Persistence of the Cult

Bacchus mask and vine tendrils on a twin handled cup.
Hildesheim treasure
Late first century B.C.

Goat-footed satyr and dancing maenad on a silver dish.
Mildenhall treasure
4th century A.D.

This purge of 186 B.C. and several later ones were savage. Yet the Bacchic cult not only survived but flourished off-and-on through the years. By the mid 1st century B.C., it had shaken free of its roots as a faith for the common man and was finding adherents among Rome's wealthy and powerful. The latter pressured Julius Caesar to lift the ban on Bacchic festivals. For centuries thereafter their festivals were one of the many annual street celebrations which entertained and amused the city's citizenry with their somewhat bizarre antics and unabashed bent towards pleasure.

The cult's favorite symbols —a meandering vine and the mask of revelry—became a decorative feature of many a Roman sculptural relief, floor mosaic, and wine beaker through till the late 4th century A.D. The cult dwindled into insignificance thereafter, in part because Christianity became the State religion around A.D. 330; in part because so many aspects of Bacchic symbolism —not least the communal imbibing of wine as the blood of the deity—were assimulated into the framework of Christian thought and art.