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Religion



388. Senatus consultum de bacchanalibus. Rome, 186 B.C. (CIL I2.581=ILS 18=ILLRP 511. Tr. ARS. L)

The worship of the god Dionysus spread through Italy from the Greek cities of the south and was particularly popular among the lower classes and slaves. (See also Livy 39.8-18.)

While the exaggerated reports of orgiastic rites were shocking to conservative Romans, far more alarming was the organisational nature of this new religion. Secret societies of any sort, and especially of the lower classes, always held for the Romans the threat of sedition. The senate's decree which follows applied to all Italy and placed strict limitations on the worship of Bacchus, though it did not prohibit it entirely.

The consuls Quintus Marcius, son of Lucius, and Spurius Postumius, son of Lucius, consulted the Senate on October 7 in the Temple of Bellona, Marcus Claudius, son of Marcus, Lucius Valerius, son of Publius, and Quintus Minucius, son of Gaius, assisted in drafting the decree.

Regarding the Bacchanalia the senators proposed to issue a decree as follows to those who are allied with us:

'No one of them shall have a place devoted to the worship of Bacchus: and if there are any who say that they have a need for such a place, they shall appear in Rome before the urban praetor; and when the pleas of these men have been heard, our Senate shall make a decision regarding these matters, provided that not less than 100 senators are present when the matter is discussed. No Roman citizen or man of Latin rights or anyone of the allies shall associate with the Bacchae, unless they have appeared before the urban praetor and he has given permission, in accordance with the opinion of the Senate, delivered while not less than 100 senators were present when the matter was discussed.'

The proposal passed.

'No man shall be priest of, nor shall any man or woman be master of, such an organisation; nor shall anyone of them have a common fund; nor shall anyone appoint any man or woman to be master of such an organisation or to act as master; nor hereafter shall anyone take common oath with them, shall make common vows, shall make stipulations with them; nor shall anyone give them surety or shall take surety from them. No one shall perform their rites in secret; nor shall anyone perform their rites in public, in private, or outside the city, unless he has appeared before the urban praetor and he has given permission, in accordance with the opinion of the Senate, delivered while not less than 100 senators were present when the matter was discussed.'

The proposal passed.

'No one in a company of more than five persons altogether, men and women, shall perform such rites; nor in that company shall more than two men or three women be present, unless it is in accordance with the opinion of the urban praetor and the Senate, as has been written above.'

You shall publish these decrees in public assembly for not less than three market days, that you may know the opinion of the Senate. For the opinion of the senators is as follows:

'If there are any persons who act contrary to what has been written above, it is our opinion that a proceeding for a capital offence must be made against them'; and you shall inscribe this on a bronze tablet, for thus the Senate voted was proper; and you shall order it to be posted where it can be read most easily; and, as has been written above, you shall provide within ten days after these tablets have been delivered to you that those places devoted to the worship of Bacchus shall be dismantled, if there are any such, except in case something sacred is concerned in the matter.
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