A Reason for Persecution

Mosaic detail of a Bacchic theater mask
Hadrian's Villa, Tivoli
circa A.D. 135

In truth, however, at the heart of Roman discomfort with the Bacchic cult was the way it was organized as cells with leadership which demanded oaths of loyalty and a say in the dispersal of property and inheritance:

"There is not just one kind of immorality, not just promiscuous and deviant sex between freeborn men and women, but false witnesses and forged seals, wills, and documents of evidence also issued from this same 'office'." (Livy, A History of Rome XXXIX.14)

So the cult was labeled as a superstitio—translating as "irresponsible" here—and the target of the Republican Senate's decree was more its leadership than the reputed orgiastic behavior of its followers. As a consequence, about 7000 people from all over Italy were accused of conspiracy against the State. Most of these were put to death for their beliefs.