Rome Hotels Articles

August 10, 2010

The role of the augur in Ancient Rome

“The Senate can not meet today. The auspices are not favourable. Everyone return home.”

Imagine if our government shut down over the interpretation of bird flight patterns? In ancient Rome, the augur’s role was to observe and interpret the signs from the gods, also known as the auspices. If the augur said the auspices indicated that the day was “auspicia oblativa” (unfavorable), the government would not meet. Favorable signs (auspicia impetrativa) would indicate otherwise.

An augur is a member of a college of priests (the augures) who were officially authorized to conduct the auspices before all important business. The auspices were taken by examining bird flight or the feeding patterns of chickens especially kept for this purpose. The gods were thought to communicate with men through the auspices.

Since the augur understood the auspices, he understood the will of the gods. The augur’s role was to assess if the gods approved a proposed course of action. For example, the augur might be consulted prior to going to battle, starting a commercial venture, or going on a voyage. Augurs did not predict the future, though there were instances of augurs giving warnings to individuals. For example, Julius Caesar was warned about the Ides of March by an augur.

The taking of auspices was considered so important in Rome that armies would bring chickens along with them to battle, so an augur could read the signs of the gods before engaging in combat.

Augurs were necessary to help consecrate sacred space, a templum (not to be confused with our “temple”). Again, because the augurs understood the will of the goods, they knew which area the gods considered sanctified and which were not.

Another role the augurs had was to help found new towns. When the Romans desired to start a colony, the augur would mark out the two main cross-streets of the town, the cardo maximus and the decumanus maximus. The location of these streets would be determiend based on astronomical sightings. The augur would then assist in leading a plough around the border of the city, where the wall or rampart would be placed.

Augurs were elected to their position and often held other jobs simultaneously. A person could be a lawyer and an augur, for example. During the period of the early republic, the position of augur was reserved only for individuals born into patrician families. Those born into Plebian families were not allowed to become augurs.

Emperors and other politicos often indicated that they had served as augures by including symbols of the office on official coins: a one handled jug and a short staff with a curved end called a lituus.

Many other types of divination existed in Rome. For example, the reading of animal intestines was done by a haruspex (literally a “gut inspector”), a position that has its origins in the Etruscan peoples who inhabited Italy. In addition to reading the innards of sacrificed animals, the haruspex would read and interpret prodigies (unusual occurrences like two headed calves or eclipses) and lightening.

Also, the augurs were not the only priests of ancient Rome. The pontifices and the decem viri sacres faciundis were other priesthoods that could be held in Rome.

No related posts.

No Comments

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Powered by WordPress