#30: Sacellum of Bacchus

Ok, still standing in front of Temple of Romulus turn right. Let's get our bearing here. We have the Palatine Hill on the right and on the left a short distance away on the other side of the modern street (Via dei Fori Imperiali) was the Esquiline Hill. Now look over (45° right) to the Arch of Titus, now from that Palatine Hill's slope over to the Esquiline Hill was a "Somewhat high and steep ridge" that connected them /\-----/\ this is why we are going to be walking slightly uphill on the Via Sacra.

This whole "Ridge" is called the Velia and the on the Esquiline Hill's section /\-- there was a rich up-scale neighborhood called the 'Carinae' (the 'Keels') where Pompey had a *very expensive beautiful* Home. After Julius Caesar and Marc Antony defeated Pompey in a Civil War Marc Antony moved in and took over the House. Later the future Emperor Tiberius under Augustus (his stepfather) reign made this his Home.

Now on the right side of the Temple of Romulus you can see a side street off the Via Sacra, the only ancient mention of it calls it "The Street to the Carinae" so maybe it was called Via Carinae(?). The street was lined with shops and later in 306 AD when the Basilica Maxentius/Constantine was being built a tunnel had to be built into the foundations to keep the street open.

Now on the right side of this street facing the Via Sacra is a 'FIVE ARCHED MEDIEVAL BRICK ARCADE', shown here. Note how high it is, that was the Medieval ground level when it was built and nothing is known about it. So we have the Temple of Romulus []O[] a side street |`| and an arcade in a row []O[]|`|^^^^^. And just across the Via from the Arcade is an ugly brick-faced concrete half-circle, a hemicycle )) structure shown here.

That is the SACELLUM OF BACCHUS which I'll just call the "Shrine". Walk inside, because it's one of the coolest, shady spots in today's Forum. Bacchus is the Roman version of the Greek God Dionysus. A partial inscription on a fragment that was part of the architrave was found here saying this Shrine was restored by Emperor Antoninus (138-164 AD). A coin also minted in his time shows the image of this Shrine, the hemicycle enclosed a small round temple (SACELLUM) with a statue inside no doubt of Bacchus.

About 100 years earlier this Bacchus Cult was revived and brought back into fashion by Julius Caesar and Marc Antony was a major member of the Cult. Also a reproduction (cast) of that partially inscribed architrave fragment is about 30 m up the Via Sacra's original section that curves right and just lying in a grassy area with bushes on the right. I assume it was placed there to mark the spot where the archaeologists found it as the most logical place to place it would have been in front of the Shrine?

The Greek God Dionysus' Cult, which both men and women were allowed into has a major emphasis on Wine and Intoxication. The Cult came over to Southern Italy with the Greeks that colonized the area (like Paestum). The Etruscans picked up this Cult and then later through them it made its way into Rome in the Late-third and second centuries BC where the Romans then merged this Dionysus Cult with their own Roman Fertility God Liber Cult. And now Dionysus is called Bacchus and becomes a new 'Women's Only Cult' and just another but slightly stranger Roman Cult where Women celebrate with wildly Drinking, Dancing and Feasting three days a year during the Day. And it's accepted with no problems in Pagan Rome.

In 188 BC the Cult is only a few decades old when suddenly the Priestess Paculla Annia claims that the God Bacchus told her to make a few changes. (1) Allow Men to join. (2) Instead of only three DAYTIME Drinking, Dancing and Feasting Celebrations a YEAR, its now five days a MONTH and only to be held at NIGHT. (3) Anyone can join regardless of social Class (Aristocrats, Plebeians/Commoners, Poor, Slaves). (4) New members MUST be 20 years old or younger. (5) Sexual promiscuity is mandatory for all of the Younger new members.

Well this New Wilder 'Sex, Drugs and Rock n' Roll' Orgy Cult version had a short about 2 year run until 186 BC when the Roman Senate got wind of what was going on!!! And this is what they especially don't Like.

(1) The very small minority Rich Aristocratic Class that makes up the Roman Senate, Government and the Financial structure does not like or tolerate any type group gathering among the vast huge majority of the Lower Classes or Slaves. The Aristocratic Class has a great fear with good reasons of the 'Roman Mob', one very small discontented organized Group could grow into a very large organized Group that wants all their Stuff. That is why the Government gives the People "Bread and Circuses" so 'Food and Entertainment' (Colosseum, Circus Maximus Chariot races, etc). Even about 150 years later it was a big deal for Augustus just to allow Fire Departments with Slave/Freedman Fireman to form into small groups. And this Cult has now gone Rouge, with the lower Classes and others meeting in secret, private secluded Group gatherings.

(2) Pagan Religions, Temples and Religious Celebrations all are under the Roman Senate's authority. Although this Cult has been perfectly Legal over the decades it has crossed the line now. And Romans having and socially accepting wild Orgies is a myth with the possible exceptions of a few wild mad Emperors. Sexual excesses *especially* Orgies in Republican Era Rome would be looked upon as a *major* unacceptable moral weakness in a Roman Man (Like a Social Drinker vs the Town Drunk). And you can only imagine what they would think about a Free Roman Citizen Woman participating in Orgies!

(3) This Cult had Women in Leadership Positions over its Male members, this goes against Roman Social and Family Values. Women are second Class Citizens always under the control of their Fathers and/or Husbands and not in political, business or religious power over Men.

(4) The Cult's membership is open to everyone even the Poor and Slaves. This is outside the Norms for their Society.

So in 186 BC the Senate in an emergency session bans this Cult for those reasons and a 'Witch Hunt' begins. The two Consuls are given exceptional powers to roundup all of this Cult's members (7,000 in Italy according to Livy) and Italy's borders are sealed-off to prevent their escape. The Consuls address the People from the old Comitium Rostra and are told of these dangerous Cult members among them and a reward is offered to any informers for their Names.

Livy 29 BC (about 160 years later) wrote: "The punishment inflicted on those who were convicted, varied according to the degree of their guilt; some were thrown into prison, others were put to death. The women were surrendered to their parents or husbands, that they might receive their punishment in private."

In Italy either all 7,000 members went to Trial or the Trials were possibly limited to the Cult's Priests, Priestessess, leading advocates, VIPs, etc and also possibly others denounced by a political or personal enemy? And many commit suicide beforehand which would be perfectly acceptable and honorable by Roman Standards. As for the Women are turned-over to their husbands or fathers for punishment. In my opinion even if the woman was only just "accused" and not even Tried or arrested she would have good chance of becoming a victim of an 'Honor Killing'.

Throughout Italy Cult altars, shrines and statues are ordered destroyed unless they are ancient from earlier times (I assume they mean those originally from the Greek and Etruscan Periods?). You can still "Officially" practice the Old Cult except now you must apply for a Permit that must be approved by the Senate, if approved the celebration can have no more than five persons with no Leaders present. But it's *claimed* that the Cult went underground and continued on in secret for many years?

In about 50 BC Julius Caesar revives the Cult but as a much tamer and normal Roman Cult-type fashion. His buddy Mark Anthony (drunk and sex addict) happily joins up and the Cult becomes popular. The Pagan Cult was finally banned by the Christians about 390 AD.

Livy 29 BC (about 160 years later) wrote about this Cult but most scholars believe it's exaggerated somewhat especially the murders, assassinations, poisonings, forgeries, raping the unwilling members, etc. And the main reasons the Cult was banned was because of the reasons I listed earlier.

"The initiated did not only indulge in feasting and drinking at their meetings, but when their minds were heated with wine, they indulged in the coarsest excesses and the most unnatural vices.
Young girls and youths were seduced, and all modesty was set aside; every kind of vice found here its full satisfaction.
But crimes did not remain confined to these meetings; for false witnesses, forgeries, false wills, and denunciations proceeded from this focus of crime. Poison and assassination were carried on under the cover of the society; and the voices of those who had been fraudulently drawn into these orgies, and would cry out against the shameless practices, were drowned by the shouts of the Bacchantes, and the deafening sounds of drums and cymbals.
The time of initiation lasted ten days, during which a person was obliged to abstain from all sexual intercourse; on the tenth he took a solemn meal, underwent a purification by water, and was led into the sanctuary (Bacchanal).
At first only women were initiated, and the orgies were celebrated every year during three days.
Matrons alternately performed the functions of priests.
But Pacula Annia, a Campanian matron, pretending to act under the direct influence of Bacchus, changed the whole method of celebration; she admitted men to the initiation, and transferred the solemnization which had hitherto taken place during the daytime to the night.
Instead of three days in the year, she ordered that the Bacchanalia should be held during five days in every month.
It was from the time that these orgies were carried on after this new plan that, according to the statement of an eye-witness, licentiousness and crimes of every description were committed.
Men as well as women indulged in the most unnatural appetites, and those who attempted to stop or to oppose such odious proceedings fell as victims. Their principle of the society to hold every ordinance of god and nature in contempt.
Men, as if seized by fits of madness, and under great convulsions, gave oracles; and the matrons, dressed as Bacchae, with disheveled hair and burning torches in their hands, ran down to the Tiber and plunged their torches into the water; the torches, however, containing sulfur and chalk, were not extinguished.
Men who refused to take part in the crimes of these orgies, were frequently thrown into dark caverns and despatched, while the perpetrators declared that they had been carried off by the gods.
Among the number of the members of these mysteries, were, at the time when they were suppressed, persons of all classes; and during the last two years, nobody had been initiated who was above the age of twenty years, as this age was thought most fit for seduction and sensual pleasure."

For more information and photos, please see Sacellum of Bacchus in A Tourist in Rome.

Next: #31: Basilica of Maxentius (aka 'Basilica of Constantine' or 'Basilica Nova')
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