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A diviner by means of birds. The derivation of the word is uncertain. Some ancient grammarians derived it from avis and gero (Festus, s. v. augur; ad Verg. Aen. v. 523), in support of which we may mention the analogy of au-spex and au-ceps, and the ancient forms auger and augeratus quoted by Priscian, i. 6.36; and this derivation is now accepted by Mommsen, Marquardt, Bouché-Leclercq, and others. Of modern suggestions may be mentioned that of Aufrecht and Kirchhoff, connecting the word with the Umbrian uhtur=auctor (cf. ius est augurum cum auctoritate conjunctum, De Leg. ii. 12, 31; and Nissen, Das Templum, p. 5); and that of Vaniček, from avis and the root gar (found in Sanskrit and in γηρύειν, garrire). Fick, and apparently Kuntze, connect it with augeo, augustus (cf. augustum augurium in Ennius), and take it to mean “assistant”; while Lange and Bréal see in the word the root gush (as in γεύω), and understand by it “an appreciator.” By Greek writers on Roman affairs, the augurs are called αὔγουρες, οἰωνοπόλοι, οἰωνοσκόποι, οἰωνισταί, οἰωνομάντεις, οἱ ἐπ̓ οἰωνοῖς ἱερεῖς.

The augurs at Rome formed a priestly collegium, traditionally said to have been founded by Romulus, and 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 (vi. 41, 4), “Auspiciis hanc urbem conditam esse, auspiciis bello ac pace, domi militiaeque omnia geri, quis est, qui ignoret?” But the private augur seems to have fallen into contempt. Thus Cicero, while arguing in favour of divination in general, follows Ennius in classing the Marsus augur with other impostors (de Div. i. 58, 132).

The public augurs, on the other hand, are of great importance in Roman history. The collegium originally consisted of three patricians, of whom the king was one. During the regal period the number was doubled; in B.C. 300 it was raised to nine (four patricians and five plebeians); and in the last century of the Republic, under Sulla , to

Augur with Lituus. (Bas-relief in Museum, Florence.)

fifteen, and finally by Iulius Caesar to sixteen, a number which continued unaltered under the Empire. It can be shown that the college of augurs continued to exist until the end of the fourth century A.D. The office was, on account of its political importance, much sought after, and only filled by persons of high birth and distinguished merit. It was held for life, an augur not being precluded from holding other temporal or spiritual dignities. Vacancies in the collegium were originally filled up by co-optation; but after B.C. 104 the office was elective, the tribes choosing one of the caudidates previously nominated. An augurium had to be taken before the augur entered upon his duties. In all probability the augurs ranked according to seniority, and the senior augur presided over the business of the collegium.

The insignia of the office were the trabea, a state dress with a purple border, and the lituus (q. v.), a staff without knots and curved at the top.

The science of Roman angury was based chiefly on written tradition. This was contained partly in the Libri Augurales, the oldest manual of technical practice, and partly in the Commenturii Augurales, a collection of answers given in certain cases to the inquiries of the Senate. In ancient times the chief duty of the augurs was to observe, when commissioned by a magistrate to do so, the omens given by birds, and to mark out the templum or consecrated space within which the observation took place. The proceeding was as follows: immediately after midnight, or at the dawn of the day on which the official act was to take place, the augur, in the presence of the magistrate, selected an elevated spot with as wide a view as was obtainable. Taking his station here, he drew with his staff two straight lines cutting one another, the one from north to south, the other from east to west. Then to each of these straight lines he drew two parallel lines, thus forming a rectangular figure, which he consecrated according to a prescribed form of words. This space, as well as the space corresponding to it in the sky, was called a templum. (See Templum.) At the point of intersection in the centre of the rectangle was erected the tabernaculum. This was a square tent, with its entrance looking south. Here the augur sat down, asked the gods for a sign according to a prescribed formula, and waited for the answer. Complete quiet, a clear sky, and an absence of wind were necessary conditions of the observation. The least noise was sufficient to disturb it, unless indeed the noise was occasioned by omens of terror (dirae), supposing the augur to have observed them, or to intend doing so. As he looked south the augur had the east on his left, the west on his right. Accordingly, the Romans regarded signs on the left side as of prosperous omen, signs on the right side as unlucky—the east being deemed the region of light, the west that of darkness. The reverse was the case in ancient Greece, where the observer looked northwards. In his observation of birds the augur did not confine himself to noticing their flight. The birds were distinguished as alites and oscines. The alites included birds like eagles and vultures, which gave signs by their manner of flying. The oscines were birds which gave signs by their cry as well as their flight, such as ravens, owls, and crows. There were also birds which were held sacred to particular gods, and the mere appearance of which was an omen of good or evil. The augur's report was expressed in the words aves admittunt, “the birds allow it”; or alio die, “on another day,” i. e. “the augury is postponed.” The magistrate was bound by this report. The science of augury included other kinds of auspices besides the observation of birds, a cumbrous process which had dropped out of use in the Ciceronian age. These were:


Signs in the sky (ex caelo). The most important and decisive were thunder and lightning. Lightning was a favourable omen if it appeared to the left of the augur, and flashed to the right; unfavourable, if it flashed from right to left. In certain cases, as, for example, that of the assembling of the Comitia, a storm was taken as an absolute prohibition of the meeting.


Signs from the behaviour of chickens while eating. It was a good omen if the chicken rushed eagerly out of its cage at its food, and dropped a bit out of its beak; an unfavourable

Auspicia Pullaria. (Bas-relief, Rome.) (From Goega's
, I. tav. xvi.)

omen if it was unwilling, or refused altogether, to leave its cage, or flew away, or declined its food. This clear and simple method of getting omens was generally adopted by armies in the field, the chickens being taken about in charge of a special functionary (pullarius).


Signs given by the cries or motion of animals, as reptiles and quadrupeds, in their course over a given piece of ground (signa pedestria or ex quadrupedibus).


Signs given by phenomena of terror (signa ex diris). These might consist in disturbances of the act of auspicatio, such as the falling of an object, a noise, a stumble, a slip in the recitation of the formula; or a disturbance occurring in the course of public business, such as, for instance, an epileptic seizure taking place in the public assembly—an event which broke up the meeting.

The two last-mentioned classes of signs were generally not asked for, because the former were usually, the latter always, unlucky. If they made their appearance unasked, they could not be passed over, if the observer saw them or wished to see them. Every official was expected to take auspices on entering upon his office, and on every occasion of performing an official act. Thus the words imperium and auspicium were often virtually synonymous. The auspicia were further divided, according to the dignity of the magistrate, into maxima and minora. The greatest auspicia were those which were taken by the king, dictator, consuls, praetors, and censors; the lesser were taken by aediles and quaestors. If two magistrates, though collegae (colleagues), were of unequal dignity—assuming, for instance, that a consul and a praetor were in the same camp—the higher officer alone had the right of taking the auspices. If the collegae were equal, the auspices passed from one to the other at stated times. No public act, whether of peace or war (crossing a river, for instance, or fighting a battle), could be undertaken without auspices. They were especially necessary at the election of all officials, the entry upon all offices, at all Comitia, and at the departure of a general for war. They had, further, to be taken on the actual day and at the actual place of the given undertaking.

The augurs always continued in possession of important functions. In certain places in the city, for instance on the Arx, and at the meetingplace of the Comitia, there were permanent posts of observation for taking the regular auspices. These places were put under the care of the augurs. Their boundaries might not be altered, nor the view which they commanded interfered with. The augurs had authority to prevent the erection of buildings which would do this. They had also the power of consecrating priests, as well as of inangurating a part of the localities intended for religious purposes, and the places where public business was carried on. They were always present at the Comitia, and were authorized, if the signs which they saw or which were reported to them justified the proceeding, to announce the fact and postpone the business. If the constitutional character of a public act was called in question, the college of augurs had the exclusive power of deciding whether there was a flaw (vitium), in it, or not. If there were, the act was necessarily

Augur wearing the Trabea. (British Museum.)

annulled. The dress of the augur was usually the praetexta (q. v.), but sometimes (possibly on military expeditions) the trabea, as in the accompanying illustration.

By the end of the republican period the augurs, and the whole business of the auspices, had ceased to be regarded as deserving serious attention.

On the whole subject of angury among the Romans, see Mascov, De Jure Auspicii apud Romanos (Lips. 1721); Werther, De Auguriis Romanis (Lemgo, 1835); Creuzer, Symbolik, ii. p. 935, etc.; Müller, Etrusker, ii. p. 110, etc.; Hartung, Die Religion der Römer, i. p. 98, etc.; Göttling, Geschichte der Röm. Staatsverf. p. 198, etc.; Rubino, Röm. Verfassung, p. 34, etc.; Rein, art. Augures in Pauly's Realencyclopädie; Preller, Römische Mythologie, 109-111 (ed. 1858); Nissen, Das Templum, chap. i.; Mommsen, Römisches Staatsrecht, i. 73-114; Marquardt, Römische Staatsverwaltung, vi. 381-393; Lange, Römische Alterthümer, i. 286-298 (=i. 330- 345); Walter, Geschichte des römischen Rechts. 151, 152; Madvig, Die Verfassung und Verwaltung des römischen Staates, ii. 633-643; Mispoulet, Les Institutions Politiques des Romains, i. 73, ii. 416-423; Willems, Le Droit Public Romain, 239-242, 324-326; Kuntze, Prolegomena zur Geschichte Roms, 61-102; Bouché-Leclercq, art. Augur and Auspicia in Daremberg and Saglio's Dict. des Antiquités, and Histoire de la Divination dans l'Antiquité (1879-82).

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    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 6, 41
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