Bacchantes, in early antiquity, those women who took part in the secret festivities in honor of Bacchus; subsequently, when males were also admitted, the term was applied to all those initiated into the Bacchanalia. In the slang of mediaeval university students, the name was given to those who had not yet completed their first year's studies, and under imposing rites and plausible pretexts were taxed for drinking purposes and initiated in debaucheries by the seniors. Later the name was applied to idle students who led a dissipated life, begging under the pretence of collecting the means for future studies. They were organized into bodies with constitution and rituals, and in many cities public boarding houses were established for them. Sometimes they managed to become teachers, and it was a recommendation for a high school to have many such scholars. For heavy fees in drink they gave instruction in the tricks of their wandering life to younger students, who, under the name of Tirones, acted as their servants, stole and begged for them, and were harshly treated.

There exist in German two autobiographies of such Bacchantes, Burkard Lingg and Thomas Plater. The reformation stopped these practices; but traces of them lingered in Germany and England down to the 19th century.