According to Ancient Greek and Roman mythology, Dionysus (or Bacchus) was the god of grapes and wine. In connection with these attributes, Dionysus was also associated with release and with extremes of state: from the giver of sensual pleasures, to more chaotic and destructive passions. Part of Dionysus’ power and mystery derives from the fact that he was a relatively young god, and the final addition to the pantheon of the twelve Olympians.
Silenus was the rustic god of wine-making and drunkenness, and always depicted as an old man. He was the foster father, tutor, and companion of the god, Dionysus, who was entrusted to Silenus’ care by Hermes after his birth from the thigh of Zeus. Silenus rode in the train of Dionysus, seated on the back of a donkey, and it was believed that he could predict the future when intoxicated.
After conquering Carthage at the end of the Third Punic War (146 BC), Rome established the province of Africa around the destroyed city. The province grew to encompass the coastlines of north-eastern Algeria and western Libya. ‘Terra sigillata’ is a type of fine red Roman pottery with glossy surface slip, which was made in specific areas of the Roman Empire, such as North Africa. Terra sigillata is most easily identifiable by its clear and shiny red paint, as well as by the relief decoration, which is modelled, embossed, or applied. In addition, some vessels are impressed with stamps or “seals”. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that terra sigillata means ‘clay bearing little images’.
To discover more about the cult of Dionysus please visit our relevant blog post: Dionysus: Madness, Release, and Wine.