He was a patron deity of Rome’s plebeians and was part of their Aventine Triad. Ceres, an agricultural and fertility goddess of Rome’s Hellenised neighbours, and Libera, who was Liber’s female equivalent. Liber entered Rome’s historical tradition soon after the overthrow of the Roman monarchy, the establishment of the Republic revue de Viticulture, Volume 19… PDF the first of many threatened or actual plebeian secessions from Rome’s patrician authority. Liber’s associations with wine, inebriation, uninhibited freedom and the subversion of the powerful made him a close equivalent to the Greek god Dionysus, who was Romanised as Bacchus.
Very little is known of Liber’s official and unofficial cults during the early to middle Republican era. Their Dionysiac or Bacchic elements seem to have been regarded as tolerably ancient, home-grown and manageable by Roman authorities until 186 BC, shortly after the end of the Second Punic War. The Bacchanalia cults may have offered challenge to Rome’s traditional, official values and morality but they were practiced in Roman Italy as Dionysiac cults for several decades before their alleged disclosure, and were probably no more secretive than any other mystery cult. Nevertheless, their presence at the Aventine provoked an investigation. Republican era, Cicero could insist on the « non-identity of Liber and Dionysus » and describe Liber and Libera as children of Ceres.
Liber, like his Aventine companions, carried various aspects of his older cults into official Roman religion. Liber also personified male procreative power, which was ejaculated as the « soft seed » of human and animal semen. Lavinium, this was the principal focus for his month-long festival, when according to St. Liber’s festivals are timed to the springtime awakening and renewal of fertility in the agricultural cycle.
In Rome, his annual Liberalia public festival was held on March 17. It remained in use « apparently for decades after the edicts of Theodosius in 391 and 392 AD outlawing paganism ». Its abandonment, or perhaps its destruction « by zealous Christians », was so abrupt that much of its cult paraphernalia survived virtually intact beneath the building’s later collapse. Pliny’s description may be further evidence of time-honoured and persistent plebeian cultural connections with Magna Graecia, well into the Imperial era.