The long journey of Bacchus

Mosaic panel depicting muses «Triumph of Bacchus» . Mosaic of the Muses. Panel X (4th century AD)National Museum of Archaeology

Bacchus and the Muses

In the Roman territory that was to become Portugal, multiple representations of Bacchus are known. The Mosaic of the Muses, found in the Roman villa of Torre de Palma in Monforte, is the most outstanding of these, where in ´The Triumph of Bacchus in India’ is shown.

The Indian Triumph of Bacchus

In Roman Mythology, Bacchus’ journey through the Orient to India is well-known. Upon the return of Bacchus a triumphant procession is held,  accompanying him are: Silenus; Bassarids; Nymphs; Satyrus and even the god Pan. Bacchus, the namesake of the god Dionysis was one of the most well-known divinities in the Roman province of Lusitânia (later to become Portugal and Spain). 

Coach of Prince FranciscoNational Coach Museum

Lusitania and the Lusos

Luiz de Camões the great 16th Century Portuguese poet, called the god Bacchus the main obstacle to Portuguese naval expeditions, as it was he who was responsible for placing obstacles in the paths of sailors. Nonetheless, Camões thought the children of Bacchus to be the parents of Lusitania.

Camões (study for Camões and the Tágides) (1893/1894) by Columbano Bordalo PinheiroAnastácio Gonçalves House-Museum

«That, That, the loved EARTH where I was born!
To which if kinder HEAVEN do so dispose
That I (this Task performed) alive return:
With It, my dying Eyes, there let me close.
From LYSUS (which the Latines LUSUS turn)
Old BACCHUS'S Camarade, or (as some suppose)
His Son, was LUSITANIA'S name derived,
When in that Country his Plantation thrived».
Camões, Os Lusíadas, Canto III.

Coach of Prince FranciscoNational Coach Museum

Mythology and the Carriages

Bacchus themed allegories can be found throughout Portuguese decorative arts, gardens and monuments. These themes were also used regularly used to decorate the exterior of Portuguese carriages with allegories, such as the ‘four seasons’, in which autumn is personified by Bacchus, Silenus the tutor of Bacchus also makes regular appearances.

Embassy Cars Embassy CarsNational Coach Museum

Bacchus and Silenum

Silenus, Bacchus’ tutor is a regularly featured decorative motif, presented either as part of Bacchus’ entourage or alone. He is often characterised as older than the satyrs and given horse-like features, rather than those of the goat - used to characterise the satyrs.

Coach of the PrincessesNational Coach Museum

Bacchus and Venus

The Carriage of the Infantas, a ceremonial vehicle dating to the 18th Century, was used by the four infanta daughters of King D. José I: D. Maria Francisca who would later become Queen D. Maria I; D. Maria Ana Francisca Josefa; D. Maria Francisca Doroteia and D. Maria Francisca Benedita. The carriage is richly decorated with rocaille motifs and many mythological figures such as Venus, who was one of the divinities believed to have aided the Portuguese in discovering the sea-route to India.

Coach of the PrincessesNational Coach Museum

Venus and the Coche of the Princesses

Venus, the goddess of beauty and love is the namesake of the Greek divinity Aphrodite who was born from the mist of breaking waves. It is no wonder this goddess was adopted by Luiz de Camões, in his epic poem, as the guardian of the Portuguese maritime explorations.The representation of Venus appears often throughout the history of Portugal.In Luiz de Camões’ epic poem, Os Lusíadas, Venus symbolizes not just a pagan divinity, but the protector of maritime voyages.

Triumph of the Marine Venus (about 1713) by Sebastiano RicciThe J. Paul Getty Museum

The Beautiful Venus

«Fair VENUS holds up the contrary Theam
Affected to the Lusitanian-Nation,
For the much likeness she observ'd in Them
To her old ROME, for which she had such passion,
In their great hearts, in the propitious beam
Of their to-AFFRICK-fatal constellation,
And in the charming musick of their Tongue,
Which she thinks Latine with small dross among».

Lusíadas, Canto I, O Consílio dos Deuses.

Bacchus and Ariadne (1520-3) by TitianThe National Gallery, London

Bacchus and Ariadne

Ariadne the daughter of Minos, king of the Island of Crete was a youth of exquisite beauty, but was without a suitor. She became known in mythology for having helped Thesius slay the Minotaur, by giving him with a yarn of wool thus allowing Thesius to find his way back through the labyrinth.

Theseus had promised to wed Ariadne upon his escape from Crete, but did not. During their escape, they decided to stop and rest on the island Naxos where Thesius abandoned Ariadne in her sleep. Desolate, Ariadne crossed the whole Island in search of Thesius, by nighttime feeling exhausted, she fell asleep. Aphrodite appeared to her in her dreams and announced that she would be given a better outcome, shortly later Bacchus appeared on the Island with Airadne awaking by his side.

Coach of the Princesses, From the collection of: National Coach Museum
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Satyrs or Fauns in the Coche of the PrincessesIn the same panel where Bacchus is represented, we can also find satyrs and fauns - symbols of the natural world.

Coach of the PrincessesNational Coach Museum

The Satyrs or Fauns in Camões

On the Carriage of the Infantas in the panel where Bacchus, Cibele and Ceres  are depicted, we can also find satyrs and fauns symbols of the natural world who accompany Bacchus. 

Decorative detail of D. João V's carriage (20th century, 1st quarter) by Faria, EduardoNational Coach Museum

«We invite you to visit the carriages for yourself and journey through the mythological worlds of Bacchus and Camões!»

Credits: Story


Coordination: Silvana Bessone
Conception: Teresa Abreu
Contents: Filomena Barata; Rosinda Palma; Teresa Abreu
Photographs: DGPC-DDF-MNCoches (Pedro Beltrão; Nuno Augusto)
Translation: Luis Ramos Pinto
Digital production: Luís Ramos Pinto

BESSONE, Silvana, «De passeio com deuses e heróis» in Actas do Colóquio Internacional, Mytos»
BOTTO, J. M. Pereira, «Prontuário Analítico dos Carros Nobres da Casa Real Portuguesa e das Carruagens de Gala», Imprensa Nacional, tomo I, Lisboa, 1909
PEREIRA, João Castel-Branco, «Tronos Rolantes da Monarquia Portuguesa», in Oceanos, nº 3, Lisboa, 1990

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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