1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Haruspices

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HARUSPICES, or Aruspices (perhaps “entrail observers,” cf. Skt. hira, Gr. χορδή), a class of soothsayers in Rome. Their art (disciplina) consisted especially in deducing the will of the gods from the appearance presented by the entrails of the slain victim . They also interpreted all portents or unusual phenomena of nature, especially thunder and lightning, and prescribed the expiatory ceremonies after such events. To please the god, the victim must be without spot or blemish, and the practice of observing whether the entrails presented any abnormal appearance, and thence deducing the will of heaven, was also very important in Greek religion. This art, however, appears not to have been, as some other modes of ascertaining the will of the gods undoubtedly were, of genuine Aryan growth. It is foreign to the Homeric poems, and must have been introduced into Greece after their composition. In like manner, as the Romans themselves believed, the art was not indigenous in Rome, but derived from Etruria.[1] The Etruscans were said to have learned it from a being named Tages, grandson of Jupiter, who had suddenly sprung from the ground near Tarquinii. Instructions were contained in certain books called libri haruspicini, fulgurales, rituales. The art was practised in Rome chiefly by Etruscans, occasionally by native-born Romans who had studied in the priestly schools of Etruria. From the regal period to the end of the republic, haruspices were summoned from Etruria to deal with prodigies not mentioned in the pontifical and Sibylline books, and the Roman priests carried out their instructions as to the offering necessary to appease the anger of the deity concerned. Though the art was of great importance under the early republic, it never became a part of the state religion. In this respect the haruspices ranked lower than the augurs, as is shown by the fact that they received a salary; the augurs were a more ancient and purely Roman institution, and were a most important element in the political organization of the city. In later times the art fell into disrepute, and the saying of Cato the Censor is well known, that he wondered how one haruspex could look another in the face without laughing (Cic. De div. ii. 24). Under the empire, however, we hear of a regular collegium of sixty haruspices; and Claudius is said to have tried to restore the art and put it under the control of the pontifices. This collegium continued to exist till the time of Alaric.

See A. Bouché-Leclercq, Histoire de la divination dans l'antiquité (1879-1881); Marquardt, Römische Staatsverwaltung, iii. (1885), pp. 410-415; G. Schmeisser, Die etruskische Disciplin vom Bundesgenossenkriege bis zum Untergang des Heidentums (1881), and Quaestionum de Etrusca disciplina particula (1872); P. Clairin, De haruspicibus apud Romanos (1880). Also Omen.


  1. The statement of Dionysius of Halicarnassus (ii. 22) that the haruspices were instituted by Romulus is due to his confusing them with the augurs.