Dionysiac festivals were celebrated throughout the Greek world. Dionysos’ earliest role connected him to agriculture and fertility. He protected grapevines, wine production, and the wine itself.
Over time, Dionysos adopted a wider role: as the Dionysiac dramatic festivals of the 5th century BC demonstrate, he introduced new forms of culture into Attica. Celebrations took place in the city, the country, and in private homes. Dionysos protected the dead, offered the potential for life after death, encouraged revelry, the inversion of social roles and customs, orgia (ecstatic worship), and for some, initiation into the Dionysiac mysteria (mysteries).
These are his powers: to blend us, by dance, with the worshipful band, to laugh to the sound of piping, and to vanquish care when to the sacred meal comes the gleam of the grape.
- Euripides, Bacchae, 378-85
Many processions took place at Dionysiac festivals. At the Athenian City Dionysia, the opening procession transported the image of Dionysos to the theatre. In another, metics (resident aliens) wore red clothing, and participants carried phalloi, ritual instruments, jugs, and loaves of bread.
These Attic black-figure lekythoi (oil flasks) depict symbolic Dionysiac processions: a woman mounts a chariot accompanied by two female figures and sprays of vine leaves. In another, a youth celebrates with a flute player, satyr, and a fellow reveller.
On the 'Day of the Choes' at the Athenian Anthesteria, new wine was ritually poured from large storage jars into choes (jugs). On this day, contrary to normal custom, masters dined with slaves, and family members gave miniature choes to children.
This fragmentary oinochoe depicts Dionysos with his wife Ariadne, attended by a satyr and a maenad. After being abandoned by Theseus, Dionysos married Ariadne who was subsequently killed by Artemis. According to Hesiod, Zeus, for the sake of his son, gave her the gift of eternal life and youth. Thus, the figure of Ariadne combined aspects of both life and death, destruction and renewal.