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Dionysos › Who Was

Definition and Origins

by Mark Cartwright
published on 16 September 2012
Dionysos or Bacchus ()
Dionysos ( Roman name: Bacchus) was the ancient Greek god of wine, merriment, and theatre. Being the bad boy of Mt.Olympus, he was perhaps the most colourful of the Olympian Gods.
In Greek mythology, despite being the son of Zeus and Semele (the daughter of Kadmos and Harmonia), Dionysos did not receive the best start in life when his mother died while still pregnant. Hera, wife of Zeus, was jealous of her husband's illicit affair and craftily persuaded Semele to ask Zeus to reveal himself to her in all his godly splendour. This was too much for the mortal and she immediately expired; however, Zeus took the unborn child and reared him in his thigh. Most accounts then attribute the satyrs and nymphs as the carers of Dionysos in his childhood and the wise Silenus as his chief educator on Mt.Nysa, far from Hera's wrath.


Homer describes the god as the 'joy of men' and Hesiod likewise describes him as 'much-cheering'. This is no doubt because Dionysos is credited with giving man the gift of wine. The god gave Ikarios, a noble citizen of Ikaria in Attica, the vine tree.From this, Ikarios made wine which he shared with a group of passing shepherds. However, unaware of the stupefying effects of wine, the shepherds thought they had been poisoned and so swiftly took revenge and killed the unfortunate Ikarios.Notwithstanding this inauspicious start to the wine industry, wine became an extremely popular drink in antiquity. The Greeks usually drank wine diluted with water (one part wine to three parts water), mixed in a large krater vessel. Wine was drunk at banquets, festivals, and private parties, in particular, at a symposium, a kind of informal, male-only drinking session where guests reclined on a couch ( kline ) and engaged in conversation on topics ranging from gossip to philosophy.
In mythology, Dionysos travelled widely, even as far as India, and spread his cult throughout Greece, indeed he was known as being of an eastern origin himself. Orgiastic rituals were held in his honour, where the participants were taken over by a Dionysian frenzy of dancing and merriment to such a degree that they transcended themselves. It is believed that theatre sprang from this activity as, like Dionysos' worshippers, actors strive to leave behind their own persona and become one with the character they are playing. Indeed, priests of Dionysos were given seats of honour in Greek theatres.


Dionysos was a protagonist in several other Greek myths. When King Midas of Phrygia found the god's chief follower and drinking partner Silenus rather worse for wear in his garden following a drinking bout, the king gave him nourishment and returned him to Dionysos. In gratitude, the god granted Midas a wish. The king requested that everything he touched would turn to gold but alas this included food and water, so the king almost died of starvation and thirst until Dionysos reversed the gift by telling Midas to wash in the Pactolus river.
Another myth tells of Dionysos' abduction by pirates who were unaware of his identity. The god transformed the ship's mast into a huge vine, the sails dripped with wine, and a heavenly choir filled the air with music. Dionysos transformed himself into a lion and, assisted by a bear, he dispatched the pirate captain. In terror, the remaining crew members leapt overboard and were changed into dolphins. Only the helmsman survived the encounter as he had counselled his crewmates against abducting the stranger in the first place, and the boat sailed on to Naxos where the god remained for a while, falling in love with and marrying Ariadne when Theseus stopped off on his return from killing the Minotaur. When Ariadne died, in her memory Dionysos made her wedding diadem into the Corona constellation.
Other myths include Dionysos persuading Hephaistos (probably with wine) to return to Mt. Olympus and release Hera who had been trapped by the god of metallurgy in an ingenious throne. Hera in her gratitude ensured that Dionysos, actually only a demi-god, became a full Olympian god with permission to reside on Mt. Olympus for all time. Lycurgus, King of Thrace, and Pentheus, King of Thebes, both suffered Dionysos' wrath when they prudishly tried to stop the excesses of the god's festivals.The former was driven mad and the latter was ripped to pieces by a maddened group of female worshippers after he had disguised himself as a woman to spy on their debauchery.


The cult of Dionysos became significant in Athens from the 6th century BCE and the Dionysia festival of Athens and other cities would later evolve into the Bacchanalia of Rome. The island of Naxos was a particularly important sanctuary to the god.There is evidence of a cult to Dionysos dating from the Mycenaean period (14th century BCE) and the site continued to be important right into the Roman period. There was also a sanctuary and theatre of Dionysos at Athens and a temple to the god at Dion (2nd century CE) which also had Mycenaean origins.
In ancient Greek Archaic and Classical art Dionysos is a popular subject and is often depicted with his thiasos or troupe of satyrs (half-men, half-goat) and nymphs, who from the late 6th century BCE were replaced by maenads, daemonic creatures, who when overtaken by Dionysian frenzy, hunted the forests for victims and ate their raw flesh. The god is usually bearded in 4th and 5th century BCE depictions and later on more often beardless. He is often identified through his association with the vine, thyrsos - a sacred rod topped with ivy and vine leaves and sometimes a pinecone, a kantharos - drinking vessel for wine - or a drinking-horn, and on occasion he wears a wreath of ivy or the pelt of a panther. He often cuts a rather effeminate figure and is sometimes shown riding an ithyphallic mule or in a languid, reclining pose such as the celebrated sculpture on the east pediment of the Parthenon (447-432 BCE). Another famous representation is as an infant in the arms of the Hermes of Praxiteles (ca 330 BCE). Coins from Naxos and Mende depicted the god from the 6th to 4th century BCE, and in the 5th century BCE he appeared on the coins of Crete, Thebes, and Thasos. Dionysos also plays a central role in Euripides ' tragedy the Bacchae, which is set in Thebes.

Pax Romana › Antique Origins

Definition and Origins

by Donald L. Wasson
published on 08 December 2015
Augustus ()
The Pax Romana ( Roman Peace) was a period of relative peace and stability across the Roman Empire which lasted for over 200 years, beginning with the reign of Augustus (27 BCE - 14 CE). The aim of Augustus and his successors was to guarantee law, order, and security within the empire, even if this meant separating it from the rest of the world and defending, or even expanding, its borders through military intervention and conquest.
Throughout the existence of both the Roman Republic and Empire, the borders of Rome continually expanded. Besides the initial territorial conquests after the Punic Wars, the eternal city added land in the Balkans, Middle East, and North Africa.Later, they would move westward into Gaul, Spain and northward into Germany and Britain. Through the triumphs of Caesar, Augustus, Claudius, and Marcus Aurelius, Rome became one of largest empires that had ever existed, greater than that of Persia, Assyria, and even challenging that of Alexander the Great. However, a territory that large caused many difficulties, many of them costly - riots, rebellions and insurrections were rampant. The solution to many of these problems came under the astute leadership of Emperor Augustus - it was called the Pax Romana or Roman Peace.


The death of the “dictator for life” Julius Caesar on the Ides of March 44 BCE brought chaos to the Republic. Attempts to revive the old triumvirate ultimately failed. Octavian, the young adopted son of Caesar, hunted down his “father's” assassins and defeated the other claimants to the throne ( Mark Antony and Marcus Amelius Lepidus), securing for himself the leadership of Rome and so an empire was born. Augustus, as he would now be known, would usher in an unprecedented era of prosperity and stability; the disorder of the previous years was wiped away.


The Roman Senate granted Augustus almost unlimited powers, bringing reform to both the city and provinces. He became the “first citizen” or princeps, thus initiating the principate. The Senate granted him and his successors certain powers for life: namely imperium maius, extreme authority over the provincial governors, and tribunicia potestas or tribune of the plebs, the authority to call an assembly of the people to enact laws. With these newly generated powers, he could veto the actions of the magistrates and, in order to control those around him, he controlled the imperial patronage. His reign would bring peace and security to both politics and trade - something that many Romans, in the city as well as in the provinces, had long desired.However, peace would come at a steep price. This Augustan Peace, a peace that brought relative quiet, would last for almost two hundred years.


While the Rome Augustus inherited was vast by any definition of the word, he chose to aggressively add even more territory with expansion and conquest in all directions, especially westward and along the Rhine. Likewise, these new provinces, as well as those that had been acquired during the Republic, were forced to affirm their allegiance to Rome and recognize Roman authority. Augustus would return home from Spain and Gaul a hero, and to symbolize this success, the Senate commissioned, in July of 13 BCE, the erection on the Campus Martius of the Ara Pacis Augustus or the Altar of Augustan Peace - what would be called the foremost display of Augustan art. Dedicated on January 1, 9 BCE, it contained sculptured reliefs, a religious mural depicting the imperial family, and a frieze portraying various Roman values: peace, harmony, duty, decency and wealth - pax, concordia, pietas, humanitas and copia.
Roman Empire under Augustus

Roman Empire under Augustus


To many in and around Rome, the new emperor appeared to be a micromanager, fully utilizing all of the powers he had been granted. Distrusting the independence of the provincial governors or proconsuls, he travelled the empire extensively, and with him went a new army (he commanded 23 legions), a professional army. To maintain their loyalty he paid them well in both money and land (something his successors followed) with each and every man swearing an oath to support and protect the emperor. With an increased army, revolts - like those in Gaul or along the northern borders - were easily quelled. And, to safeguard himself and prevent his own Ides of March, Augustus created his own bodyguard the Praetorian Guard.
The ever-growing empire and expanded army took a toll on the empire's limited treasury. To solve this problem Augustus ordered a complete census of the resources in all of the provinces as well as among its citizenry, creating a “framework for assessment” to impose taxes. The aim was not only to maintain internal order but also to extract resources through taxation even though these demands were often made on limited resources. And to safeguard the tax revenue from possibly unscrupulous governors, Augustus centralized the treasury on the Capitol in Rome. Although there was an occasional protest, many believe that his close supervision of the both the city and provinces was justified, and while some people - primarily slaves and freedmen who worked the land -- were excluded from any political participation, the empire remained relatively free of civil conflict. Even the seas were cleared of pirates, enabling the expansion of trade. New roads - over fifty thousand miles of them - made communication easier. Rome was made great again.
One place that benefitted most from the Pax Romana was the city of Rome itself. Among his many reforms, Ausustus provided for protection against possible fire (a common Roman condition), famine, and flood (the Tiber was prone to overflow its banks).He supervised the city's grain supply, water, and roads which had been a function of the aediles. The city police force was enlarged to quell riots and crime in city. He made attempts to restore traditional moral values such as rebuilding decaying temples. Although the Senate still served only as advisory body, he reduced its number and although the popular assemblies approved of his reforms, they soon became obsolete, for Augustus was the law.


Regardless as it might appear, the Roman people understood and valued the peace and security that Augustus's new order brought to the empire. To them he became a god, and from this worship emerged the Imperial Cult. Henceforth, an emperor would (with only a few exceptions) be deified after his death. Although there still existed an occasional rebellion (Christians would oppose the Cult, for example), the empire remained largely at peace.
The emperors who followed Augustus maintained the Augustan Peace by reducing conflict, expanding the borders, and maintaining harmony at home. However, the legions of Rome were not always so warmly received, and to those who resisted, the cost of peace was high. In his On Britain and Germany, the historian Tacitus, who lived in the 1st century CE, wrote about the Roman conquest of Britain. He quoted Calgacus, a Briton leader, addressing his men,
We, the choice flower of Britain, were treasured in her most secret places. Out of sight of subject shores, we kept even our eyes free from the defilement of tyranny…to-day the boundary of Britain is exposed; beyond us lies no nation, nothing but waves and rocks and the Romans, more deadly still than they, for you find in them an arrogance which no reasonable submission can elude.
Calgacus continued, “They are unique in being as violently tempted to attack the poor as the wealthy. Robbery, butchery, rapine, the liars call Empire; they create desolation and call it peace.”
The Lost Gods: The Romans (Planet Knowledge)
The Lost Gods: The Romans (Planet Knowledge)
Despite these challenges, the Pax Romana would continue through the years, often despite the arrogance and inabilities of some of Augustus's successors. Emperor Claudius would finally succeed in Britain. Vespasian and his son Titus would secure the Middle East; however, Emperor Hadrian (117 – 138 CE) would call an end to expansion and fix the northern borders by building a wall and fortifications in Britain and along the Rhine. In the late 3rd century CE, plague and invasions devastated the empire, and cracks began to appear. After the death of Marcus Aurelius in 180 CE and the appearance of his heir Emperor Commodus, the concept of Pax Romana, after almost two hundred years, became an afterthought.
With the demise of the Republic, the government was in ruin. Emperor Augustus had gained political and military control and built an empire. He secured the borders, stabilized the economy, and brought a sense of peace. Augustus was quoted as saying, “I found a city of brick and left it one of marble.” - this quote could easily be expanded to include the entire empire.


Article based on information obtained from these sources:
with permission from the Website Ancient History Encyclopedia
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