There is almost no question that the lifeblood of the Roman state was war, and that the decisions made by Roman politicians were usually in the interest of keeping this blood flowing. Through all of the endless warfare Rome managed to conquer most of the territory surrounding the Mediterranean Sea, and ruled most of this large swath of land by the proxy of co-opted local elites. Therefore it is difficult to imagine how Rome managed to keep its citizenry in check without instilling a powerful sense of fear in them. Despite being such a war like nation the Romans did not run a police state. They did brutally police their citizenry when they saw a threat to the state from within regarding cult like behavior from religions they would have considered strange.
Enter Livy and the Senatus consultum de Bacchanalibus of 186BCE. Livy was an historian who was living during the Augustan period of Rome, and is widely considered the chief source of information when it comes to the Bacchanalia. Livy was clearly no big fan of the idea of Bacchanalia as he writes:
“To their religious performances were added the pleasures of wine and feasting, to allure a greater number of proselytes. When wine, lascivious discourse, night, and the intercourse of the sexes had extinguished every sentiment of modesty, then debaucheries of every kind began to be practiced, as every person found at hand that sort of enjoyment to which he was disposed by the passion predominant in his nature.”
Aside from the likely Roman sentiment toward Bacchanalia, Livy’s testimony gives some background into what the religion was like. They were probably a bunch of sex crazed drunkards whom lived with a very loose moral code. A religion like Bacchanalia that is based on wine and sex would have attracted a good many people who were looking to have a good time, and the crowd it would have likely attracted would have probably been young. Especially when the religious ceremony to gain converts involved copious amounts of wine and food. Livy goes onto explain that this behavior spreads like a disease all over the Italian peninsula.
If anything, this goes to show how much of a non-police state ancient Rome was. The Roman authorities sat by as a religion that they would have considered strange and cult like spread across the Italian Peninsula. This speaks volumes to the efficacy of the Roman authorities ability to keep tabs on their people, or its speaks to the idea that the Roman authorities simply did not care as this was happening. As stated above Livy’s view of the Bacchanalia is extremely negative, and he goes so far to accuse those participating in murder, lies, and treachery. Considering how consumed Rome was with war, it is more likely that the Roman authorities did not care at least up until the point when Bacchanalia started to convert high ranking Roman elites.
Livy continues on by talking about a love story between Publius Aebutius whom had a father that held equestrian rank in...