An augur would be expected advise whether the omens were auspicious or inauspicious. The augurs were at first only three in number but they eventually increased to fifteen
Power of the Augur
The ceremony and function of the augur was extremely important to the Romans and the powerful augurs would be consulted prior to any major undertaking in Roman society, both public and private, including matters relating to war, commerce, and religion. The augurs were to tell whether any action should be fortunate or prejudicial to any particular persons, or to the whole commonwealth.
Definition of Augury
The word augury was directly related to interpreting the behaviour of birds. Interpretations of divinations achieved by augury was taken from the the flight of birds which were called the auspices.
There were five kinds of auguries which were used in Ancient Rome:
From the appearances in heaven such as thunder, lightning, comets and other meteors; as, for instance, whether the thunder came from the right or left, whether the number of strokes was even or odd
From birds (hence the name of auspices). Some birds furnished them with observations from their chattering and singing in birds such as such as crows and owls. Other birds from their flying such as as eagles and vultures
From chickens kept in a coop for this purpose. The manner of divining from chickens were that early in the morning the augur, commanding a general silence, ordered the coop to be opened, and threw down a handful of crumbs or corn. If the chickens did not immediately run to the food, if they scattered it with their wings, if they went by without taking notice of it, or if they flew away, the omen was believed to be unfortunate indicating danger or misfortune. But if the chickens leaped directly from the pen, and eat voraciously there was great assurance of happiness and success
From animals such as foxes, wolves, goats, heifers etc. The general observations about the animals were whether they appeared in a strange place, or crossed the way, or whether they ran to the right or the left etc.
The last kind of divination was from unusual accidents, such as sneezing, stumbling, seeing apparitions, hearing strange voices, the falling of salt upon the tableetc.
Taking the Auspices
To take the auguries relating to birds or observing the heavens, the augur stood upon a tower with his head covered in a gown, peculiar to his office, and turning his face towards the east, marked out the heavens into four quarters, with a short, straight rod, with a little turning at one end. After completing this ceremony he stood waiting for the omen, which never signified anything, unless confirmed by another of the same sort. The right of taking auspices was long the peculiar privilege of the patricians and frequently afforded them pretexts for evading the demands of the plebeians. When a law was to be proposed which would aid the Plebs it was easy to discover some unfavourable omen which prohibited discussion. When a patrician privilege was to be annulled the augurs readily saw or heard some signal of divine wrath which prevented the vote from being completed.
The definition of the Aruspices (aka Aruspex or Haruspex plural Haruspices) was a man trained to practice a form of divination called haruspicy, hepatoscopy or hepatomancy. The role of the Aruspices was to examine the animals offered in sacrifices on the altars of the gods, and by them to divine the success of any enterprise. They took their observations from:
- The animals before they were cut up
- The entrails of those animals after they were cut up
- The flame that used to rise when they were burning
- The flour of bran, from the frankincense, wine and water, which they used in the sacrifice