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AUGURES

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[not probably, from avis, a bird, but from a lost word, aug-o, to tell; so "declarers" or "tellers"]. A priestly collegium at Rome, the establishment of which was traditionally ascribed to Romulus. Its members were in possession of the knowledge necessary to make the arrangements for taking the auspices, and for their interpretation when taken. Their assistance was called in on all those occasions on which the State had to assure itself, through auspices, of the approval of the gods. The collegium originally consisted of three Patricians, of whom the king was one. During the regal period the number was doubled; in B.C. 300 it was raised to nine (four Patricians and five Plebeians); and in the last century of the Republic, under Sulla, to fifteen, and finally by Julius Caesar to sixteen, a number which continued unaltered under the Empire. It can be shown that the college of augurs continued to exist until the end of the 4th century A.D. The office was, on account of its political importance, much sought after, and only filled by persons of high birth and distinguished merit. It was held for life, an augur not being precluded from holding other temporal or spiritual dignities. Vacancies in the collegium were originally filled up by cooptation; but after 104 B.C. the office was elective, the tribes choosing one of the candidates previously nominated. An augurium had to be taken before the augur entered upon his duties. In all probability the augurs ranked according to seniority, and the senior augur presided over the business of the collegium. The insignia of the office were the trabea, a state dress with a purple border, and the lituus, a staff without knots and curved at the top. The science of Roman augury was based chiefly on written tradition. This was contained partly in the Libri Augurales, the oldest manual of technical practice, partly in the Commentarii Augurales, a collection of answers given in certain cases to the enquiries of the senate. In ancient times the chief duty of the augurs was to observe, when commissioned by a magistrate do so, the omens given by birds, and to mark out the templum or consecrated space within which the observation took place. The proceeding was as follows. Immediately after midnight, or at the dawn of the day on which the official act was to take place, the augur, in the presence of the magistrate, selected an elevated spot with as wide a view as was obtainable. Taking his station here, he drew with his staff two straight lines cutting one another, the one from north to south, the other from east to west. Then to each of these straight lines he drew two parallel lines, thus forming a rectangular figure, which he consecrated according to a prescribed form of words. This space, as well as the space corresponding to it in the sky, was called a templum. At the point of intersection in the centre of the rectangle, was erected the tabernaculum. This was a square tent, with its entrance looking south. Here the augur sat down, asked the gods for a sign according to a prescribed formula, and waited for the answer. Complete quiet, a clear sky, and an absence of wind were necessary conditions of the observation. The least noise was sufficient to disturb it, unless indeed the noise was occasioned by omens of terror (diroe), supposing the augur to have observed them or to intend doing so. As he looked south, the augur had the east on his left, the west on his right. Accordingly, the Romans regarded signs on the left side as of prosperous omen, signs on the right side as unlucky; the east being deemed the region of light, the west that of darkness. The reverse was the case in ancient Greece, where the observer looked northwards. In his observation of birds, the augur did not confine himself to noticing their flight. The birds were distinguished as alites and oscines. The alites included birds like eagles and vultures, which gave signs by their manner of flying. The oscines were birds which gave signs by their cry as well as their flight, such as ravens, owls, and crows. There were also birds which were held sacred to particular gods, and the mere appearance of which was an omen of good or evil. The augur's report was expressed in the words aves admittunt, "the birds allow it"; or alio die, "on another day," i.e. "the augury is postponed." The magistrate was bound by this report. The science of augury included other kinds of auspices besides the observation of birds, a cumbrous process which had dropped out of use in the Ciceronian age. (See AUSPICIA.) The augurs always continued in possession of important functions. In certain places in the city, for instance on the arx, and at the meeting place of the comitia, there were permanent posts of observation for taking the regular auspices. These places were put under the care of the augurs. Their boundaries might not be altered, nor the view which they commanded interfered with. The augurs had authority to prevent the erection of buildings which would do this. They had also the power of consecrating priests, as well as of inaugurating a part of the localities intended for religious purposes, and the places where public business was carried on. They were always present at the comitia, and were authorized, if the signs which they saw or which were reported to them justified the proceeding, to announce the fact and postpone the business. If the constitutional character of a public act was called in question, the college of augurs had the exclusive power of deciding whether there was a flaw (vitium) in it, or not. If there were, the act was necessarily annulled. By the end of the republican period the augurs, and the whole business of the auspices, had ceased to be regarded as deserving serious attention.

Pictures and Media
AUGUB WITH LITUUS. (Bas-relief in Museum, Florence.)
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