1902 Encyclopedia > Augurs


AUGURS, in Roman Antiquities, a college or board appointed to interpret, according to the books (libri augurales) in which the science of divination was laid down, the auspicia or signs of approval or disapproval sent by Jupiter on the occasion of any public transaction. At first, it is said, there were only two augurs, one from each of the tribes Bamnes and Tities. Two more were added by Numa, and again other two for the third tribe of Luceres, that is six altogether. But in the year 300 B.c. it is certain that there were only four, to which number five plebeian places were added by the lex Ogulnia. Sulla increased the number to fifteen, at which it con-tinued, with the exception that Caesar appointed a sixteenth, and the emperors frequently added as supra numerum persons of distinction, or of their own family. An augur retained his office and sacred character for life. The college had the right of election of new members. The insignia of their office were the lituus, or crook, and the dress called trabea. The natural region to look to for signs of the will of Jupiter was the sky, where lightning and the flight of birds seemed directed by him as counsel to men. The latter, however, was the more difficult of interpretation, and upon it, therefore, mainly hinged the system of divination with which the augurs were occupied, and which is expressed in the terms augurium and auspi-cium (aves gerere, aves spicere). The presence of augurs was required only in observing signs in the sky, where then-first duty was to mark out with the lituus a space or templum in the sky within which the omen must occur. Such observations being properly made only in the city of Rome, augurs are not found elsewhere. Signs of the will of the gods were of two kinds, either in answer to a request (auspicia impetrativa), or incidental (auspicia dblativa). Of such signs there were five classes:—(1.) Signs in the sky (coslestia auspicia), consisting chiefly of thunder and hghtning, but not excluding falling stars and other pheno-mena. Lightning from left to right was favourable, from right to left unfavourable ; and this being a very direct and impressive token of the will of Jupiter, the observation of it was held to apply to all public transactions fixed for the day on which it occurred. Whether favourable or the reverse in its direction, the appearance of lightning was held as a voice of the god against business being done in the public assemblies. But since the person charged to take the auspices (de ccelo servasse) for a certain day was constitutionally subject to no other authority who could test the truth or falsehood of his statement that he had observed hghtning, it happened that this became a favourite means of putting off meetings of the public assembly. Restrictions were, however, imposed on it in the later times of the republic. When a new consul, praetor, or quaestor entered on his first day of office and prayed the gods for good omens, it was a matter of custom to report to him that lightning from the left had been seen. (2.) Signs from birds (signa ex avibus), with reference to tho direction of their flight, and also to their singing, or uttering other sounds. In matters of ordinary life on which divine counsel was prayed for, it was usual to have recourse to this form of divination. For public affairs it was, by the time of Cicero, superseded by the fictitious observation of lightning. (3.) Feeding of birds (auspicia ex tripudiis), which consisted in observing whether a bird,—usually a fowl,—on grain being thrown before it, let fall a particle from its mouth (tripudium solistimum). If it did so, the will of the gods was in favour of the enterprise in question. The simplicity of this ceremony recommended it for very general use, particularly in the army when on service. The fowls were kept in cages by a servant, styled pullarius. In imperial times are mentioned the decuriales pullarii. (4.) Signs from, animals (pedestria auspicia, or ex quadru-pedibus), i.e., observation of the course of, or sounds uttered by, quadrupeds and serpents within a fixed space, corresponding to the observations of the flight of birds, but much less frequently employed. It had gone out of use by the time of Cicero. (5.) Warnings (signa ex diris), con-sisting of all unusual phenomena, but chiefly such as boded ill Being accidental in their occurrence, they belonged to the augwria oblativa, and their interpretation was not a matter for the augurs, unless occurring in the course of some public transaction, in which case they formed a divine veto against it. Otherwise, reference was made for an interpretation to the Pontifices in olden times, afterwards frequently to the Sibylline books, or the Etruscan haruspices, when the incident was not already provided for by a rule, as, for example, that it was unlucky for a person leaving his house to meet a raven, that the sudden death of a person from epilepsy at a public meeting was a sign to break up the assembly, not to mention other instances of adverse omens. A Boman, however, did not necessarily regard a warning as binding unless it was clearly appre-hended. Not only could an accidental oversight render it useless, but to some extent measures could be taken to prevent any warning being noticed. At sacrifices, for instance, the flute was played ne quid aliud exaudiatur (Pliny, Nat. Hist., xxviii. 2, 11).

Among the other means of discovering the will of the gods were casting lots, oracles of Apollo (in the hands of the college sacris faciundis), but chiefly the examination of the entrails of animals slain for sacrifice. Anything abnormal found there was brought under the notice of the augurs as warnings, but usually the Etruscan haruspices were employed for this. The persons entitled to ask for an expression of the divine will on a public affair were the magistrates. To the highest offices, including all persons of consular and praetorian rank, belonged the right of taking auspicia maxima; to the inferior offices of sedile and quaestor, the auspicia minora; the differences between these, however, must have been small. The subjects for which auspicia publica were always taken were the elec-tion of magistrates, their entering on office, the holding of a public assembly to pass decrees, the setting out of an army for war. They could only be taken in Borne itself; and in case of a commander having to renew his auspicia, he must either return to Rome or select a spot in the foreign country to represent the hearth of that city. The time for observing auspices was, as a rule, between midnight and dawn of the day for which the transaction was fixed about which they were desired. But whether it was so ordered in the ritual, or whether this was to leave the whole day free, is not known. In military affairs this course was not always possible, as in the case of taking auspices before crossing a river. The founding of colonies, the beginning of a battle, before calling together an army, before sittings of the senate, at decisions of peace or war, were occasions, not always but frequently, for taking auspices. The place where the ceremony was performed was not fixed but varied, so as to have a close relation to the object to which it referred. A spot being selected, the official charged to make the observation (spectio) pitched his tent there some days before. A matter postponed through adverse signs from the gods could on the following or some future day be again brought forward for the auspices (repetere auspicia). If an error (yitium) occurred in the auspices, the augurs could, of their own accord or at the request of the Benate, inform themselves of the circumstances, and decree upon it. A consul could refuse to accept their decree while he remained in office, but on retiring he could be prosecuted. Auspicia oblativa referred mostly to the comitia. A magistrate was not bound to take notice of signs reported merely by a private person, but he could not overlook such a report from a brother magistrate. For example, if a quaestor on his entry to office observed light- ning and announced it to the consul, the latter must delay the public assembly for the day. (A. S. M.)

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