterilized it and transformed his vivifying spirit in inert matter (Toynbee, L’eredità di Annibale, II, Torino, 1981, p. 461). Therefore, more they changed more the things remained as before. With this procedure, the ruling class was convinced that had made unassailable ​​his monopoly of political power.

Over time, the Roman people are increasingly dissatisfied with the official religion Roman, at all inadequate to his personal and spiritual needs. Then a growing gap occurs between the personal religion to that the people aspired and the official religion that was the only religious sentiment allowed. It is understandable that, when there had been any favorable conditions, many Romans were ready to join to a religion like that of Bacchus, which gave appropriate responses to individual problems of man. Neither the Romans were hampered from the most exalted forms of the cult of Bacchus. In fact they were not incapable of religious indiscipline. We know that the rural Italic ceremonies were very lively and free of decorum and in Rome, during the ancient festival of Anna Perennia, feasted the farmers in the fields, drinking a lot of wine and the girls in choir sang verses obscene rituals (Warde Fowler, The religious experiences, London 1911, p. 346). Potentially then the Romans were prepared to welcome the Bacchic rites even in ways that are exalted, was missing only the auspicious occasion.

This occurred in the last years of the third century BC. Population, to appease the anguish and suffering caused by the war against Hannibal, searched frenetically help and personal consolation, but the Roman authorities were trying by all means to stifle these aspirations (Warde-Fowler, The religious experiences, p. 340). The state religious policy of stubborn closure to the personal needs increasingly pushed the Roman people towards Dionysian associations that were private and created by individuals.

In conclusion we can say that the Roman religion is clearly used by the dominant political classes as an effective means of control of the people that is as instrumentum regni. But we must add that the constant universalism of the whole Roman society kept the religion away from the degenerations typical of modern monotheistic religions: fanaticism and fundamentalism. The Romans as they conquered new territories, sought to integrate not only the people who lived there, but also the Gods that were worshiped. False Gods there were not for them, who did not believe in one God. Therefore, even if the foreigners gods were not considered as powerful as those of the Romans, all were considered to be true and therefore worthy of being respected and revered (Sini, «Sandalion», 1998-99, p. 65 f.). This conception polytheist and multi-religious of ius sacrum romanum is well summarized by Cicero when he says that "every city has its own religion, we have our own" (Pro Flacco, 28). This integration could potentially continue to embrace the whole human race. This explains not only the frequent adoption of foreign cults like the Graecus ritus of the Sibyllini books, but also the usual evocationes of the Gods of the enemy, whose the sources retain memory about the deities who protected the two historical enemies of Rome, like the city Etruscan Veii (Livy, 5, 21, 3) and the capital of the western Phoenicians, Carthage (Macrobius, Sat. 3, 9, 6-9). This process of integration has gone together with the spread of universal empire and the concept of humanitas that precisely in Roman polytheistic religion has found one of the most effective means of dissemination. The Roman religion was not a barrier, unlike Christianity and Islam; the pagan empire could not be distinguished from the barbarians for his beliefs. The gods of all men, civilized or barbarous, were true or were the same as under different names, such as an oak tree is an oak everywhere; Jupiter is translated in Greek with Zeus and in Celtic with Taranis (Veyne, Humanitas, in Giardina, L'uomo Romano, Roma-Bari 1989, p. 413).

 However, even the great Roman tolerance had an insuperable limit in the superstitiones. For the Romans superstitions were the religions that entailed an excessive fear of the Gods. They were then particularly dangerous when the ceremonies aroused excessive emotions (morbus animi) and if the faithful would gather in private or at night. For the Romans all had to be done in the light of the sun; they had a holy terror to all that they could not control.

It should be noted that the possible superstitiones were generally tolerated or repressed by the Roman authorities without excessive harshness. The first violent repression against the superstitio of a foreign cult is the one carried out in 186 against the followers of the cult of Bacchus. The religious motivations that drove the Roman authorities to proceed against that religion are highlighted by the consul Postumius in his speech to the people after the first senatusconsultum. He points out that the Bacchic religion was incompatible with the traditional Roman religion, subject always to the authority of the Roman magistrates, to the "decrees of the popes, to the opinions of the Senate, and finally to the responses of the soothsayers."(Livy, XXXIX, 16, 7) Roman public meetings (meetings centuriata, the councils of the people, the meetings convened by a magistrate), governed by a president legally authorized (Livy, XXXIX, 15, 11), are opposed to the meetings of the followers of Bacchus held primarily at night and moreover in confusion of the men and women (Livy, XXXIX, 15, 12). The Gods of the ancestors, revered more Romano, are opposed to deities who with depraved foreign rites push the souls to all sorts of crimes (Livy, XXXIX, 15, 3).

Overall, the consul states that the Bacchic ceremonies are illegal because they do not have a rector authorized and did not come together for religious purposes but simply to commit a crime, in a few words the cult of Bacchus was not a religious cult, but a gathering seditious.

We must add, however, that these reasons, for many scholars are just a smokescreen scattered liberally from consul to hide the real causes of repression, that was essentially a staged operation for political purposes.