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p586 Haruspices

Unsigned article on pp586‑587 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

HARU′SPICES, or ARU′SPICES, were soothsayers or diviners, who interpreted the will of the gods. They originally came to Rome from Etruria, whence haruspices were often sent for by the Romans on important occasions (Liv. XXVII.37; Cic. Cat. III.8, de Div. II.4). The art of the haruspices resembled in many respects that of the augurs; but they never acquired that political importance which the latter possessed, and were regarded rather as a means for ascertaining the will of the gods than as possessing any religious authority. They did not in fact form any part of the ecclesiastical polity of the Roman state during the republic; they are never called sacerdotes, they did not form a collegium, and had no magister at their head. The account of Dionysius (II), p587that the haruspices were instituted by Romulus, and that one was chosen from each tribe, is opposed to all the other authorities, and is manifestly incorrect. In the time of the emperors, we read of a collegium or order of sixty haruspices (Tac. Ann. XI.15; Orelli, Inscr. I. p399); but the time of its institution is uncertain. It has been supposed that such a collegium existed in the time of Cicero, since he speaks of a summus magister (de Div. II.24);a but by this we are probably to understand not a magister collegii, but merely the most eminent of the haruspices at the time.

The art of the haruspices, which was called haruspicina, consisted in explaining and interpreting the will of the gods from the appearance of the entrails (exta) of animals offered in sacrifice, whence they are sometimes called extispices, and their art extispicium (Cic. de Div. II.11; Suet. Ner. 56); and also from lightning, earthquakes, and all extraordinary phenomena in nature, to which the general name of portenta was given (Valer. Max. I.1 §1). Their art is said to have been invented by the Etruscan Tages (Cic. de Div. II.23; Festus, s.v. Tages), and was contained in certain books called libri haruspicini, fulgurales, and tonitruales (Cic. de Div. I.33; cf.  Macrob. Saturn. III.7).

This art was considered by the Romans so important at one time, that the senate decreed that a certain number of young Etruscans, belonging to the principal families in the state, should always be instructed in it (Cic. de Div. I.41). Niebuhr appears to be mistaken in supposing the passage in Cicero to refer to the children of Roman families (see Orelli, ad loc.). The senate sometimes consulted the haruspices (Cic. de Div. I.43, II.35; Liv. XXVII.37), as did also private persons (Cic. de Div. II.29). In later times, however, their art fell into disrepute among well-educated Romans; and Cicero (de Div. II.24) relates a saying of Cato, that he wondered that one haruspex did not laugh when he saw another. The Emperor Claudius attempted to revive the study of the art, which had then become neglected; and the senate, under his directions, passed a decree that the pontifices should examine what parts of it should be retained and established (Tac. Ann. XI.15); but we do not know what effect this decree produced.

The name of haruspex is sometimes applied to any kind of soothsayer or prophet (Prop. III.13.59); whence Juvenal (VI.550) speaks of Armenius vel Commagenus haruspex.

The latter part of the word haruspex contains the root spec; and Donatus (ad Ter. Phorm. IV.4.28) derives the former part from haruga, a victim. Cf. Festus, s.v. Harviga, and Varro, De Ling. Lat. V.98, ed. Müller. (Göttling, Gesch. der Röm. Staatsv. p213; Walter, Gesch. des Röm. Rechts, §§ 142, 770, 2nd ed.; Brissonius, De Formulis, I.29, &c.)


Thayer's Note:

a summus magister (however declined) does not appear anywhere in the online Latin text of de Divinatione, an established scholarly text. The passage linked, I.24.52, refers to a summus haruspex, which the Loeb editor, agreeing with our Dictionary, translates merely in the sense of "most eminent".


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