15. After despatching these officers to their several employments, the consuls mounted the rostrum; and, having summoned an assembly of the people, one of the consuls, when he had finished the solemn form of prayer which the magistrates are accustomed to pronounce before they address the people, proceeded thus: Romans, to no former assembly was this solemn supplication to the gods more suitable or even more necessary: as it serves to remind you, that these are the deities whom your forefathers pointed out as the objects of your worship, veneration, and prayers: and not those which infatuated men’s minds with corrupt and foreign modes of religion, and drove them, as if goaded by the furies, to every lust and every vice. I am at a loss to know what I should conceal, or how far I ought to speak out; for I dread lest, if I leave you ignorant of any particular, I should give room for carelessness, or if I disclose the whole, that I should too much awaken your fears. That the Bacchanalian rites have subsisted for some time past in every country in Italy, and are at present performed in many parts of this city also, I am sure you must have been informed, not only by report, but by the nightly noises and horrid yells that resound through the whole city; but still you are ignorant of the nature of that business. Part of you think it is some kind of worship of the gods; others, some excusable sport and amusement, and that, whatever it may be, it concerns but a few. As regards the number, if I tell you that they are many thousands, that you would be immediately terrified to excess is a necessary consequence; unless I further acquaint you who and what sort of persons they are. First, then, a great part of them are women, and this was the source of the evil; the rest are males, but nearly resembling women; actors and pathics in the vilest lewdness; night revelers, driven frantic by wine, noises of instruments, and clamors. The conspiracy, as yet, has no strength; but it has abundant means of acquiring strength, for they are becoming more numerous every day. Your ancestors would not allow that you should ever assemble casually, without some good reason; that is, either when the standard was erected on the Janiculum, and the army led out on occasion of elections; or when the tribunes proclaimed a meeting of the plebeians, or some of the magistrates summoned you to it. And they judged it necessary, that whatever a multitude was, there should be a lawful governor of that multitude present. Of what kind do you suppose are the meetings of these people? In the first place, held in the night, and in the next, composed promiscuously of men and women. If you knew at what ages the males are initiated, you would feel not only pity but also shame for them. Romans, can you think youths initiated, under such oaths as theirs, are fit to be made soldiers? That arms should be intrusted with wretches brought out of that temple of obscenity? Shall these, contaminated with their own foul debaucheries and those of others, be champions for the chastity of your wives and children?
16. “But the mischief were less, if they were only effeminated by their practices; of that the disgrace would chiefly affect themselves; if they refrained their hands from outrage, and their thoughts from fraud. But never was there in the state an evil of so great a magnitude, or one that extended to so many persons or so many acts of wickedness. Whatever deeds of villainy have, during late years, been committed through lust; whatever, through fraud; whatever, through violence; they have all, be assured, proceeded from that association alone. They have not yet perpetrated all the crimes for which they combined. The impious assembly at present confines itself to outrages on private citizens; because it has not yet acquired force sufficient to crush the commonwealth; but the evil increases and spreads daily; it is already too great for the private ranks of life to contain it, and aims its views at the body of the state. Unless you take timely precautions, Romans, their nightly assembly may become as large as this, held in open day, and legally summoned by a consul. Now they one by one dread you collected together in the assembly; presently, when you shall have separated and retired to your several dwellings, in town and country, they will again come together, and will hold a consultation on the means of their own safety, and, at the same time, of your destruction. Thus united, they will cause terror to every one of you. Each of you, therefore, ought to pray that his kindred may have behaved with wisdom and prudence; and if lust, if madness, has dragged any of them into that abyss, to consider such a person as the relation of those with whom he has conspired for every disgraceful and reckless act, and not as one of your own. I am not secure, lest some, even of yourselves, may have erred through mistake; for nothing is more deceptive in appearance than false religion.
When the authority of the gods is held out as a pretext to cover vice, fear enters our minds, lest, in punishing the crimes of men, we may violate some divine right connected therewith. Numberless decisions of the pontiffs, decrees of the senate, and even answers of the haruspices free you from religious scruples of this character. How often in the ages of our fathers was it given in charge to the magistrates, to prohibit the performance of any foreign religious rites; to banish strolling sacrificers and soothsayers from the forum, the circus, and the city; to search for, and burn, books of divination; and to abolish every mode of sacrificing that was not conformable to the Roman practice! For they, completely versed in every divine and human law, maintained that nothing tended so strongly to the subversion of religion as sacrifice, when we offered it not after the institutions of our forefathers, but after foreign customs. Thus much I thought necessary to mention to you beforehand, that no vain scruple might disturb your minds when you should see us demolishing the places resorted to by the Bacchanalians, and dispersing their impious assemblies. We shall do all these things with the favor and approbation of the gods; who, because they were indignant that their divinity was dishonored by those people’s lusts and crimes, have drawn forth their proceedings from hidden darkness into the open light; and who have directed them to be exposed, not that they may escape with impunity, but in order that they may be punished and suppressed. The senate have committed to me and my colleague an inquisition extraordinary concerning that affair. What is requisite to be done by ourselves, in person, we will do with energy. The charge of posting watches through the city, during the night, we have committed to the inferior magistrates; and, for your parts, it is incumbent on you to execute vigorously whatever duties are assigned you, and in the several places where each will be placed, to perform whatever orders you shall receive, and to use your best endeavors that no danger or tumult may arise from the treachery of the party involved in the guilt.
17. They then ordered the decrees of the senate to be read, and published a reward for any discoverer who should bring any of the guilty before them, or give information against any of the absent, adding, that if any person accused should fly, they would limit a certain day upon which, if he did not answer when summoned, he would be condemned in his absence; and if any one should be charged who was out of Italy, they would allow him a longer time, if he should wish to come and make his defense. They then issued an edict, that “no person whatever should presume to buy or sell anything for the purpose of leaving the country; or to receive or conceal, or by any means aid the fugitives.” On the assembly being dismissed, great terror spread throughout the city; nor was it confined merely within the walls, or to the Roman territory, for everywhere throughout the whole of Italy alarm began to be felt, when the letters from the guest-friends were received, concerning the decree of the senate, and what passed in the assembly, and the edict of the consuls. During the night, which succeeded the day in which the affair was made public, great numbers, attempting to fly, were seized, and brought back by the triumvirs, who had posted guards at all gates; and informations were lodged against many, some of whom, both men and women, put themselves to death. Above seven thousand men and women are said to have taken the oath of the association. But it appeared that the heads of the conspiracy were the two Catinii, Marcus and Caius, Roman plebeians; Lucius Opiturnius, a Faliscan; and Minius Cerrinius, a Campanian: that from these proceeded all their criminal practices, and that these were the chief priests and founders of the sect. Care was taken that they should be apprehended as soon as possible. They were brought before the consuls, and, confessing their guilt, caused no delay to the ends of justice.
18. But so great were the numbers that fled from the city, that because the lawsuits and property of many persons were going to ruin, the praetors, Titus Maenius and Marcus Licinius, were obliged, under the direction of the senate, to adjourn their courts for thirty days, until the inquiries should be finished by the consuls. The same deserted state of the law-courts, since the persons, against whom charges were brought, did not appear to answer, nor could be found in Rome, necessitated the consuls to make a circuit of the country towns, and there to make their inquisitions and hold the trials. Those who, as it appeared, had been only initiated, and had made after the priest, and in the most solemn form, the prescribed imprecations, in which the accursed conspiracy for the perpetration of every crime and lust was contained, but who had not themselves committed, or compelled others to commit, any of those acts to which they were bound by the oath—all such they left in prison. But those who had forcibly committed personal defilements or murders, or were stained with the guilt of false evidence, counterfeit seals, forged wills, or other frauds, all these they punished with death. A greater number were executed than thrown into prison; indeed, the multitude of men and women who suffered in both ways, was very considerable. The consuls delivered the women, who were condemned, to their relations, or to those under whose guardianship they were, that they might inflict the punishment in private; if there did not appear any proper person of the kind to execute the sentence, the punishment was inflicted in public. A charge was then given to demolish all the places where the Bacchanalians had held their meetings; first in Rome, and then throughout all Italy; excepting those wherein should be found some ancient altar or consecrated statue. With regard to the future, the senate passed a decree, “that no Bacchanalian rites should be celebrated in Rome or in Italy;” and ordering that, “in case any person should believe some such kind of worship incumbent upon him, and necessary; and that he could not, without offence to religion, and incurring guilt, omit it, he should represent this to the city praetor, and the praetor should lay the business before the senate. If permission were granted by the senate, when not less than one hundred members were present, then he might perform those rites, provided that no more than five persons should be present at the sacrifice, and that they should have no common stock of money, nor any president of the ceremonies, nor priest.”
– Livy, History of Rome 34:15-18