Near the site where the Black Sea and the Aegean meet (often considered the boundary between Asia and Europe) grew up the polis of Perinthos, originally a Samian colony. Many roads met here, and it had a prosperous harbor making it a strong rival of Byzantion – which would eventually be rechristened Constantinople and become the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, until it fell to the marauding Turks and was named something else.
Among the most important Gods in the pantheon of Perinthos was Dionysos. The establishment of his cult here had Sibyline sanction:
Greetings! Oracle of the Sibyl: “When Bakchos, after having shouted euai, is beaten, then blood, fire, and ash will be united.” Set up by Spellios Euethis, archiboukolos, Herakleides son of Alexander being archimystos, Alexandros being speirarchos, Arrianos son of Agathias, Heroxenos son of Magnus, Soterichos son of Dadas, Meniphilos son of Menophilos. (IPerinthos 57)
Would that more of the text had survived!
It is notable that the religious association was referred to as a speira rather than the more common thiasos, as there were some minor but significant differences as Thayer’s Greek Lexicon notes:
σπεῖρα speîra, spi’-rah; of immediate Latin origin, but ultimately a derivative of αἱρέω (to take for oneself, to prefer, choose, to choose by vote, elect to office) in the sense of its cognate εἱλίσσω (to roll up or together).
1. anything rolled into a circle or ball, anything wound, rolled up, folded together
2. a military cohort
3. a division of a legion
4. any band, company, or detachment of soldiers
5. a squad of Levitical janitors
6. a religious guild
They were not the only game in town, for there was another association attached to a temple of Dionysos:
For good fortune! For the health, victory, and eternal duration of our lord emperor Lucius Septimius Severus Pertinax Arabicus Adiabenicus, of Marcus Aurelius Antonius Caesar, of his entire household, of the sacred Senate, and of the People of Perinthos, which oversees the temple. Marcus son of Horos has dedicated the pillar to the Bakcheion of Asians (Asianoi) from his own resources, for the eternal honor and goodwill towards him. This was done when Statilius Barbaros was governor, Pomponius Justinianus was in charge of the sacred things (hieromnemon), Maximus son of Claudius was chief initiate, and Eutychos son of Epiktetos was priest. Prosper. (IPerinthos 56)
And even a third group called the Sparganiōtai, mentioned in a metrical inscription on the grave of one of its members:
. . . and for Sophrosyne. Now if anyone buries someone here, that person will pay to my company (speirē), whose members are named Sparganiōtai … What should the greeting be, oh passers-by? This–what you see here–is life: The sounds of the cicada stop suddenly, the rose blooms but withers quickly, the shelter was tied but it loosens and the wind returns. As a mortal man, he speaks; as a corpse, he stiffens. The soul is carried away and I have been released. (IPerinthos 146)
Which naturally calls to mind the words of Damaskios and Orpheus:
Dionysos is the cause of release, whence the God is also called Lusios. And Orpheus says: “Men performing rituals will send hekatombs in every season throughout the year and celebrate festivals, seeking release from lawless ancestors. You, having power over them, whomever you wish you will release from harsh toil and the unending goad.” (Commentary on the Phaido 1.11)
And Proklos and Orpheus:
The happy life, far from the roaming of generation, that is desired by those who, in Orpheus, are made initiates of Dionysos and Kore in order to ‘cease from the circle and enjoy respite from disgrace.’ (Commentary on the Timaios 3.296.7)
Perinthos went through its own παλιγγενεσία or rebirth.
The city was sacked by barbarians, lay dormant for a while and then in the 4th century e.v. was rebranded as Herakleia, becoming a favorite getaway and summer resort of the Byzantine nobility. According to Procopius de Aed. 4.9 Justinian built a stunning imperial palace there and restored the aqueducts as a benefaction to its citizens.