Anyone reading the ancient hymns will come across something interesting: many of the hymns to Dionysos are either directed at 'Bakkhos' instead of 'Dionysos'. This can be somewhat confusing, so today I want to address these two most frequently used names of the same God.

Technically, 'Bakkhos' is an epithet of Dionysos. An epithet is an attachment to the name of a God or Goddess, used to indicate either a specific domain of the Deity, a specific origin myth or region from which the Deity came, or an entirely different entity, through either domain or origin. Within ritual, epithets are used out of respect, devotion, and out of practicality. It's seen as respectful to address the Gods by Their various names. Within poetry, epithets are used out of respect, as clarification and to add some flair to the poetry written. An epithet is usually placed before ('Pallas Athena') or after ('Zeus Ombrios') the name of the deity in question.

Some epithets become synonyms in addition to being epithets. Bakkhos, for example, was originally an epithet but became another name for Dionysos. In fact, it is the name for Dionysos that was eventually adopted by the Romans. 'Bakkhos' refers to Dionysos' role as the noisy or riotous God. It was named after the frenzy He induces: bakkheia (Βακχεία). 'Dionysos', by the way, comes from the Greek 'Dios (Διος) meaning 'of Zeus' combined with 'Nysa', the name of the region where young Dionysos was said to have been raised.

The ecstatic cult of Dionysus is considered indigenous, predating Hellenic civilization. Assuming the Dionysus cult arrived in Hellas with the importation of wine, it probably first emerged about 6000 BC in one of two places: the Zagros Mountains and borderlands of Mesopotamia and Persia (with a rich wine culture via Asia Minor), or from wild vines on the mountain slopes of Libya and other regions in North Africa. The latter provided wine to ancient Egypt wine from about 2500 BC and was home to ecstatic rites involving animal possession. In any case, Minoan Krete was the next link in the chain, importing wine from the Egyptians, Thracians and Phoenicians and exporting it to colonies such as Hellas. The Mysteries probably took shape in Minoan Krete from about 3000 to 1000 BC, since the name 'Dionysos' exists nowhere other than Krete and Hellas.

Both names refer to the same God, unless you are speaking of the Roman version of Dionysos. Just like Zeus and Jupiter and Ares and Mars, the two are separate deities (in my opinion). As with all epithets, 'Dionysos' refers to the whole of the Gods--all His domains, all of His mythology, all of His person. 'Bakkhos', however, refers to a more specific part of Him, the part that engages in frenzied nocturnal rites and takes in copious amounts of wine (and sex).