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Liber, Bacchus

Dionysus-Bacchus | Greco-Roman marble statue | Pergamonmuseum, Berlin
Dionysus-Bacchus, Greco-Roman marble statue, Pergamonmuseum

DIONYSOS was the Olympian god of wine and festivity.

This page describes the cult of the god in central and northern Greece, the Aegean islands, and the Greek colonies. The most significant of these shrines were arguably those of the town of Thebes and island of Naxos.

His cult was popular in the Aegean Islands and throughout the Greek colonies of the Mediterranean. Dionysos was closely identified with several non-Greek gods such as the Thraco-Phrygian Sabazios.

The sculptural images on this page include depictions of him as a more mature, bearded god draped him heavy robes.



I. THEBES Main City of Boeotia (Boiotia)

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 12. 4 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"[In Thebes, Boiotia] there is also a story that along with the thunderbolt hurled at the bridalchamber of Semele there fell a log from heaven. They say that [King] Polydoros adorned this log with bronze and called it Dionysos Kadmos. Near is an image of Dionysos; Onasimedes made it of solid bronze. The altar was built by the sons of Praxiteles."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 16. 6 :
"Near the Proitidian gate [of Thebes, Boiotia] is built a theater, and quite close to the theater is a temple of Dionysos surnamed Lysios (Deliverer). For when some Theban prisoners in the hands of Thrakians had reached Haliartia on their march, they were delivered by the god, who gave up the sleeping Thrakians to be put to death. One of the two images here the Thebans say is Semele. Once in each year, they say, they open the sanctuary on stated days. There are also ruins of the house of Lykos, and the tomb of Semele."

II. MT. CITHAERON (KITHAIRON) Mountain in Boeotia

Site of the most famous Orgia of Dionysos. The orgies are more fully described in the mythology sections of this site.

III. POTNIAE (POTNIAI) Village in Boeotia

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 8. 2 :
"Here [in Potniai, Boiotia] there is also a temple of Dionysos Aigobolos (Goat-slayer). For once, when they were sacrificing to the god, they grew so violent with wine that they actually killed the priest of Dionysos. Immediately after the murder they were visited by a pestilence, and the Delphic oracle said that to cure it they must sacrifice a boy in the bloom of youth. A few years afterwards, so they say, the god substituted a goat as a victim in place of their boy."

IV. TANAGRA Village in Boeotia

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 20. 4 :
"In the temple of Dionysos [at Tanagra, Boiotia] the image too is worth seeing, being of Parian marble and a work of Kalamis. But a greater marvel still is the [pickled and preserved body of a] Triton. The grander of the two versions of the Triton legend relates that the women of Tanagra before the orgies of Dionysos went down to the sea to be purified, were attacked by the Triton as they were swimming, and prayed that Dionysos would come to their aid. The god, it is said, heard their cry and overcame the Triton in the fight. The other version is less grand but more credible. It says that the Triton would waylay and lift all the cattle that were driven to the sea. He used even to attack small vessels, until the people of Tanagra set out for him a bowl of wine. They say that, attracted by the smell, he came at once, drank the wine, flung himself on the shore and slept, and that a man of Tanagra struck him on the neck with an axe and chopped off his head. for this reason the image has no head. And because they caught him drunk, it is supposed that it was Dionysos who killed him."

V. ANTHEDON Village in Boeotia

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 22. 6 :
"There are a sanctuary and an image of Dionysos in front of the city [of Anthedon, Boiotia] on the side towards the mainland."


Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 23. 5 :
"The town [of Akraiphnion, Boiotia] lies on Mount Ptous, and there are here a temple and image of Dionysos that are worth seeing."

VII. LARYMNA Village in Boeotia

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 23. 7 :
"Here [in Larymna, Boiotia or Lokris] there is a temple of Dionysos with a standing image."

VIII. COPAE (KOPAI) Village in Boeotia

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 24. 2 :
"On sailing across it [Lake Kopais in Boiotia] you come to Kopai, a town lying on the shore of the lake . . . Here is a sanctuary of Demeter, and one of Dionysos."

IX. MT. HELICON (HELIKON) Mountain in Boeotia

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 30. 1 :
"There is also [in the shrine of the Mousai] on Helikon . . . a Dionysos by Lysippos; the standing image, however, of Dionysos, that Sulla dedicated, is the most noteworthy of the works of Myron after the Erekhtheus at Athens."

X. CREUSIS (KREUSIS) Village in Boeotia

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 32. 1 :
"Kreusis, the harbor of Thespiai [in Boiotia], has nothing to show publicly, but at the home of a private person I found an image of Dionysos made of gypsum and adorned with painting."


I. DELPHI (DELPHOI) Village & Sanctuary in Phocis (Phokis)

Aeschylus, Eumenides 20 ff (trans. Weir Smyth) (Greek tragedy C5th B.C.) :
"[The Pythia, prophetess of the oracle at Delphoi :] These are the gods I place in the beginning of my prayer [Gaia, Themis, Phoibe and Apollon] . . . and I worship [also] the Nymphai where the Korykian rock is hollow . . . Bromios [Dionysos] has held the region--I do not forget him--ever since he, as a god, led the Bakkhai in war . . . I call on the streams of Pleistos and the strength of Poseidon, and highest Zeus."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 10. 32. 1 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"Adjoining the sacred enclosure [of Apollon at Delphoi, Phokis] is a theater worth seeing, and on coming up from the enclosure ((lacuna)) . . and here is an image of Dionysos, dedicated by the Knidians."

Pausanias, Description of Greece 3. 13. 7 :
"For eleven ladies who are named daughters of Dionysos there is held a footrace; this custom came to Sparta from Delphoi."

II. PANOPEUS Village in Phocis

Pausanias, Description of Greece 10. 4. 3 :
"Homer speaks of the beautiful dancing-floors of Panopeus [in Pholis], I could not understand until I was taught by the women whom the Athenians call Thyiades. The Thyiades are Attic women, who with the Delphian women go to Parnassos every other year and celebrate orgies in honor of Dionysos. It is the custom for these Thyiades to hold dances at places, including Panopeus, along the road from Athens. The epithet Homer applies to Panopeus is thought to refer to the dance of the Thyiades."


Pausanias, Description of Greece 10. 33. 11 :
"They [the people of Amphikleia in Phokis] celebrate orgies, well worth seeing, in honor of Dionysos, but there is no entrance to the shrine, nor have they any image that can be seen. The people of Amphikleia say that this god is their prophet and their helper in disease. The diseases of the Amphikleans themselves and of their neighbors are cured by means of dreams. The oracles of the god are given by the priest, who utters them when under the divine inspiration."

IV. BULIS (BOULIS) Village in Phocis

Pausanias, Description of Greece 10. 37. 3 :
"The buildings in Boulis [in Phokis] are not very wonderful; among them is a sanctuary of Artemis and one of Dionysos. The images are made of wood, but we were unable to judge who was the artist."


Dionysus Type Sardanapallus | Greco-Roman marble statue C1st A.D. | Capitoline Museums, Rome
"Dionysus Type Sardanapallus", Greco-Roman marble statue C1st A.D., Capitoline Museums

I. CALYDON (KALYDON) Main City of Aetolia (Aitolia)

Pausanias, Description of Greece 7. 21. 1 - 5 :
"[In Patrai, Akhaia] is also a sanctuary of Dionysos surnamed Kalydonios (of Kalydon), for the image of Dionysos too was brought from Kalydon. When Kalydon was still inhabited, among the Kalydonians who became priests of the god was Koresos, who more than any other man suffered cruel wrongs because of love. He was in love with Kallirhoe, a maiden. But the love of Koresos for Kallirhoe was equalled by the maiden's hatred of him. When the maiden refused to change her mind, in spite of the many prayers and promises of Koresos, he then went as a suppliant to the image of Dionysos. The god listened to the prayer of his priest, and the Kalydonians at once became raving as though through drink, and they were still out of their minds when death overtook them. So they appealed to the oracle at Dodona . . . On this occasion the oracles from Dodona declared that it was the wrath of Dionysos that caused the plague, which would not cease until Koresos sacrificed to Dionysos either Kallirhoe herself or one who had the courage to die in her stead. When the maiden could find no means of escape, she next appealed to her foster parents. These too failing her, there was no other way except for her to be put to the sword. When everything had been prepared for the sacrifice according to the oracle from Dodona, the maiden was led like a victim to the altar. Koresos stood ready to sacrifice, when, his resentment giving way to love, he slew himself in place of Kallirhoe. He thus proved in deed that his love was more genuine than that of any other man we know. When Kallirhoe saw Koresos lying dead, the maiden repented. Overcome by pity for Koresos, and by shame at her conduct towards him, she cut her throat at the spring in Kalydon not far from the harbor, and later generations call the spring Kallirhoe after her."


I. NAXOS Main Town of Naxos

Naxos was an island held sacred to Dionysos, with festivals celebrating his nurturing (the locals claimed he was raised on the island's small mountain) and his marriage to Ariadne.


I. ANDROS Main Town of Andros

Pausanias, Description of Greece 6. 26. 2 :
"The Andrians too assert that every other year at their feast of Dionysus wine flows of its own accord from the sanctuary."


I. METHYMNA Town in Lesbos

Pausanias, Description of Greece 10. 19. 3 :
"I am going on to tell a Lesbian story. Certain fishermen of Methymna [on the island of Lesbos] found that their nets dragged up to the surface of the sea a face made of olive-wood. Its appearance suggested a touch of divinity, but it was outlandish, and unlike the normal features of Greek gods. So the people of Methymna asked the Pythian priestess of what god or hero the figure was a likeness, and she bade them worship Dionysus Phallen. Whereupon the people of Methymna kept for themselves the wooden image out of the sea, worshipping it with sacrifices and prayers, but sent a bronze copy to Delphoi."

II. MYTILENE Town in Lesbos

Aelian, Historical Miscellany 13. 2 (trans. Wilson) (Greek rhetorician C2nd to 3rd A.D.) :
"A man from Mytilene called Makareus, who was a priest of Dionysos, though to all appearances a mild and reasonable person, was the most unscrupulous of men. When a visitor arrived and deposited with him a quantity of gold, Makareus dug a hole in a corner of the temple and buried the gold. Later the visitor came to ask for its return. Makareus took him in as if about to hand it back, murdered him and dug up the gold, putting the visitor's body in its place. He thought that in this way he could escape divine as well as human attention. But matters did not turn out that way. How so? A short time elapsed, and the biennial festival of the god took place. He made opulent sacrifices. While he was occupied with the bacchic celebrations his two sons were left at home. Imitating their father's sacrificial ritual they approached the family altar while the offerings were still burning. The younger exposed his neck, the elder found a knife lying unused and killed his brother as a sacrificial offering. Members of the household who witnessed this raised a cry of horror. Hearing the shouts their mother jumped up, and seeing that one son was dead, while the other still held the blood-stained knife, she snatched from the altar the half-burnt log and with this killed her son. The news reached Makareus. He left the ceremony with the utmost haste and anxiety, burst into the home, and killed his own wife with the thyrsos he was carrying. The outrageous acts became generally known; Makareus was arrested and tortured; he confessed to what he had done in the temple, and during the ordeal he expired. The victim of his injustice received public honours and burial at the demand of the god. So Makareus paid no contemptible penalty, as the poets have it, with his own life, that of his wife and furthermore those of his sons."

III. TENEDOS Island near Lesbos

Aelian, On Animals 12. 34 (trans. Scholfield) (Greek natural history C2nd to 3rd A.D.) :
"The people of Tenedos keep a cow that is in calf for Dionysos Anthroporraistos (Man-Slayer), and as soon as it has calved they tend to it as though it were a woman in child-bed. But they put buskins on the newly born calf and then sacrifice it. But the man who dealt it the blow with the axe is pelted with stones by the populace and flees until he reaches the sea."


I. RHODES Main Town of Rhodes (Rhodos)

Strabo, Geography 14. 2. 5 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"The city of the Rhodians lies on the eastern promontory of Rhodes . . . [and it] has been adorned with many votive offerings, which for the most part are to be found in the Dionysion (Temple of Dionysos) . . . there are also the paintings of Protogenes, his Ialysos and also his Satyros, the latter standing by a pillar, on top of which stood a male partridge. And at this partridge, as would be natural, the people were so agape when the picture had only recently been set up, that they would behold him with wonder but overlook the Satyros, although the latter was a very great success. But the partridge-breeders were still more amazed, bringing their tame partridges and placing them opposite the painted partridge; for their partridges would make their call to the painting and attract a mob of people. But when Protogenes saw that the main part of the work had become subordinate, he begged those who were in charge of the sacred precinct to permit him to go there and efface the partridge, and so he did."


I. LIBETHRA (LEIBETHRA) Town of Pieria in Macedonia (Makedonia)

Pausanias, Description of Greece 9. 30. 9 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"On Olympos is a city Libethra, where the mountain faces, Makedonia, not far from which city is the tomb of Orpheus. The Libethrians, it is said, received out of Thrake an oracle from Dionysos, stating that when the sun should see the bones of Orpheus, then the city of Libethra would be destroyed by a boar."


Dionysus Type Sardanapallus | Greco-Roman marble statue from Posilipo C1st A.D. | British Museum, London
"Dionysus Type Sardanapallus", Greco-Roman marble statue from Posilipo C1st A.D., British Museum

The Thracian god Sabazios was closely identified with Dionysos.

Herodotus, Histories 5. 7 (trans. Godley) (Greek historian C5th B.C.) :
"They [the Thrakians] worship no gods but Ares, Dionysos [Sabazios], and Artemis [Bendis]. Their princes, however, unlike the rest of their countrymen, worship Hermes [Zalmoxis] above all gods and swear only by him, claiming him for their ancestor."

Herodotus, Histories 7. 111 :
"The Satrai [tribe of Thrake] . . . alone of the Thrakians have continued living in freedom to this day; they dwell on high mountains covered with forests of all kinds and snow, and they are excellent warriors. It is they who possess the place of divination sacred to Dionysos [i.e. Sabazios]. This place is in their highest mountains; the Bessoi, a clan of the Satrai, are the prophets of the shrine; there is a priestess who utters the oracle, as at Delphoi; it is no more complicated here than there."

Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 6. 11 (trans. Conybeare) (Greek biography C1st to 2nd A.D.) :
"If it is some Edonoi [a Thrakian tribe] or Lydoi (Lydians) who are conducting their Bakkhic revels, you are quite ready to believe that the earth will supply them with fountains of milk and wine, and give them to drink thereof."

Suidas s.v. Saboi (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Saboi : Demosthenes in the speech On Behalf of Ktesiphon mentions them. Some say that Saboi is the term for those who are dedicated to Sabazios, that is to Dionysos, just as those dedicated to Bakkhos are Bakkhoi. They say that Sabazios and Dionysos are the same. Thus some also say that the Greeks call the Bakkhoi Saboi. But Mnaseas of Patrai says that Sabazios is the son of Dionysos."


I. PERGAMON Main City of Teuthrania

Pausanias, Description of Greece 10. 18. 6 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"To make images of iron is a very difficult task, involving great labour. Very marvellous too are the heads of a lion and wild boar at Pergamon, also of iron, which were made as offerings to Dionysos."


Philostratus, Life of Apollonius of Tyana 6. 11 (trans. Conybeare) (Greek biography C1st to 2nd A.D.) :
"If it is some Edonoi [a Thrakian tribe] or Lydoi (Lydians) who are conducting their Bakkhic revels, you are quite ready to believe that the earth will supply them with fountains of milk and wine, and give them to drink thereof."

I. SMYRNA City in Aeolis - Lydia

Herodotus, Histories 1. 150 (trans. Godley) (Greek historian C5th B.C.) :
"This is how the Aiolians lost Smyrna. Some men of Kolophon, the losers in civil strife and exiles from their country, had been received by them into the town. These Kolophonian exiles waited for the time when the men of Smyrna were holding a festival to Dionysos outside the walls; then they shut the gates and so got the city."

II. LEBEDUS (LEBEDOS) Town near Colophon in Ionia - Lydia

Strabo, Geography 14. 1. 29 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"Lebedos, which is one hundred and twenty stadia distant from Kolophon. This is the meeting-place and settlement of all the Dionysiac artists in Ionia as far as the Hellespontos; and this is the place where both games and a general festal assembly are held every year in honor of Dionysos."


I. MYUS (MYOS) Town in Ionia - Caria (Karia)

Pausanias, Description of Greece 7. 2. 11 (trans. Jones) (Greek travelogue C2nd A.D.) :
"I found nothing in Myos [in Karia] except a white marble temple of Dionysos."


I. BYZANTIUM (BYZANTION) City of the Bosporus (Greek Colony)

Herodotus, Histories 4. 87 (trans. Godley) (Greek historian C5th B.C.) :
"[The Persian general Darius] when he had viewed the Bosporos also, he set up two pillars of white marble by it, engraving on the one in Assyrian and on the other in Greek characters the names of all the nations that were in his army : all the nations subject to him . . . These pillars were afterward carried by the Byzantines into their city and there used to build the altar of Artemis Orthosia, except for one column covered with Assyrian writing that was left beside the temple of Dionysos at Byzantion."


I. BORYSTHENITES Town in Scythia (Skythia) (Greek Colony)

Herodotus, Histories 4. 79 :
"He [Skyles an historical king of the Skythes who adopted Greek customs] conceived a desire to be initiated into the rites of Dionysos Bakkheios; and when he was about to begin the sacred mysteries (telete), he saw the greatest vision. He had in the city of the Borysthenites [a Greek colony] a spacious house, grand and costly (the same house I just mentioned), all surrounded by sphinxes and grypes (griffins) worked in white marble; this house was struck by a thunderbolt. And though the house burnt to the ground, Skyles none the less performed the rite to the end. Now the Skythians reproach the Greeks for this Bacchic revelling (bakkheuo), saying that it is not reasonable to set up a god who leads men to madness.So when Scyles had been initiated into the Bacchic rite (Bakkheios), some one of the Borysthenites scoffed at the Skythians : ‘You laugh at us, Skythians, because we play the Bacchant (bakkheuo) and the god (theos) possesses us; but now this deity (daimon) has possessed your own king, so that he plays the Bacchant (bakkheuo) and is maddened by the god (theos manenai). If you will not believe me, follow me now and I will show him to you.’
The leading men among the Scythians followed him, and the Borysthenite brought them up secretly onto a tower; from which, when Scyles passed by with his company of worshippers, they saw him playing the Bacchant (bakkheuo); thinking it a great misfortune, they left the city and told the whole army what they had seen. After this Skyles rode off to his own place; but the Skythians rebelled against him."

II. GELONUS (GELONOS) Town in Scythia (Greco-Scythian Colony)

Herodotus, Histories 4. 108 :
"The [Skythian] Boudinoi are a great and populous nation . . . They have a city built of wood, called Gelonos [settled by both Skythians and Greek colonists] . . . and their houses are wooden, and their temples; for there are temples of Greek gods among them, furnished in Greek style with images and altars and shrines of wood; and they honor Dionysos every two years (trieteris) with festivals and revelry (bakkheuo). For the Gelonoi are by their origin Greeks, who left their trading ports to settle among the Boudinoi; and they speak a language half Greek and half Skythian."


I. CYRENE (KYRENE) City in Libya (Greek Colony)

Suidas s.v. Astydromia (trans. Suda On Line) (Byzantine Greek lexicon C10th A.D.) :
"Astydromia (Town-running) : Among the Libyans it is like the birthday celebration of the city, and a Theodaisia festival, in which they honored Dionysos and the Nymphai; it seems to me they are hinting at both unmixed wine and the good mixture."


I. TARENTUM (TARENTON) Town in Apulia (Greek Colony)

Plato, Laws 637b (trans. Lamb) (Greek philosopher C4th B.C.) :
"The Dionysia (Festival of Dionysos) . . . a revel such as I once upon a time witnessed. . . at our [the Spartans] colony of Tarenton, too, saw the whole city drunk at the Dionysia."



Strabo, Geography 4. 4. 6 (trans. Jones) (Greek geographer C1st B.C. to C1st A.D.) :
"In the ocean, he [Poseidonios] says, there is a small island, not very far out to sea, situated off the outlet of the River Leigeros [in Gaul]; and the island is inhabited by the women of the Samnitai, and they are possessed by Dionysos and make this god propitious by appeasing him with mystic initiations as well as other sacred performances; and no man sets foot on the island, although the women themselves, sailing from it, have intercourse with the men and then return again. And, he says, it is a custom of theirs once a year to unroof the temple and roof it again on the same day before sunset, each woman brining her load to add to the roof; but the woman whose load falls out of her arms is rent to pieces by the rest, and they carry the pieces round the temple with the cry of ‘Euah’, and do not cease until their frenzy ceases; and it is always the case, he says, that some one jostles the woman who is to suffer this fate." [N.B. No doubt this was an indigenous god of the region identified with Dionysos.]





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