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 p709  Lituus

Article by William Ramsay, M.A., Professor of Humanity in the University of Glasgow
on p709 of

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

LI′TUUS. Müller (Die Etrusker, IV.1.5) supposes this to be an Etruscan word​a signifying crooked. In the Latin writers it is used to denote

  1. The crooked staff borne by the augurs, with which they divided the expanse of heaven when viewed with reference to divination (templum), into regions (regiones); the number of these according to the Etruscan discipline, being sixteen, according to the Roman practice, four (Müller, III.6.1; Cic. de Div. II.18). Cicero (de Div. I.17)º describes the lituus as "incurvum et leviter a summo inflexum bacillum;" and Livy (I.18) as "baculum sine nodo aduncum." It is very frequently exhibited upon works of art. The figure in the middle of the following illustrations is from a most ancient specimen of Etruscan sculpture in the possession of Inghirami (Monumenti Etruschi, tom. VI tav. P.5.1), representing an augur; the two others are Roman denarii.

[image ALT: Two coins, obverse and reverse; and a stele of a standing man holding a crooked sort of staff or crozier. Among them, 3 examples of the 'lituus'.]

  2. A sort of trumpet slightly curved at the extremity (Festus, s.v.; Gell. V.8). It differed both from the tuba and the cornu (Hor. Carm. II.1.17; Lucan, I.237), the former being straight while the latter was bent round into a spiral shape. Lydus (de Mens. IV.60) calls the lituus the sacerdotal trumpet (ἱερατικὴ σάλπιγγα), and says that it was employed by Romulus when he proclaimed the title of his city. Acro (ad Horat. Carm. I.1.23) asserts that it was peculiar to cavalry, while the tuba belonged to infantry. Its tones are usually characterised as harsh and shrill (stridor lituum, Lucan, I.237; sonitus acutos, Ennius, apud Fest.s.v.; Stat. Theb. VI.228, &c.). See Müller, Die Etrusker, IV.1.5. The following representation is from Fabretti.​b

[image ALT: A valveless trumpet, somewhat curved upwards at the end. It is an example of the Roman instrument known as a 'lituus'.]

Thayer's Notes:

a Plutarch (Rom. 22.1) attributes its introduction at Rome to Romulus and says that it was preserved until after the Gallic invasion, 390 B.C.

b Even if much older trumpets are known in the Near East, there are some grounds for believing that the Roman lituus was of Etruscan origin; yet few Etruscan trumpets have survived. See George Dennis's chapter on Clusium for an engraving of one now in the Museo Gregoriano Etrusco in the Vatican. The original engraving in Fabretti (1683) is in De Columna Traiani Syntagma, p204.

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Page updated: 29 Apr 17