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p174 Augur, Augurium

Unsigned article on pp174‑179 of

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

AUGUR, AUGU′RIUM; AUSPEX, AUSPI′CIUM. 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 (Quaest. Rom. c. 72), and there seems no reason to doubt this statement as Hartung does (Die Religion der Römer, vol. I p99), on the authority of Servius (ad Virg. Aen. I.402, III.20). 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 (Cic. de Div. I.16). Rubino (Römisch. Verfassung, p45) 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 (Cic. de Div. I.48, de Nat. Deor. II.3), 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 (Festus, s.v. augur; Serv. ad Virg. Aen. V.523), 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Latin or Sabine origin, since the word augur may thus have been introduced along with the Etruscan rites, and thus have superseded the original term auspex.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 (I.6 §36) 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.

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 (VI.41),º "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, p175they care for men, and that if they care for men they must send them signs of their will (Cic. de Leg. II.13), 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 learnt 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 (Cic. de Div. I.41, II.35, 38; de Nat. Deor. II.4). 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 learnt from Apollo and other gods, rarely from Zeus, who possessed very few oracles in Greece. The contrary was the case at Rome: it was from Jupiter that the future was learnt, and the birds were regarded as his messengers (Aves internuntiae Jovis, Cic. de Divin. II.34; Interpretes Jovis optimi maximi publici augures, Cic. de Leg. II.8). 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 Jupiter, — they simply announced, yes or no.

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: ex caelo, ex avibus, ex tripudiis, ex quadrupedibus, 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.

  1. Ex caelo. This included the observation of the various kinds of thunder and lightning, and was regarded as the most important, maximum auspicium (Serv. ad Virg. Aen. II.693; Cic. de Div. II.18, &c.; Festus, s.v. Coelestia). 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 (Cic. de Div. II.14, Philipp. V.3).

  2. Ex avibus. It was only a few birds which could give auguries among the Romans (Cic. de Div. II.34). 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 (Festus, s.v. Oscines). 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 (Plaut. Asin. II.1.12; Cic. de Div. I.39); likewise the owl (noctua, Festus, s.v. Oscines), and the hen (gallina, Cic. de Div. II.26). To the aves alites belonged first of all the eagle (aquila), who is called pre-eminently the bird of Jupiter (Jovis ales), 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 (cf. Virg. Aen. I.394; Liv. I. 7, 34; Festus, s.v. sanqualis; Plin. H. N. X.7). Some birds were included both among the oscines and the alites: such were the Picus Martius, and Feronius, and the Parrha (Plin. H. N. X.18, s.20; Hor. Carm. III.27.15; Festus, s.v. Oscinum tripudium). 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.

  3. 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 (Cic. de Div. II.34); but it became p176the 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 (Liv. X.40; Val. Max. I.4 §3). 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, Cic. de Div. II.34), 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 (Cic. ad Fam. VI.6; see also Festus, s.vv. puls, tripudium, oscinum tripudium).

  4. 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 (See e.g. Hor. Carm. III.27). The juge auspicium belonged to this class of auguries (Cic. de Div. II.36; Fest. s.v. juges auspicium; Serv. ad Virg. Aen. III.537).

  5. 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 (cf. Serv. ad Virg. Aen. IV.453). 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 (Cic. de Div. II.36, de Nat. Deor. II.3; Dionys. V.46).

The ordinary manner of taking the auspices, properly so called (i.e. ex caelo and ex avibus), was as follows: The person who was to take them first marked out with a wand (lituus) a division in the heavens called templum or tescum, within which he intended to make his observations. The station where he was to take the auspices was also separated by a solemn formula from the rest of the land, and was likewise called templum or tescum. He then proceeded to pitch a tent in it (tabernaculum capere), and this tent again was also called templum, or, more accurately, templum minus [Templum.] Within the walls of Rome, or, more properly speaking, within the pomoerium, there was no occasion to select a spot and pitch a tent on it, as there was a place on the Arx on the summit of the Capitoline hill, called Auguraculum, which had been consecrated once for all for this purpose (Festus, s.v. Auguraculum; cf. Liv. I.18, IV.18; Cic. de Off. III.16). In like manner there was in every Roman camp a place called augurale (Tac. Ann. II.13, XV.30), which answered the same purpose; but on all other occasions a place had to be consecrated, and a tent to be pitched, as, for instance, in the Campus Martius, when the comitia centuriata were to be held. The person who was then taking the auspices waited for the favourable signs to appear; but it was necessary during this time that there should be no interruption of any kind whatsoever (silentium), and hence the word silentium was used in a more extended sense to signify the absence of every thing that was faulty. Every thing, on the contrary, that rendered the auspices invalid was called vitium (Cic. de Div. II.34; Festus, s.v. silentio surgere); and hence we constantly read in Livy and other writers of vitio magistratus creati, vitio lex lata, &c. The watching for the auspices was called spectio or servare de caelo, the declaration of what was observed nuntiatio, or, if they were unfavourable, obnuntiatio. In the latter case, the person who took the auspices seems usually to have said alio die, by which the business in hand, whether the holding of the comitia or any thing else, was entirely stopped (Cic. de Leg. II.12).

Having explained what the auspices were and how they were taken, we have now to determine who had the power of taking them. In the first place it is certain that in ancient times no one but a patrician could take the auspices, and that a plebeian had no power of doing so. The gods of the Roman state were the gods of the patricians alone, and it was consequently regarded as an act of profanation for any plebeian to attempt to interpret the will of these gods. Hence the possession of the auspices (habere auspicia) is one of the most distinguished prerogatives of the patricians: they are said to be penes patrum, and are called auspicia patrum (Liv. VI.41, X.81, cf. IV.6). It would further appear that every patrician might take the auspices; but here a distinction is to be observed. It has already been remarked that in the most ancient times no transaction, whether private or public, was performed without consulting the auspices (nisi auspicato, Cic. de Div. I.16; Val. Max. II.1 §1); and hence arose the distinction of auspicia privata and auspicia publica. One of the most frequent occasions on which the auspicia privata were taken, was in case of a marriage (Cic., Val. Max. ll. cc.); and hence after private auspices had become entirely disused, the Romans, in accordance with their usual love of preserving ancient forms, were accustomed in later times to employ auspices in marriages, who, however, acted only as friends of the bridegroom, to witness the payment of the dowry and to superintend the various rites of the marriage (Plaut. Cas. prol. 85; Suet. Claud. 26; Tac. Ann. XI.27). The employment of the auspices at marriages was one great argument used by the patricians against connubium between themselves and the plebeians, as it would occasion, they urged, perturbationem auspiciorum publicorum privatorumque (Liv. IV.2). The possession of these private auspicia is expressed in another passage of Livy by privatim auspicia habere (Liv. VI.41). In taking these private auspices, it would appear that any patrician p177was employed, who knew how to form templa and was acquainted with the art of augury, and was therefore called auspex or augur: it does not appear to have been necessary nor usual in such cases to have recourse to the public augurs, the members of the collegium, who are therefore frequently called augures publici, to distinguish them from the private augurs (Cic. de Leg. II.8, ad Fam. VI.6; Festus, s.v. quinque genera). The case, however, was very different with respect to the auspicia publica, generally called auspicia simply, or those which concerned the state. The latter could only be taken by the persons who represented the state, and who acted as mediators between the gods and the state; for though all the patricians were eligible for taking the auspices, yet it was only the magistrates who were in actual possession of them. As long as there were any patrician magistrates, the auspices were exclusively in their hands; on their entrance upon office, they received the auspices (accipiebant auspicia, Cic. de Div. II.36); while their office lasted, they were in possession of them (habebant or erant eorum auspicia, Gell. XIII.15); and at the expiration of their office, they laid them down (ponebant or deponebant auspicia, Cic. de Nat. Deor. II.3). In case, however, there was no patrician magistrate, the auspices became vested in the whole body of the patricians, which was expressed by the words auspicia ad patres redeunt (Cic. Brut. 5, de Nat. Deor. II.3). This happened in the kingly period on the demise of a king, and the patricians then chose an interrex, who was therefore invested by them with the right of taking the auspices, and was thus enabled to mediate between the gods and the state in the election of a new king. In like manner in the republican period, when it was believed that there had been something faulty (vitium) in the auspices in the election of the consuls, and they were obliged in consequence to resign their office, the auspices returned to the whole body of the patricians, who had recourse to an interregnum for the renewal of the auspices, and for handing them over in a perfect state to the new magistrates: hence we find the expressions repetere de integro auspicia and renovare per interregnum auspicia (Liv. V.17, 31, VI.1).

It will be seen from what has been said that the Roman state was a species of theocracy, that the gods were its rulers, and that it was by means of the auspices that they intimated their will to the representatives of the people, that is, the magistrates. It follows from this, as has already been remarked, that no public act could be performed without consulting the auspices, no election could be held, no law passed, no war waged; for a neglect of the auspices would have been equivalent to a declaration that the gods had ceased to rule the Roman state.

There still remain three points in connection with the auspices which require notice:

  1. The relation of the magistrates to the augurs in taking the auspices.
  2. The manner in which the magistrates received the auspices.
  3. The relation of the different magistrates to one another with respect to the auspices.

We can only make a few brief remarks upon each of these important matters, and must refer out readers for fuller information to the masterly discussion of Rubino (Röm. Verfassung, p48, &c.), to whom we are indebted for a great part of the present article.

  1. 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 (Cic. de Div. I.2, II.17; LIV. 1.10). 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 (Cic. de Rep. II.9). 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 (De Divin. I.40). 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 (Cic. de Leg. II.8). 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 (de Leg. II.12). 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 (Liv. VI.27, VIII.23).

    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 p178nuntiatio (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 (Cic. de Leg. II.12). In this way we are able to understand the assertion of Cicero (Philipp. II.32), 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).

  2. 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 (Dionys. II.6). 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 (Liv. I.18). 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.

  3. 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 (Messalla, ap. Gell. XIII.15).

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 (de Rep. II.9), who supposed Numa to have added two more (II.14), without, however, stating in what way these latter corresponded to the tribes. On the other side stand different statements of Livy, first, one (IV.4) 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 (X.6), 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 (Hist. of Rome, vol. III p352), 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 (de Div. I.40), 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.

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 (Liv. Epit. 89). A sixteenth memberº was added by Julius Caesar after his return from Egypt (Dion Cass. XLII.51).

The members of the college of augurs possessed self-election (cooptati). At first they were appointed by the king, but as the king himself was an augur, p179their appointment by him was not considered contrary to this principle (Romulus cooptavit augures, de Rep. II.9). They retained the right of co-optation until B.C. 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 (Cic. de Leg. Agr. II.7; Vell. Pat. II.12; Suet. Ner. 2). The Domitian law was repealed by Sulla B.C. 81 (Pseudo-Ascon. in Cic. Div. p102, ed. Orelli), but again restored B.C. 63, during the consulship of Cicero, by the tribune T. Annius Labienus, with the support of Caesar (Dion Cass. XXXVII.37). It was a second time abrogated by Antony B.C. 44 (Dion Cass. XLIV.53); 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 (Plin. Ep. IV.8). When a vacancy occurred, the candidate was nominated by two of the elder members of the college (Cic. Phil. II.2), the electors were sworn, and the new member was then solemnly inaugurated (Cic. Brut. 1). On such occasion there was always a splendid banquet given, at which all the augurs were expected to be present (Cic. ad Fam. VII.26, ad Att. XII. 13, 14, 15). 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 (Cic. de Sen. 18). 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 (Cic. ad Fam. III.10). The augur, who had inaugurated a younger member, was always to be regarded by the latter in the light of a parent (in parentis eum loco colere, Cic. Brut. 1).

As insignia of their office the augurs wore the trabea, or public dress (Serv. ad Aen. VII.612), and carried in their hand the lituus or curved wand [Lituus]. 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 (Liv. X.7; Varr. L. L. V.121, ed. Müller). Both of these instruments are seen in the annexed coin of Lentulus.


[image ALT: A coin of Lentulus Spinther. The obverse shows his head with the inscription C.CASSI.IMP/LEIBERTAS. The reverse shows the chief ritual implements of the Roman religious functionary known as an augur: a 'capis' - a sort of pitcher - and the crozier-shaped 'lituus'.]

The science of the augurs was called jus augurum and jus augurium, and was preserved in books (libri augurales), 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 (II.6), 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. (Mascov, De Jure Auspicii apud Romanos, Lips. 1721; Werther, De Auguriis Romanis, Lemgo, 1835; Creuzer, Symbolik, vo. II p935, &c.; Müller, Etrusker, vol. II p110, &c.; Hartung, Die Religion der Römer, vol. 1 p98, &c.; Göttling, Geschichte der Röm. Staatsverf. p198, &c.; Becker, Röm. Alterth. vol. II part I. p304; but above all Rubino, Röm. Verfassung, p34, &c.)


The Author's Note:

1 There can be no reasonable doubt that by patres in these passages the whole body of the patricians is meant, and not the senators, as Rubino asserts (cf. Becker, Röm. Alterth. vol. II part I p304, &c.)


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