The Right kind of Dionysians


Thus, the evidence for the cult of Dionysus at Istros does not stem from early times and it is rather unlikely that it was of Milesian origin. Even so, by the Roman period it had become one of the most, if not the most important cult of the city; the cult of Apollo Ietros may have surpassed it in prestige, but none other outshone it in popularity. This is shown not only by the sheer number of attestations, by the multitude of cult associations, but also by the fact that the priests of Dionysus belonged to the elites of the city or were closely connected to them. […] Cult associations in themselves were nothing new in the Western Pontic cities; witness the very active Dionysiac thiasos of Callatis, which in the 3rd century BC built its own temple and which later would emulate the practices of the polis concerning the honouring of its benefactors; or the less visibly active Poseidonian association of Taureastai at Istros. However, the associations discussed above, and other – mostly Dionysiac – were adapting to the new circumstances. Roman influence was active, not so much upon religious life directly, as upon social structures and mentalities, which in their turn influenced religious life. Thus, associations in the Greek East generally and Dionysiac ones in particular had become loyalist, filo-Imperial, trustworthy centers of political fidelity. Given the conservative outlook of such associations, it is not surprising that their members should wish to preserve their social status and prestige in their dealings with outside partners. (Ligia Ruscu, On cult associations at Istros and Tomis)