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date: 09 December 2022



  • J. Linderski


  • Roman Myth and Religion

Augures, official Roman diviners. They formed one of the four great colleges of priests (see collegium), instituted (so the tradition) in the regal period; originally made up of three (patrician) members, the complement was increased to nine in 300 bce when the plebeians were admitted (five plebeians, four patricians), to fifteen by Sulla, and sixteen by Caesar. New members were admitted (for life) through co-optation; from 103 bce through popular election by the assembly of seventeen tribes (see tribus) from the candidates nominated by two college members. Etymology disputed: traditionally derived from ‘directing the birds’ (avi + ger (o)), but probably connected with the root aug (eo), denoting increase and prosperity (cf. augustus). We have to distinguish between the functions of the individual augurs and those of the college. As a college they were a body of experts whose duty was to uphold the augural doctrine (variously described as disciplina, ars, scientia) or law (ius augurium or augurale) that governed the observation and application of the auspices (see auspicium) in Roman public life (Cic. Nat. D 1. 122; Leg. 2. 20–1). They passed decrees (decreta) either on their own initiative (mostly concerning theoretical aspects of the doctrine) or more frequently as responses (responsa) to questions posed by the senate or the magistrates. These ‘responses’ often dealt with cases of ritual fault (vitium) which would nullify the auspices or with the removal of religio, a ritual obstacle to an action. The senate was free either to accept or to reject the advice. Individual augurs were both experts (periti) and priests (sacerdotes). They could give responsa (to be distinguished from those of the college); in their capacity as priests they celebrated various rites known as auguria, and also (when asked) performed inaugurations of priests and temples (templa). They could assist the magistrates in taking the auspices (although this happened much less frequently than is generally assumed) and, in particular, an augur had the right of making a binding announcement (nuntiatio) of adverse unsolicited (oblative) omens, especially at the popular assemblies (Cic. Leg. 2. 31; Phil. 2. 79–84).


  • J. Linderski, Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt 2. 16. 3 (1986), 2146 ff.
  • P. Cohee, Philologus (2001), 79 ff.
  • J. Vaahtera, Roman Augural Lore in Greek Historiography (2001).