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Rex sacrorum
Virgo Vestalis

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Rex sacrorum
Virgo Vestalis

Roman Religion Overview

AUGUR (sg) (pl: augures)



Augur or auspex meant a diviner by birds, but came in course of time, like the Greek οἰωνός, to be applied in a more extended sense: his art was called augurium or auspicium. Plutarch relates that the augures were originally termed auspices [1] , and there seems no reason to doubt this statement as Hartung does [2] , on the authority of Servius [3] . The authority of Plutarch is further supported by the fact, that in Roman marriages the person who represented the diviner of ancient times, was called auspex and not augur [4] . Rubino[5] draws a distinction between the meaning of the words auspex and augur, though he believes that they were used to indicate the same person, the former referring simply to the observation of the signs, and the latter to the interpretation of them. This view is certainly supported by the meaning of the verbs auspicari and augurari, and the same distinction seems to prevail between the words auspicium and augurium, when they are used together[6] , though they are often applied to the same signs. The word auspex was supplanted by augur, but the scientific term for the observation continued on the contrary to be auspicium and not augurium. The etymology of auspex is clear enough (from avis, and the root spec or spic), but that of augur is not so certain. The ancient grammarians derived it from avis and gero[7] , while some modern writers suppose the root to be aug, signifying "to see," and the same as the Sanscrit akshi, the Latin oculus, and the German auge, and ur to be a termination; the word would thus correspond to the English seer. Others again believe the word to be of Etruscan origin, which is not incompatible with the supposition, as we shall show below, that the auspices were of Latin or Sabine origin, since the word augur may thus have been introduced along with the Etruscan rites, and thus have superseded the original term auspex. There is, however, no certainty on this point; and, although the first mentioned etymology seems improbable, yet from the analogy of au-spex and au-ceps, we are inclined to believe that the former part of the word is of the same root as avis, and the latter may be connected with gero, more especially as Priscian[8] gives auger and augeratus, as the more ancient forms of augur and auguratus. By Greek writers on Roman affairs, the augurs are called οἰωνοπόλοι, οἰωνοσκόποι, οἰωνισταί, οἱ ἐπ᾽ οἰωνοῖς ἱερεῖς. The augurs formed a collegium at Rome, but their history, functions, and duties will be better explained after we have obtained a clear idea of what the auspices were, and who had the power of taking them.[9]


This section (in its entirety) quotes from the book, The Religion of Ancient Rome:


Augury, Gods, Signs, Business, Augur, Roman

"So far we have been considering the regular relations of man and god, seen in recurring or special offerings, in vows and in acts of purification and lustration—all based on the contract-notion, all endeavours on man's part to fulfill his bounden duty, that the gods may be constrained in turn to theirs. But so strong was the feeling of divine presence and influence in the Roman's mind, that he was not content with doing his best by these regular means to secure the favour of the gods, but wished before undertaking any business of importance to be able to assure himself of their approval. His practical common-sense evolved, as it were, a complete 'code'—in the flight and song of birds, in the direction of the lightning-flash, in the conduct of men and animals—by which he believed that the gods communicated to him their intentions: sometimes these indications (auspicia) might be vouchsafed by the gods unasked (oblativa), sometimes they would be given in answer to request (impetrativa): but as to their meaning, there could be no doubt, provided they were interpreted by one skilled in the lore and tradition of augury. We may observe here, though our evidence is much slighter, the same three stages which we have noticed in the sacrificial worship, the homely domestic auspices, the auguries of the agricultural life, and the organised system in the state.

"In the household the use of auspices was in origin at any rate very general indeed: 'Nothing,' Cicero tells us, 'of importance used to be undertaken unless with the sanction of the auspices' (auspicato). The right of interrogating the will of the gods, rested, as one might expect, with the master of the house, assisted no doubt by the private augur as the repository of lore and the interpreter of what the master saw. But of the details of domestic augury we know but little. Cato in one passage insists on the extreme importance of silence for the purpose, and Festus suggests that this was secured by the master of the house rising in the depths of the night to inspect the heavens. We have seen already that the taking of the auspices played an important part in the ceremonies of betrothal and marriage, and that the indications of the divine will might be very varied we may gather from a story in Cicero. An aunt wishing to take the auspices for her niece's betrothal, conducted her into an open consecrated space (sacellum) and sat down on the stool of augury (sella) with her niece standing at her side. After a while the girl tired and asked her aunt to give her a little of the stool: the aunt replied, 'My child, I give up my seat to you': nothing further happened and this answer turned out in fact to be the auspicious sign: the aunt died, the niece married the widower and so became mistress of the house.

"Of augury in agricultural life we have some indication in the annual observance of the 'spring augury' (augurium verniserum) and the midsummer ceremony of the augurium canarium, which seems to have been a combination of the offering of a red dog (possibly to avert mildew) and an augury for the success of the crops. To the rustic stratum possibly belongs also the augurium salutis populi, though later it was a yearly act celebrated whenever the Roman army was not at war and so became connected with the shutting of the temple of Ianus.

"The state greatly developed and organised the whole system of auguries and auspices. The college of augurs ranked second only in importance to the pontifical college, and their duties with regard to both augury and auspice are sufficiently clear. Like the pontifices in relation to cult, they are the storehouse of all tradition, and to them appeal may be made in all cases of doubt both public and private: they were jealous of their secrets and in later times their mutual consciousness of deception became proverbial. The right of augury—in origin simply the inspection of the heavens—was theirs alone, and it was exercised particularly on the annual occasions mentioned and at the installation of priests, of which we get a typical instance in Livy's account of the consecration of Numa.

"The auspices on the other hand—in origin 'signs from birds' (avis, spicere)—were the province of the magistrate about to undertake some definite action on behalf of the state whether at home or on the field of battle. Here the augur's functions were merely preparatory and advisory. It was his duty to prepare the templum, the spot from which the auspices are to be taken—always a square space, with boundaries unbroken except at the entrance, not surrounded by wall or necessarily by line, but clearly indicated (effatus) by the augur, and marked off (liberatus) from the surroundings: in the comitia and other places in Rome there were permanent templa, but elsewhere they must be specially made. The magistrate then enters the templum and observes the signs (spectio): if there is any doubt as to interpretation—and seeing the immense complication of the traditions (disciplina), this must often have been the case—the augur is referred to as interpreter. The signs demanded (impetrativa) were originally always connected with the appearance, song or flight of birds—higher or lower, from left to right or right to left, etc. Later others were included, and with the army in the field it became the regular practice to take the auspices from the feeding of the sacred chickens (pulli): the best sign being obtained if, in their eagerness to feed, they let fall some of the grain from their beaks (tripudium solistimum)—a result not difficult to secure by previous treatment and a careful selection of the kind of grain supplied to them. But besides this deliberate 'asking for signs,' public business might at any moment be interrupted if the gods voluntarily sent an indication of disapproval (oblativa): the augurs then had always to be at hand to advise the magistrates whether notice should be taken of such signs, and, if so, what was their signification, and they even seem to have had certain rights of reporting themselves (nuntiatio) the occurrence of adverse ones. The sign of most usual occurrence would be lightning—sometimes such an unexpected event as the seizure of a member of the assembly with epilepsy (morbus comitialis)—and we know to what lengths political obstructionists went in later times in the observation of fictitious signs, or even the prevention of business by the mere announcement of their intention to see an unfavourable omen (servare de caelo). The complications and ramifications of the augur's art are infinite, but the main idea should by now be plain, and it must be remembered that the kindred art of the soothsayer (haruspex), oracles, and the interpretation of fate by the drawing of lots (sortes) are all later foreign introductions: auspice and augury are the only genuine Roman methods for interpreting the will of the gods.

"Here then in household, fields, and state, we have a second type of relation to the gods, running parallel to the ordinary practice of sacrifice and prayer, distinct yet not fundamentally different. As it is man's function to propitiate the higher spirits and prevent, if possible, the wrecking of his plans by their opposition, so it is his business, if he can, to find out their intentions before he engages on any serious undertaking. As in the ius sacrum his legal mind leads him to assume that the deities accept the responsibility of the contract, when his own part is fulfilled, so here, like a practical man of business, he assumes their construction of a code of communication, which he has learned to interpret. In its origin it is a notion common to many primitive religions, but in its elaboration it is peculiarly and distinctively Italian, and, as we know it, Roman."[10]


Augures were specialists assisting magistrates in taking the auspices and advising the Senate and the magistrates on various aspects of divination, not the least of which was the proper handling of prodigies and portents. They also created templa, or sacred spaces.

The College of augurs kept records of "...the veteres res, that is, those signs the meaning of which had been established already in the (remote) past empirically through the process of long-continued observation [11] -those signs were recorded in the books of the augurs, their meaning codified once and for ever;..."[12] We can see an example of this function in Dionysius of Halicarnasus.

"But some relate that the ancestors of the Romans from very early times, even before they had learned it from the Tyrrhenians, looked upon the lightning that came from the left as a favourable omen. For ... Ascanius, ..., his situation being now desperate, he prayed [for] favourable omens, and thereupon out of a clear sky there appeared a flash of lightning coming from the left; and as this battle had the happiest outcome, this sign continued to be regarded as favourable by his posterity."[13]

The correlation of the omen (lightning on the left) in "very early times" with the positive outcome was noted and it became enshrined as a principle of Roman augury.[14]

Origins and Historical Development

An acquaintance with this subject is one of primary importance to every student of Roman history and antiquities. In the most ancient times, no transaction took place, either of a private or a public nature, without consulting the auspices, and hence we find the question asked in a well-known passage of Livy [15] ,[16]

"Auspiciis hanc urbem conditam esse, auspiciis bello ac pace, domo militiaeque omnia geri, quis est, qui ignoret?"

An outline of the most important facts connected with the auspices, which is all that our limits will allow, therefore, claims our attentive consideration.

All the nations of antiquity were impressed with the firm belief, that the will of the gods and future events were revealed to men by certain signs, which were sent by the gods as marks of their favour to their sincere worshippers. Hence, the arguments of the Stoics that if there are gods, they care for men, and that if they care for men they must send them signs of their will [17] , expressed so completely the popular belief, that whoever questioned it, would have been looked upon in no other light than an atheist. But while all nations sought to become acquainted with the will of the gods by various modes, which gave rise to innumerable kinds of divination, there arose in each separate nation a sort of national belief that the particular gods, who watched over them, revealed the future to them in a distinct and peculiar manner. Hence, each people possessed a national μαντική or divinatio, which was supported by the laws and institutions of the state, and was guarded from mixture with foreign elements by stringent enactments. Thus, the Romans looked upon astrology and the whole prophetic art of the Chaldaeans as a dangerous innovation; they paid little attention to dreams, and hardly any to inspired prophets and seers. They had on the contrary learned from the Etruscans to attach much importance to extraordinary appearances in nature — Prodigia; in common with other neighbouring nations they endeavoured to learn the future, especially in war, by consulting the entrails of victims; they laid great stress upon favourable or unfavourable omina, and in times of danger and difficulty were accustomed to consult the Sibylline books, which they had received from the Greeks; but the mode of divination, which was peculiar to them, and essentially national, consisted in those signs included under the name of auspicia. The observation of the auspices was, according to the unanimous testimony of the ancient writers, more ancient even than Rome itself, which is constantly represented as founded under the sanction of the auspices, and the use of them is therefore associated with the Latins, or the earliest inhabitants of the city. There seems, therefore, no reason to assign to them an Etruscan origin, as many modern writers are inclined to do, while there are several facts pointing to an opposite conclusion. Cicero, who was himself an augur, in his work De Divinatione, constantly appeals to the striking difference between the auspicia and the Etruscan system of divination; and, while he frequently mentions other nations which paid attention to the flight of birds as intimations of the divine will, he never once mentions this practice as in existence among the Etruscans [18] . The belief that the flight of birds gave some intimation of the will of the gods seems to have been prevalent among many nations of antiquity, and was common to the Greeks, as well as the Romans; but it was only among the latter people that it was reduced to a complete system, governed by fixed rules, and handed down from generation to generation. In Greece, the oracles supplanted the birds, and the future was learned from Apollo and other gods, rarely from Zeus, who possessed very few oracles in Greece.[19]

The contrary was the case at Rome: it was from Jupiter that the future was learnt, and the birds were regarded as his messengers [20] . It must be remarked in general, that the Roman auspices were essentially of a practical nature; they gave no information respecting the course of future events, they did not inform men what was to happen, but simply taught them what they were to do, or not to do; they assigned no reason for the decision of Iuppiter, — they simply announced, yes or no.[21]

Types of Augury Signs

Lightning that came from the left was a favourable omen to Roman Augurs

The words augurium and auspicium came to be used in course of time to signify the observation of various kinds of signs. They were divided into five sorts:[22]

  • ex caelo
  • ex avibus
  • ex tripudiis
  • ex quadrupedibus, and
  • ex diris

Of these, the last three formed no part of the ancient auspices. The observation of signs in the heavens, such as lightning, was naturally connected with observing the heavens in order to watch the birds; and therefore, must in early times have formed part of the auspices; for in an early stage of society, lightning and similar phenomena have been always looked upon as sent by the gods. A few words must be said on each of these five kinds of augury.

  • Ex caelo. This included the observation of the various kinds of thunder and lightning, and was regarded as the most important, maximum auspicium [23]

. The interpretation of these phenomena was rather Etruscan than Roman; and the only point connected with them which deserves mention here, is, that whenever it was reported by a person authorised to take the auspices, that Jupiter thundered or lightened, the comitia could not be held [24] .

  • Ex avibus. It was only a few birds which could give auguries among the Romans [25]

. They were divided into two classes:

Oscines, those which gave auguries by singing, or their voice, and Alites, those which gave auguries by their flight[26]

. To the former class, belonged the raven (corvus) and the crow (cornix), the first of these giving a favourable omen auspicium ratum when it appeared on the right, the latter, on the contrary, when it was seen on the left[27] , likewise the owl[28] , and the hen[29] . To the aves alites belonged first of all the eagle[30] , who is called pre-eminently the bird of Jupiter[31] , and next the vulture (vultur, and with these two the avis sanqualis, also called ossifraga, and the immussulus or immusculus are probably also to be classed[32] . Some birds were included both among the oscines and the alites: such were the Picus Martius, and Feronius, and the Parrha[33] . These were the principal birds consulted in the auspices. Every sound and motion of each bird had a different meaning, according to the different circumstances, or times of the year when it was observed, but the particulars do not deserve further notice here. When the birds favoured an undertaking, they were said addicere, admittere or secundare, and were then called addictivae, admissivae, secundae, or praepetes: when unfavourable they were said abdicere, arcere, refragari, &c., and were then called adversae or alterae. The birds which gave unfavourable omens were termed funebres, inhibitae, lugubres, malae, &c., and such auspices were called clivia and clamatoria.

  • Ex Tripudiis. These auspices were taken from the feeding of chickens, and were especially employed on military expeditions. It was the doctrine of the augurs that any bird could give a tripudium[34]

, but it became the practice in later times to employ only chickens (pulli) for this purpose. They were kept in a cage, under care of a person called the pullarius; and when the auspices were to be taken, the pullarius opened the cage and threw to the chickens pulse or a kind of soft cake. If they refused to come out or to eat, or uttered a cry (occinerent), or beat their wings, or flew away, the signs were considered unfavourable[35] . On the contrary, if they ate greedily, so that something fell from their mouth and struck the earth, it was called tripudium solistimum, (tripudium quasi terripavium, solistimum, from solum, according to the ancient writers,[36] , and was held a favourable sign. Two other kinds of tripudia are mentioned by Festus, the tripudium oscinum, from the cry of birds, and sonivium, from the sound of the pulse falling to the ground: in what respects the latter differed from the tripudium solistimum, we are not informed [37] .

  • Ex quadrupedibus. Auguries could also be taken from four-footed animals; but these formed no part of the original science of the augurs, and were never employed by them in taking auspices on behalf of the state, or in the exercise of their art properly so called. They must be looked upon simply as a mode of private divination, which was naturally brought under the notice of the augurs, and seems by them to have been reduced to a kind of system. Thus, we are told that when a fox, a wolf, a horse, a dog, or any of the kind of quadruped ran across a person's path or appeared in an unusual place, it formed an augury [38]

. The juge auspicium belonged to this class of auguries[39] .

  • Ex diris, sc. signis. Under this head was included every kind of augury, which does not fall under any of the four classes mentioned above, such as sneezing, stumbling, and other accidental things [40]

. There was an important augury of this kind connected with the army, which was called ex acuminibus, that is, the flames appearing at the points of spears or other weapons [41] .

On Magistrates and Augurs

Roman augur wearing trabae (

The distinction between the duties of the magistrates and the augurs in taking the auspices is one of the most difficult points connected with this subject, but perhaps a satisfactory solution of these difficulties may be found by taking an historical view of the question. We are told not only that the kings were in possession of the auspices, but that they themselves were acquainted with the art and practised it. Romulus is represented to have been the best of augurs, and from him all succeeding augurs received the chief mark of their office, the lituus, with which that king exercised his calling [42] . He is further stated to have appointed three augurs, but only as his assistants in taking the auspices, a fact which is important to bear in mind [43] . Their dignity gradually increased in consequence of their being employed at the inauguration of the kings, and also in consequence of their becoming the preservers and depositaries of the science of augury. Formed into a collegium, they handed down to their successors the various rules of the science, while the kings, and subsequently the magistrates of the republic, were liable to change. Their duties thus became twofold, to assist the magistrates in taking the auspices, and to preserve a scientific knowledge of the art. They were not in possession of the auspices themselves, though they understood them better than the magistrates; the lightning and the birds were not sent to them but to the magistrates; they discharged no independent functions either political or ecclesiastical, and are therefore described by Cicero as privati [44] . As the augurs were therefore merely the assistants of the magistrates, they could not take the auspices without the latter, though the magistrates on the contrary could dispense with their assistance, as must frequently have happened in the appointment of a dictator by the consul on military expeditions at a distance from the city. At the same time it must be borne in mind, that as the augurs were the interpreters of the science, they possessed the right of declaring whether the auspices were valid or invalid, and that too whether they were present or not at the time of taking them; and whoever questioned their decision was liable to severe punishment [45] . They thus possessed in reality a veto upon every important public transaction. It was this power which made the office an object of ambition to the most distinguished men at Rome, and which led Cicero, himself an augur, to describe it as the highest dignity in the state [46] . The augurs frequently employed this power as a political engine to vitiate the election of such parties as were unfavourable to the exclusive privileges of the patricians [47] .

But although the augurs could declare that there was some fault in the auspices, yet, on the other hand, they could not, in favour of their office, declare that any unfavourable sign had appeared to them, since it was not to them that the auspices were sent. Thus we are told that the augurs did not possess the spectio, that is, the right of taking the state-auspices. This spectio, of which we have already briefly spoken, was of two kinds, one more extensive and the other more limited. In the one case the person, who exercised it, could put a stop to the proceedings of any other magistrate by his obnuntiatio: this was called spectio et nuntiatio (perhaps also spectio cum nuntiatione, and belonged only to the highest magistrates, the consuls, dictators, interreges, and, with some modifications, to the praetors. In the other case, the person who took the causes only exercised the spectio in reference to the duties of his own office, and could not interfere with any other magistrate: this was called spectio sine nuntiatione, and belonged to the other magistrates, the censors, aediles, and quaestors. Now as the augurs did not possess the auspices, they consequently could not possess the spectio (habere spectionem), but as the augurs were constantly employed by the magistrates to take the auspices, they exercised the spectio, though they did not possess it in virtue of their office. When they were employed by the magistrates in taking the auspices, they possessed the right of nuntiatio, and thus had the power, by the declaration of unfavourable signs obnuntiatio, to put a stop to all important public transactions[48] . In this way we are able to understand the assertion of Cicero[49] , that the augurs possessed the nuntiatio, the consuls and other (higher) magistrates both the spectio and nuntiatio; though it must, at the same time, be borne in mind that this right of nuntiatio only belonged to them in consequence of their being employed by the magistrates. (Respecting the passage of Festus, s.v. spectio, which seems to teach a different doctrine, see Rubino, p58).

As to the manner in which the magistrates received the auspices, there is no reason to suppose, as many modern writers have done, that they were conferred upon them in any special manner. It was the act of their election which made them the recipients of the auspices, since the comitia, in which they were appointed to their office, were held auspicato, and consequently their appointment was regarded as ratified by the gods. The auspices, therefore, passed immediately into their hands upon the abdication of their predecessors in office. There are two circumstances which have given rise to the opinion that the magistrates received the auspices by some special act. The first is, that the new magistrate, immediately after the midnight on which his office began, was accustomed to observe the heavens in order to obtain a happy sign for the commencement of his duties[50] . But he did not do this in order to obtain the auspices; he already possessed them, and it was in virtue of his possession of them, that he was able to observe the heavens. The second circumstance to which we have been alluding, was the inauguratio of the kings on the Arx after their election in the comitia[51] . But this inauguration had reference simply to the priestly office of the king, and, therefore, did not take place in the case of the republican magistrates, though it continued in use in the appointment of the rex sacrorum and the other priests.

The auspices belonging to the different magistrates were divided into two classes, called auspicia maxima or majora and minora. The former, which belonged originally to the kings, passed over to the consuls on the institution of the republic, and likewise to the extraordinary magistrates, the dictators, interreges, and consular tribunes. When the consuls were deprived in course of time of part of their duties, and separate magistrates were created to discharge them, they naturally received the auspicia majora also; this was the case with the censors and praetors. The quaestors and the curule aediles, on the contrary, had only the auspicia minora, because they received them from the consuls and praetors of the year, and their auspices were derived from the majora of the higher magistrates [52] .[53]

The Collegium of Augurs

Coin of Lentulus with augury tools

It remains to trace the history of the college of augurs. We have already seen that it was a common opinion in antiquity that the augurship owed its origin to the first king of Rome, and it is accordingly stated, that a college of three augurs was appointed by Romulus, answering to the number of the early tribes, the Ramnes, Tities, and Lucerenses. This is the account of Cicero[54] , who supposed Numa to have added two more[55] , without, however, stating in what way these latter corresponded to the tribes. On the other side stand different statements of Livy, first, one[56] which is probably an error, in which the first institution of augurs is attributed to Numa, seemingly on the theory that all the Roman religion was derived from the second king; secondly, a statement of far more importance [57] , that at the passing of the Ogulnian law the augurs were but four in number, which Livy himself, who recognised the principle of the number of augurs corresponding to that of the tribes, supposes to have been accidental. This is improbable, as Niebuhr has shown[58] , who thinks the third tribe was excluded from the college of augurs, and that the four, therefore, represented the Ramnes and Tities only. It is hard to suppose, however, that this superiority of the Ramnes and Tities over the third tribe could have continued down to the time of the Ogulnian law (B.C. 300): moreover, as two augurs apiece were appointed from each of the two first tribes, and the remaining five from the plebs, it does not appear how the Luceres could have ever obtained the privilege. A different mode of reconciling the contradictory numbers four and three is sought for in another statement of Cicero[59] , that the kings were augurs, so that after their expulsion another augur may have been added instead of them to the original number which represented the tribes. Probably this is one of the many cases in early Roman history in which the only conclusion we can come to is, that the theory of what ought to have been according to antiquarians of a later age differed from what actually was according to the earliest accounts to which Livy had recourse.[60]

The Ogulnian law (B.C. 300), which increased the number of pontiffs to eight, by the addition of four plebeians, and that of the augurs to nine by the addition of five plebeians, may be considered a sort of aera in Roman history. The religious distinction between the two orders which had been so often insisted upon was now at an end, and it was no longer possible to use the auspices as a political instrument against the plebeians. The number of nine augurs which this law fixed, lasted down to the dictatorship of Sylla, who increased them to fifteen, a multiple of the original three, probably with a reference to the early tribes [61] . A sixteenth member was added by Julius Caesar after his return from Egypt [62] .

The members of the college of augurs possessed self-election [63] . At first they were appointed by the king, but as the king himself was an augur, their appointment by him was not considered contrary to this principle [64] . They retained the right of co-optation until B.C.E. 103, the year of the Domitian law. By this law it was enacted that vacancies in the priestly colleges should be filled up by the votes of a minority of the tribes, i.e., seventeen out of thirty-five chosen by lot [65] , but again restored B.C.E. 63, during the consulship of Cicero, by the tribune T. Annius Labienus, with the support of Caesar [66] . It was a second time abrogated by Antony B.C. 44 [67] , whether again restored by Hirtius and Pansa in their general annulment of the acts of Antony, seems uncertain. The emperors possessed the right of electing augurs at pleasure.

The augurs were elected for life, and even if capitally convicted, never lost their sacred character [68] . When a vacancy occurred, the candidate was nominated by two of the elder members of the college [69] , the electors were sworn, and the new member was then solemnly inaugurated [70] . On such occasion there was always a splendid banquet given, at which all the augurs were expected to be present [71] . The only distinction in the college was one of age; an elder augur always voted before a younger, even if the latter filled one of the higher offices of the state [72] . The head of the college was called magister collegii. It was expected that all the augurs should live on friendly terms with one another, and it was a rule that no one was to be elected to the office, who was known to be an enemy to any of the college [73] . The augur, who had inaugurated a younger member, was always to be regarded by the latter in the light of a parent [74] .

As insignia of their office the augurs wore the trabea, or public dress [75] , and carried in their hand the lituus or curved wand. On the coins of the Romans, who filled the office of augur, we constantly find the lituus, and along with it, not unfrequently, the capis, an earthen vessel which was used by them in sacrifices [76] . Both of these instruments are seen in the annexed coin of Lentulus.[77]

The Science of Augury

The science of the augurs was called jus augurum and jus augurium, and was preserved in books [78] , which are frequently mentioned in the ancient writers. The expression for consulting the augurs was referre ad augures, and their answers were called decreta or responsa augurum. The science of augury had greatly declined in the time of Cicero; and although he frequently deplores its neglect in his De Divinatione, yet neither he nor any of the educated classes appears to have had any faith in it. What a farce it had become a few years later is evident from the statement of Dionysius [79] , who informs us that a new magistrate, who took the auspices upon the first day of his office, was accustomed to have an augur on his side, who told him that lightning had appeared on his left, which was regarded as a good omen, and although nothing of the kind had happened, this declaration was considered sufficient.[80]


  1. Quaest. Rom. c. 72
  2. Die Religion der Römer, vol. I p. 99
  3. ad Virg. Aen. I.402, III.20
  4. Cic. de Div. I.16
  5. Römisch. Verfassung, p45
  6. Cic. de Div. I.48, de Nat. Deor. II.3
  7. Festus, s.v. augur; Serv. ad Virg. Aen. V.523
  8. I.6 §36
  9. Smith, William, D.C.L., LL.D. "Augur, Augurium." A dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875. pp. 174-179.
  10. Bailey, Cyril. Chap. 8, Augury and Auspices, The Religion of Ancient Rome. Web:, 2011.
  11. observatio diuturna
  12. Linderski, 1982, pg 149
  13. Dionysius of Halicarnassus Roman Antiquities Book 2 chapter 5
  14. Smith, pp. 174-179.
  15. VI.14
  16. Livy VI.14
  17. Cic. de Leg. II.13
  18. Cic. de Div. I.41, II.35, 38; de Nat. Deor. II.4
  19. Smith, pp. 174-179.
  20. Aves internuntiae Jovis, Cic. de Divin. II.34; Interpretes Jovis optimi maximi publici augures, Cic. de Leg. II.8
  21. Smith, pp. 174-179.
  22. Smith, pp. 174-179.
  23. Serv. ad Virg. Aen. II.693; Cic. de Div. II.18, &c.; Festus, s.v. Coelestia
  24. Cic. de Div. II.14, Philipp. V.3
  25. 'Cic. de Div. II.34'
  26. Festus, s.v. Oscines
  27. Plaut. Asin. II.1.12; Cic. de Div. I.39
  28. noctua, Festus, s.v. Oscines
  29. gallina, Cic. de Div. II.26
  30. aquila
  31. Jovis ales
  32. cf. Virg. Aen. I.394; Liv. I. 7, 34; Festus, s.v. sanqualis; Plin. H. N. X.7
  33. Plin. H. N. X.18, s.20; Hor. Carm. III.27.15; Festus, s.v. Oscinum tripudium
  34. Cic. de Div. II.34
  35. Liv. X.40; Val. Max. I.4 §3
  36. Cic. de Div. II.34
  37. Cic. ad Fam. VI.6; see also Festus, s.vv. puls, tripudium, oscinum tripudium
  38. See e.g. Hor. Carm. III.27
  39. Cic. de Div. II.36; Fest. s.v. juges auspicium; Serv. ad Virg. Aen. III.537
  40. cf. Serv. ad Virg. Aen. IV.453
  41. Cic. de Div. II.36, de Nat. Deor. II.3; Dionys. V.46
  42. Cic. de Div. I.2, II.17; LIV. 1.10
  43. Cic. de Rep. II.9
  44. De Divin. I.40
  45. Cic. de Leg. II.8
  46. de Leg. II.12
  47. Liv. VI.27, VIII.23
  48. Cic. de Leg. II.12
  49. Philipp. II.32
  50. Dionys. II.6
  51. Liv. I.18
  52. Messalla, ap. Gell. XIII.15
  53. Smith, pp. 174-179.
  54. de Rep. II.9
  55. Livy II.14
  56. Livy IV.4
  57. Livy X.6
  58. Hist. of Rome, vol. III p. 352
  59. de Div. I.40
  60. Smith, pp. 174-179.
  61. Liv. Epit. 89
  62. Dion Cass. XLII.51
  63. 'cooptati'
  64. Romulus cooptavit augures, de Rep. II.9
  65. Cic. de Leg. Agr. II.7; Vell. Pat. II.12; Suet. Ner. 2'). The Domitian law was repealed by Sulla B.C.E. 81 [81]

Additional References

  • Becker, Röm. Alterth. vol. II part I. p304
  • Creuzer, Symbolik, vo. II p935, &c.
  • Hartung, Die Religion der Römer, vol. 1 p98, &c.
  • Göttling, Geschichte der Röm. Staatsverf. p198, &c.
  • Linderski, J. 1982. "Auspicia et Auguria Romana... Summo Labore Collecta": A Note on Minucius Felix Octavius 26.1. Classical Philology, Vol. 77, No. 2 (Apr., 1982), pp. 148-150. The University of Chicago Press (Retrieve from JSTOR)
  • Mascov, De Jure Auspicii apud Romanos, Lips. 1721
  • Müller, Etrusker, vol. II p110, &c.
  • Rubino, Röm. Verfassung, p34, &c.
  • Smith, William, D.C.L., LL.D.: A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875, pp. 174‑179.
  • Werther, De Auguriis Romanis, Lemgo, 1835

See also

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