Bacchanalia, Or Dionysia, the festivals of the Greek god Bacchus or Dionysus. The most important were held in Attica and Athens, and were four in number. 1. The country or lesser festival was held in all the country districts of Attica, under the superintendence of the demarche or local magistrates, in the month Poseideon (December), when the vintage was just over. There was a tumultuous procession of men and women, some riding in a cart and casting scurrilous jests and abusive language at the bystanders, and some carrying the phallus, the emblem of the generative power in nature. The phallic hymn was sung, old comedies and tragedies were enacted, the slaves had temporary liberty, large quantities of wine were drunk, and unbounded license prevailed. 2. The wine press festival, or Lenasa, was held in a suburb of Athens in the month Gamelion (January), when the wine was just made and the presses cleaned. This festival, which was celebrated in Asia Minor also, was at Athens under the superintendence of the king-archon, and the expenses were paid by the state.
There was a public banquet, a procession, and dramatic entertainments in which new comedies were represented. 3. The flower festival, or Anthesteria, was held at the same place as the Lenasa, in the month Anthesterion (February), and lasted three days. On the first day the vintage was broached and tasted, and persons were initiated into the mysteries of Bacchus. On the second day there were games, and on the third flowers were offered to the god. During the festival the slaves were free, presents were sent to friends, and pupils paid their instructors. 4. The town or great festival was held at Athens in the month Elaphebolion (March), when the city was filled with strangers from all Greece. The festival was celebrated in the most magnificent manner under the superintendence of the chief archon, at the expense of the state, and consisted of a banquet, a procession, and the acting of tragedies. A prize was awarded for the best play, and, with exceptions in favor of AEschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, no play which had once won a prize could be repeated. All these festivals were seasons of riotous merriment and drunkenness.
In the processions Bacchus himself was represented, attended by delirious women called Lente or Bacchantes, who carried thyrsus staffs, cymbals, swords, or serpents, and, made furious by dithyrambic songs, flutes, and wine, danced along in a state of frenzy. Men, covered with skins, masked, and painted to represent fauns and satyrs, accompanied them. - The Romans celebrated the Bacchanalia every third year; but such excesses attended the secret initiation, which was held by night, and the society became so dangerous, that in 186 B. C. the consuls, by the authority of the senate, issued a proclamation commanding that no Bacchanalia should be held either in Rome or in Italy. After this decree the Liberal ia, the festival of Liber, a similar but more moderate rite, was celebrated annually on the 10th of March, and on that day the young men assumed the toga virilis.