Bronze. 186 BCE.
Height 27.3 cm, width (without frame) 28.5 cm. Inv. No. III 168.Vienna, Museum of Art History
Bronze. 186 BCE.
Height 27.3 cm, width (without frame) 28.5 cm.
Vienna, Museum of Art History
(Wien, Kunsthistorisches Museum).
Senatus Consultum de Bacchanalibus
The famous bronze tablet contains the oldest surviving Senatorial decree in the Latin language. It prohibits the observance of the Bacchanalia festival, rites related to the cult of Dionysus/Bacchus. The mystery cult of Dionysus was celebrated in secret ceremonies and rituals. Festivals to honour the god sometimes led to ecstatic excesses, and the adherents of the cult were also accused of involvement in a conspiracy that threatened the state. This decree was designed to bring about the final dissolution of the cult of Bacchus.
The text confirms the fundamentals of a detailed later description of the Bacchanalia scandal by the Roman historian Livy (Ab Urbe Condita 39.8-19), who explains the reasons why the Senate became involved. Allegations regarding abuses of the cult (sexual offences, crimes connected with the ritual, and uncontrolled orgies) also provided the Senate with a pretext for conducting numerous politically motivated trials. The “Senatus Consultum de Bacchanalibus” with its strict regulations dates from the year 186 BC. With language characteristics typical of Old Latin, it is also interesting within the context of the history of linguistics. The present tablet is the only surviving copy of the edict issued by the consuls Quintus Marcius Philippus and Spurius Postumius Albinus and was made for a rural community in southern Italy, Ager Teuranus (today Tiriolo in Calabria). It also contains a command to announce the decree as well as its stipulations and penalties on at least three market days in the people’s assembly and to publish it on an engraved bronze tablet in a readily accessible place. The tablet was found in 1640 during construction of a palace for the princes of Cigala in Tiriolo and was given a Baroque tortoise-shell frame that is inlaid with mother-of-pearl and gold. On the precious frame is a Latin dedication to Emperor Charles VI from the year 1727.