[ HOME ]


William M. Tarnowski

Pontifex Haereticus Paedanticusque

Purpose: Not to foresee the future but to ascertain the approval of the gods, particularly Jupiter, for a contemplated or an ongoing action.

Method: interpreting signs, the Auspicia, from avis (bird) and specio (watch). In general, auspicia fall into two broad classes:

  1. Auspicia oblativa (from offero, to show or present), casually met with, not sought out.
  2. Auspicia impetrativa (from impetrare, to obtain or accomplish), specifically watched for, sought out.

By whom?:

  1. By anyone who believed himself capable. When done by a "non-professional" however, such interpretation could ascertain that Jupiter approved or disapproved only of the timing of a proposed or ongoing activity and was valid for one day only.
  2. College of Augurs (etymology disputed; either from the obsolte stem augo, to tell, or from augeo, in increase or prosper). The College, said to have been established by Romulus, had three members at first, which number increased to sixteen by the time of Caesar and was maintained until the fourth century C.E. when it disappeared. Their interpretations were called auguries from which one could learn not only Jupiter's approval or disapproval of the timing but also the substance of the action in question. Auguries had no time limit and were sought for matter of state since the College knew all of the traditional ceremonies and the key to "correct interpretation."

Types of Auspicia:

  1. From birds (ex avibus): by far the most ancient, going back the establishment of the College of Augure. Either oblativa or impetrativa. The Augur faced south. Signs on his left, the east, "region of light," were favorable. Those on his right, unfavorable. Signs had to do with the flight of large birds (eagles, vultures) or the cries of other birds (crows, owls).
  2. From the sky (ex caelo): Either oblativa or impetrativa. Most important were thunder and lightning. Lightning was favorable only if it appeared on the left and flashed towards the right. Otherwise unfavorable. A storm was an absolute prohibition of the gathering of the comitia for elections.
  3. From sacred chickens (ex tripudiis whose primary meaning is religious dance.) Only impetrativa. Favorable: the chickens ate so greedily that food dropped from their mouths to the ground. Refusing to leave the cage or to eat was unfavorable. Used mainly by armies in the fielf.
  4. From quadrupeds (ex quadrupedibus): only oblativa. Examples would be a wolf eating grass or a lamb eating fish.
  5. From unusual circumstances (ex diris): only oblativa. Examples would be the unexpected falling over of a statue or a person experiencing an epiletic during a public assembly.