Augures (watchers of birds) In ancient Roman cult, a group of priests established, according to tradition, by Romulus. Their function, important in Roman life, was not to predict the future but, by observing natural signs, to determine if the gods approved of a specific action. They wore a state dress with a purple border and carried a staff without knots and curled at the top. Roman augury was based chiefly on written works such as the Libri Augurales, a book on the techniques of augury, and the Commentarii Augurales, a collection of answers given to inquiries of the Roman senate. Magistrates would commission augurs to provide answers to specific questions by observing omens of birds. They would consecrate the observation place with the following rite: Immediately after midnight or at dawn, the augur, in the presence of the magistrate, selected an elevated spot with a view as wide as possible. Taking his station, he drew with his staff two straight lines crossing one another—one north to south, the other east to west. He then enclosed this cross in a rectangle, forming four smaller rectangles. The augur then spoke the ritual words consecrating the marked space. This space within the rectangle as well as the space upward to the sky was called the templum. At the point of the intersection in the center of the rectangle was erected the tabernaculum, which was a square tent with its entrance looking south. Here the augur, facing south, sat down, asked the gods for a sign according to a prescribed formula, and waited for an answer. Complete quiet, a clear sky, and an absence of wind were necessary conditions for the rite. The least noise was sufficient to disturb it, unless noise was an omen of terror, called diroe. The Romans regarded signs on the left side as propitious omens, signs on the right side as unlucky. The east was the region of light, and the west was that of darkness. The reverse was the case in ancient Greece, where the observer looked northward. The augur watched the birds for omens. Eagles and vultures gave signs by their manner of flying; ravens, owls, and crows by their cry as well as their flight. Some bird species were held sacred to particular gods, and the appearance of those birds were omens of good or evil. The augur’s report was expressed in the words “the birds allow it” or “on another day,” meaning postponement



Encyclopedia of World Mythology and Legend, Third Edition – Written by Anthony S. Mercatante & James R. Dow