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The Collaborative International Dictionary

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.]

  1. (Myth.) A feast or an orgy in honor of Bacchus.

  2. Hence: A drunken feast; drunken revels; an orgy.

Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

"drunken revelry," 1630s, from the name of the Roman festival held in honor of Bacchus, from neuter plural of Latin bacchanalis (see bacchanal). A participant is a Bacchant (1690s), fem. Bacchante, from French. The plural of both is Bacchantes.


n. 1 (context Greek mythology English) A feast or an orgy in honor of Bacchus. 2 Hence: A drunken feast; drunken revels; an orgy.


The Bacchanalia were Roman festivals of Bacchus, based on various ecstatic elements of the Greek Dionysia. They seem to have been popular, and well-organised, throughout the central and southern Italian peninsula. They were almost certainly associated with Rome's native cult of Liber, and probably arrived in Rome itself around 200 BC but like all mystery religions of the ancient world, very little is known of their rites.

Livy, writing some 200 years after the event, offers a scandalised, extremely colourful account of the Bacchanalia. Modern scholarship takes a skeptical approach to his allegations of frenzied rites, sexually violent initiations of both sexes, all ages and all social classes, and the cult as a murderous instrument of conspiracy against the state. Livy claims that seven thousand cult leaders and followers were arrested, and that most were executed.

Senatorial legislation to reform the Bacchanalia in 186 BC attempted to control their size, organisation, and priesthoods, under threat of the death penalty. This may have been motivated less by the kind of lurid and dramatic rumours that Livy describes than by the senate's determination to assert its civil and religious authority over Rome and her allies, after the prolonged social, political and military crisis of the Second Punic War. The reformed Bacchanalia rites may have been merged with the Liberalia festival. Bacchus, Liber and Dionysus became virtually interchangeable from the late Republican era onward, and their mystery cults persisted well into the Roman Imperial era.

Usage examples of "bacchanalia".

The people hoot and hiss them, the lower classes sing songs in derision of them, and play them all manner of tricks, and the whole scene is one of incredible noise, uproar, and confusion, more worthy of some pagan bacchanalia than a procession of Christian people.

I can wedge the happy nuptials in between my rampant bacchanalia and my debauching of virgins.

Karnival is a bit like a circus, a bit like a bacchanalia, a bit like a Beaux Arts ball, a bit like a mass orgy, a bit like a slave market, and nothing at all like a university.

The Disciples presented figures that would have done Bacchanalia itself proud, Roman gladiators never presented a more frightening or arrogantly cruel picture than they did.

In addition to extractings substantial tribute from those who attended the nightly bacchanalia, he purloined ample quantities of food, wine and spirits from my household.

Thus the Bacchanalia are celebrated with the utmost insanity, with respect to which Varro himself confesses that such things would not be done by the Bacchanals except their minds were highly excited.

Thrown onto the highest tier were violas, lutes and barrel organs, their beautiful shapes and glistening woods converting the mad heap to a scene of bacchanalia.

From the naked purity of the stable of Bethlehem, made of wood as the lignum vitae of the cross was wood, to the bacchanalia of gold and stone!

Postumius being consul, had executed so many Roman citizens for the practice of the Bacchanalia - a matter kept ever in memory by the Senatus Consultum de Bacchanalibus, graven upon bronze and set open to every eye.