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AUSPICIA
Form: "observations of birds".

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In its proper sense the word means the watching of signs given by birds. But it was also applied to other signs, the observation of which was not intended to obtain answers about future events, but only to ascertain whether a particular proceeding was or was not acceptable to the deity concerned. It must be remembered that, according to Roman ideas, Jupiter gave men signs of his approval or disapproval in every undertaking; signs which qualified persons could read and understand. Any private individual was free to ask for, and to interpret, such signs for his own needs. But to ask for signs on behalf of the State was only allowed to the representatives of the community. The auspicia publica populi Romani, or system of public auspicia, were under the superintendence of the college of augurs. (See AUGUR.) This body alone possessed the traditional knowledge of the ceremonial, and held the key to the correct interpretation of the signs. The signs from heaven might be asked for, or they might present themselves unasked. They fell into five classes: (1) Signs given by birds (signa ex avibus). These, as the name auspicia shows, were originally the commonest sort, but had become obsolete as early as the 1st century B.C. (For the ceremonial connected with them, see AUGUR.) (2) Signs in the sky (ex coelo). The most important and decisive were thunder and lightning. Lightning was a favourable omen if it appeared to the left of the augur, and flashed to the right; unfavourable, if it flashed from right to left. (See AUGUR.) In certain cases, as, for example, that of the assembling of the comitia, a storm was taken as an absolute prohibition of the meeting. (3) Signs from the behaviour of chickens while eating. It was a good omen if the chicken rushed eagerly out of its cage at its food and dropped a bit out of its beak; an unfavourable omen if it was unwilling, or refused altogether, to leave its cage, or flew away, or declined its food. This clear and simple method of getting omens was generally adopted by armies in the field, the chickens being taken about in charge of a special functionary (pullarius). (4) Signs given by the cries or motion of animals, as reptiles and quadrupeds, in their course over a given piece of ground (signa pedestria or ex quadrupedibus). (5) Signs given by phenomena of terror (signa ex diris). These might consist in disturbances of the act of auspicatio, such as the falling of an object, a noise, a stumble, a slip in the recitation of the formula; or a disturbance occurring in the course of public business, such as, for instance, an epileptic seizure taking place in the public assembly; an event which broke up the meeting. The two last-mentioned classes of signs were generally not asked for, because the former were usually, the latter always, unlucky. If they made their appearance unasked, they could not be passed over, if the observer saw them or wished to see them. Every official was expected to take auspices on entering upon his office, and on every occasion of performing an official act. Thus the words imperium and auspicium were often virtually synonymous. The auspicia were further divided, according to the dignity of the magistrate, into maxima ("greatest") and minora ("less"). The greatest auspicia were those which weretaken by the king, dictator, consuls, praetors, and censors; the lesser were taken by aediles and quaestors. If two magistrates, though collegoe (colleagues) were of unequal dignity-supposing, for instance, that a consul and praetor were in the same camp-the higher officer alone had the right of taking the auspices. If the collegoe were equal, the auspices passed from one to the other at stated times. No public act, whether of peace or war (crossing a river, for instance, or fighting a battle), could be undertaken without auspices. They were specially necessary at the election of all officials, the entry upon all offices, at all comitia, and at the departure of a general for war. They had, further, to be taken on the actual day and at the actual place of the given undertaking. The whole proceeding was so abused that in time it sank into a mere form. This remark applies even to the auspices taken from lightning, the most important sign of all. For the flash of lightning, which was in later times regularly supposed to appear when a magistrate entered upon office, was always (after the necessary formalities) set down as appearing on the left side. Moreover, the mere assertion of a magistrate who, had the right of auspicium that he had taken observations on a particular day, and seen a flash of lightning, was constitutionally unassailable; and was consequently often used to put off a meeting of the comitia fixed for the clay in question. Augustus, it is true, tried to rehabilitate, the auspicia, but their supposed religious foundation had been so thoroughly shaken, that they had lost all serious significance.

Pictures and Media
AUSPICIA PULLARIA (BAS-RELIEF, ROME). (From Zoega's Bassivilievi,1 tav. xvi.)
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