2 Translation

1 The following year, the consuls Spurius Postumius Albinus and Quintus Marcius Philippus turned from the army of wars and the administration of provinces to the suppression of internal conspiracy. The praetors chose the provinces by lot: Titus Maenius got the city, Marcus Licinius Lucullus was allotted responsibility for relationships between the citizens and foreigners, Gaius Aurelius Scaurus Sardinia, Publius Cornelius Sulla Sicily, Lucius Quinctius Crispinus nearer Spain, and Gaius Calpurnius Piso further Spain.


7 An investigation of the clandestine conspiracies was assigned to both consuls . The ignoble Greek came first into Etruria as a dabbler in sacrifices and as a seer, possessing none of those many arts which the most learned of all the Greek people brought to us for cultivation of mind and body; nor was he the sort who, after his ritual was uncovered by openly proclaiming both the profit and discipline of his religion imbued their minds with error by openly proclaiming both the profit and discipline of his religion, but he was a priest of secret rites performed at night. These were the beginning rites, which at first were shared with only a few, but then began to be known by men and women. Pleasures of wine and feast were added to the ritual, so that the minds of many might be enticed. When the wine had set fire to their souls, both the night and the mingling of men and women, old and young, had destroyed every sense of shame from the majority, first the corruptions of every kind began to happen, since each one was having a pleasure for himself, which suited his nature of prone lust. There was not only one form of vice, namely the shameful meetings of noble men and women, but false witnesses also escaped out of the same office by false proofs and testaments and evidence; there were poisonings and internal murders from the same place, so that indeed sometimes not even the bodies remained for burial. Many things were dared by craft, the majority by violence. The violence was concealed because, amid the wailing of the small drums and the noise of the cymbals, no voice of those crying for help was able to be heard clearly among the debauchery and the murders.


25 The fallout of this Bacchic evil penetrated from Etruria into Rome just as if a deadly contagion. At first, the more spacious and more tolerable size of the city concealed that fallout of such great evils; but, at last, the information traveled to the consul Postumius in a manner largely as follows: Publius Aebutius, whose father had completed military service with a horse supplied by the government, was left a ward, and then, upon the death of his tutors, he was brought up under the guardianship of his mother, Duronia, and of his stepfather, Titus Sempronius Rutilius. The mother was dutifully bound to the man, and the stepfather, because he had performed his guardianship so that he was not even able to produce an account of it, was desiring that the orphan either be removed or become dependent to himself by some chain. One road of corruption was through the Bacchanalia.


33 The mother calls the young man: she made a vow for him, on account that he was sick, that as soon as he recovered, she would initiate him into the Bacchic rites; compelled by the beneficence of the gods to complete her vow, she wished to fulfill it. For ten days he must operate in continence: on the tenth day, having fasted, she would then lead him into the shrine after religious purification.


37 A well known harlot, a freedwoman named Hispala Faecenia, not worthy of the occupational wealth to which, while a slave woman, she had been accustomed to, preserved herself in the same way even after she had been manumitted. Since they were neighbors, a relationship to this woman with Aebutius began, damaging neither to the young man’s financial matters or reputation: for he had been freely loved and desired, and, with his provisions poorly supplied by all his family members, he was sustained by the generosity of the courtesan. Because she was captivated by the intimacy, she proceeded so that after the death of her patron, because she was under the control of no one, and having petitioned the tribunes and the praetor for a guardian, when she made her will, she instituted Aebutius as her sole heir.


45 Since there were these pledges of love, and neither one was harboring any secret from the other one, the young man, as a joke, warned her not to be surprised if he slept alone for several nights, on account of religion. In order to free himself from a vow made on behalf of his health, he wished himself to be initiated into the Bacchic rites. When the woman heard this, she, perturbed, exclaimed, “Good gods!” She expressed that it would be better for him and for her to die rather than to do it, and she called down threats and perils on the heads of those who had advised it.


50 Marveling at not only her words but also at such distress, the young man orders her to spare her curses: his mother, with the approval of his stepfather, ordered it for him. Then she said, “Therefore your stepfather – for perhaps it may not be right to accuse your mother – is quick to let your chastity, reputation, hope, and life be squandered in this way.” After he marveled even more and asked her what she meant by this, she, asking for peace and forgiveness from the gods and goddesses, if compelled by her care for him announced what should be silent, said that as a slave attending to her mistress she entered that shrine, but as a freewoman she has never been to it. And she said that she knew it was an office of all kinds of corruptions; and it was well-known that now for two years now no one who was more than twenty years old was initiated there. And each one was inducted just like a victim to be handed over to the priests. They would lead him to the place, which would sound with wailings and the song of a choir and the beating of cymbals and drums, so that the voice of the one calling out, when dishonor is inflicted on him by force, cannot be heard. Then she begged and asked him that he not cast himself into it, where all the unspeakable acts would first need to be endured, then performed. Nor would she dismiss him until the young man gave her his word that he would refrain himself from these religious rites.


67 After he came home, and his mother began mentioning what he should do that day and the following days, which might pertain to the rites, he said he would not do any of them, and that he was not interested in being initiated. His stepfather was present for the conversation. Right away the woman exclaimed that he was not able to be without the mistress Hispala for ten nights; that he was infected with the charms and poisons of that snake, that he had no respect for his parent nor his stepfather nor the gods. His mother berating him on one side, his stepfather with four slaves on the other, they drove him from the house.


74 The young man brought himself to his aunt Aebutia and explained to her the reason why he had been cast out by his mother, then, upon her recommendation, reported the matter to the consul Postumius on the next day, with no witness present. The consul sent him away with an order to return after the third day; he himself asked his mother-in-law Sulpicia, a well respected woman, if she knew the elderly woman Aebutia from the Aventine. When she had responded that she knew Aebutia was a virtuous woman of the old custom, he said that there was a need to convene with her: Sulpicia should send a message to her so that she might come. Aebutia, summoned by Sulpicia, arrived, and the consul a little while later, just as if he had intervened by chance, brought gossip concerning Aebutius, the son of her brother. Tears arose in the woman, and she began to pity the misfortune of the young man who was robbed of his fortune by those who needed it the least. He, who was then at her house, was cast out by his mother because the moral youth – may the gods be favorable – did not wish to be initiated into rites which, as rumor said, were abominable.


86 The consul, judging that he knew enough concerning Aebutius to know that his story was not false, with Aebutia dismissed, asked his mother-in-law that she bring Hispala to visit her: Hispala was a freedwoman also from the Aventine, not unfamiliar with the neighborhood. There also were things that he wished to ask her. Hispala, troubled at her message, since she was unaware of the reason she was summoned to such a noble and important woman, when she caught sight of the lictors in the vestibule and the crowd of the consuls and the consul himself, nearly fainted. Leading her into the interior part of the room, the consul, with his mother-in-law present, said that if she was able to commit in her mind to tell the truth, she should have no cause for alarm; she would receive faith either from Sulpicia, a woman of such character, or from himself. He said that she should explain to him what Bacchanalian rites they were accustomed to undertake in the Stimulan grove during the nocturnal ritual. When she heard this, such fear and trembling seized the woman in all her limbs, that for a long time she could not open her mouth to speak. After she was restored at last, she said that, as a quite young slave girl herself, she was initiated with her mistress: that for many years, after she was freed from this, she knew of nothing that happened there. Already the consul praised her on this ground, since she did not deny her initiation; but she should disclose the rest under the same pledge. When she refused to admit that she knew anything else, he told her that if she were proven guilty by another, there would not be the same forgiveness or consideration than through her own confession; and he told her that he, who heard it from her, told him everything.


103 The woman having thought without a doubt, as it was, that Aebutius was the revealer of the secret, threw herself at the feet of Sulpicia, and at first began to beg her, since she did not wish that the conversation of a freedwoman with her lover be transformed into a matter not only serious but fatal. She had said these things for the purpose of frightening him, not because she knew anything. Here Postumius, inflamed with anger, said that even then she believed she was jesting with her lover Aebutius, not speaking in the house of the most serious woman and with the consul. And Sulpicia lifted up the frightened woman, and at the same time encouraged her and appeased the anger of her son-in-law. At last collected, and after the treachery of Aebutius was criticized at length, who had returned such gratitude to the one who deserved the best from him, she said there is a great fear of the gods, whose secret rites she was revealing, but a far greater fear of men, who would, if she betrayed them, tear her apart with their own hands. And so she begged Sulpicia this, the consul this, that they might banish her to somewhere outside of Italy, where she could pass the rest of her life safely. The consul ordered that she be in good spirit, and he said that he would be responsible for her, so that might live in Rome safely.


117 Then Hispala revealed the origin of the religious rites. At first, she said, it was a sanctuary of women and it was customary that no man was admitted to it. There had been three days appointed each year on which they held initiations into the Bacchic rites during the day. It was customary to choose the matrons in turn as priestesses. Paculla Annia, a Campanian priestess, had changed everything as if by the advice of the gods: for she had been the first to initiate men, her sons, Minius and Herennius Cerrinius. She had made the rites by night and not by day, and she had made the days of initiation from three days in a year into five days every month. From the time that the rites were performed in common, men mingling with women and the freedom of darkness added. There, no wickedness, no shameful act was left untried. There were more lustful acts among men with one another than among women. If any of them were less inclined to suffer abuse or reluctant to commit the crime they were sacrificed as victims. To consider nothing as a crime was the highest religion among them. Men, as if with their minds seized, fanatically tossing their bodies, told prophecies; matrons in the dress of Bacchantes, with loose hair and carrying burning torches, ran down to the Tiber, and plunging their torches in the water, because their torches contained live sulfur mixed with calcium, they brought them out, flames still burning. The men were said to be snatched by the gods, whom bound to machines were carried out of sight into secret caves: they were those who refused to either swear an oath or to join in the crimes or to suffer shame. It was a huge number, now nearly a second population; among them certain noble men and women. In the last two years it was decided that no one more than twenty years old could be initiated: this was the desired age for those to suffer both corruption and shame.


137 After her testimony was finished, again having fallen on her knees, she repeated the same prayers, begging that he should banish her. The consul asked his mother-in-law to make some part of her house empty, so that Hispala could move in. She was given an apartment above the house, with the stairs having been closed off to the public, with an entrance to the house having been arranged. All the goods of Faecenia were immediately moved and her slaves were summoned, and Aebutius was ordered to move to the house of a client of the consul.


143 When both witnesses were thus available, Postumius laid the matter before the senate. He exposed everything in detail: first what had been reported, then what he had discovered. Great panic seized the Senators for two reasons. First, on behalf of the public, they feared that these conspiracies and nighttime gatherings might produce hidden treachery or danger. Second, each for their own private sake, was afraid that their friends might be implicated in the same crime.The senate decreed, moreover, that the consul should be thanked, because he had investigated this matter both with singular care and without any confusion. Then they entrusted the investigation of the Bacchanals and the nocturnal rites to the consuls in addition to their regular duties; they directed the consuls to see to it that the witnesses Aebutius and Faecenia do not suffer harm and that they attract other informers with rewards; and the priests of these rites, whether men or women, should be sought out not only in Rome but throughout all the villages and communities, that they might be at the disposal of the consuls; that it should be proclaimed in addition in the city of Rome and that edicts should be sent throughout all of Italy, that no one who had been initiated in the Bacchic rites, should presume to assemble or come together for the purpose of celebrating those rites or to perform any such rituals. Before all, it was decreed that an investigation should be conducted regarding those people who had come together or conspired, for the commission of any vice or crime. This was the decree of the senate. The consuls ordered the curule aediles to search out all the priests of this cult, and keep those who were arrested under surveillance in free custody until the investigation; the plebeian aediles were to see to it that no celebration of the rites would be held in secret. It was entrusted to the triumviri capitales, that they place guards throughout the city and see that no night meetings were held, and they take precautions against torches; assistants to the triumvirs, the quinqueviri uls cis Tiberim were each to keep watch over the buildings of their own region.


164 Then they ordered the decrees of the senate to be read aloud and announced a reward for the informer, if anyone had brought any man before them or had reported the name of anyone who was absent. For anyone who was named and had escaped, they would designate a fixed day for him, and unless he responded having been summoned, he would be condemned in his absence. If any one of them who were at that time outside the land of Italy was named, they would fix a more flexible date if he wished to come to plead his cause. They then proclaimed that no one should dare to sell or buy anything for the sake of fleeing; that no one should harbor, conceal, or by any means aid those fleeing. When the meeting was dismissed, there was great panic in the whole city; nor was this confined only to the walls of the city or the Roman boundaries, but everywhere through all of Italy, as letters were received from their friends concerning the decree of the senate concerning the assembly and the edict of the consuls, the terror began to spread. Many, during the night after the day when the revelation was made public in the meeting, with the guards having been placed around the gates, those fleeing from the triumviri were caught and brought back: the names of many were reported. Certain of these men and women committed suicide. More than seven thousand men and women were said to have been involved in the conspiracy. It was well known that the heads of the conspiracy, moreover, were Marcus and Gaius Atinius of the Roman plebs, and the Faliscan Lucius Opicernius and the Campanian Minius Cerrinius: all the wickedness and wrongdoing originated from these men, and they were the supreme priests and the founders of the cult. Care was taken that at the first opportunity they were arrested. They were brought before the consuls and, once they confessed about themselves, they made no delay in the trial.


184 But the flight from the city had been so great that, since in many cases legal proceedings and affairs were falling through, the praetors Titus Maenius and Marcus Licinius were compelled, through the action of the senate to delay for thirty days, until the investigations would be finished by the consuls. The same deprivation, because at Rome men whose names had been reported did not respond or were not found, compelled the consuls to go around the villages and there investigate and conduct trials. Those who had merely been initiated and had made their prayers in accordance with the ritual verse with the priest dictating the words, in which the wicked conspiracy was being contained: in every vice and lust, but had committed none of the acts, to which they were bound by the oath, who admitted against either themselves or others they left in chains: those who had violated themselves by debauchery or murder, who had polluted themselves by false testimony, forged seals, substitution of wills or other frauds, they inflicted capital punishment upon them. More were killed than were bound in chains. In each class there were a large number of men and women. Damned women were handed over to their relatives, or to those in whose power they were under, so that they themselves might be punished in private: if there was no one suitable as executor of the penalty, the punishment was carried out in public. It was the job given then to the consuls that all Bacchanalia rites should be destroyed first at Rome, and then through all of Italy, except if any old altar or religious image had been consecrated there. In the future, it was then made provision by the decree of the senate that there should be no Bacchanalia worship in Rome or in Italy. If anyone regarded such sacred rites as ordained and necessary and was not able to omit them without impiety and atonement, he should make a declaration in front of the urban praetor; the urban praetor would consult the senate. If permission were granted to him, with not less than a hundred present in the senate, he should make the sacrifice, given that not more than five people participate in the sacrifice, and that there should be no common money or master of sacrifices or priest.

209 Then another decree of the senate, in addition to this one, was made with consul Quintus Marcius motioning. It said that the entire matter concerning those who the consuls had as informers should be relayed back to the senate, once Spurius Postumius, with the investigations having been completed, had returned to Rome. They decided that Minius Cerrinius the Campanian must be sent to Ardea in chains, and they warned the Ardean magistrates that they should keep attentive guard over him, not only so that he not escape, but also lest he should have an opportunity for committing suicide. Spurius Postumius came to Rome a little while later. Recalling the rewards for Publius Aebutius and Hispala Faecenia, because it was by their information that the Bacchanalian rites were discovered, a decree of the senate was made, that the urban quaestors should give one hundred thousand asses from the treasury to each of these men. The decree also said that the consul should take up with the plebeian tribunes that they also bring the following matter to the people at the earliest opportunity. Publius Aebutius should be recorded as having completed military service, so that he should not serve in the military except by his own volition, that the censor should not assign a public horse to him, unwilling. Hispala Faecenia should be given the rights for allotment and depletion of land, marriage outside her class, and also the choice of tutor, just as if her husband had given it to her by his will. She should be allowed to marry a man of free birth, and there should not be any fraud or disgrace on the account of this attached to the man who has married her. Finally, the consuls and praetors who are now presiding and those who should be in the future, should ensure that no injury be done to this woman, and that she should be safe. The senate wished and judged it rightly that this should thus be done. All these things were brought to the assembly and were passed by a decree of the senate; and concerning the impunity and rewards of the rest of the informers, it was left up to the consul.


Livy's Account of the Bacchanalian Affair at Rome Copyright © by Jody Valentine. All Rights Reserved.

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