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Because the Cicero post will take a while to write and also involve me looking at his delicious invectives which are in my office, I give you...BIRDS.

The Romans loved auspices. They were like bird crack to them. They loved them as much as they loved ablative absolutes and that, my friends, is a lot of love.



1. How do you take auspices? Well, leaving aside the sacred chickens, you have to mark out a space of sky call a templum (in Rome that is de facto the Capitoline hill). Once you've done that you sit and wait for something to fly through it. Eagles and vultures are good. Owls are bad. Especially if they're on the left side. Despite wikipedia's assertions, augurs do not do this for the big public auspices. In fact, in general the College of Augurs (all elected, all aristocrats) only offer advice on what the auspices mean. You need to be a magistrate - consul, praetor or someone invested with imperium. Tribunes of the Plebs don't really count here, though in a pinch if you saw 50 owls on your left you'd probably mention it.

2. Auspices are awesome because you can use them to block legislation. In fact, announcing as a magistrate that you were planning on scanning the sky meant that you planned to find bad ones and that would make any legislation passed on that day void and against the will of the gods. So frequently was this used to stop legislation mid-vote or after the vote, they eventually passed (this was Clodius Pulcher's legislation) a ruling that you had to declare you were scanning the sky before a vote started.

3. Caesar's co-consul in 59 BCE, Bibulus, bloody hated Caesar. He decided the best way to block any of his actions as consul would be to announce every morning that he was planning on 'scanning the sky' while sitting at home. This meant that any action taken that day would be invalid. Caesar decided to ignore him and just go ahead anyway. Bibulus' reaction (in the face of no internet, which is a valuable tool for such things) was to have anonymous screeds posted all over Rome denouncing Caesar. Caesar ignored these too.

4. Auspices provided a valuable get out of jail free card for generals who lost battles. They'd wander back to Rome sans army and say 'Wow! I just remembered that I forgot that owl! CLEARLY THE GODS WERE AGAINST US AND THUS ME LOSING 10,000 MEN WAS THE WILL OF THE GODS.'

5. This sometimes worked. Unless you had messed with the sacred chickens. These were the chickens you brought with you on campaign: whether they ate or not or clapped their wings and gave a cry (very bad sign) determined whether you fought that day. Of course, certain magistrates would get annoyed at this and started shrieking at the Pullarius (the keeper of the sacred chickens) about their lack of cooperation (this shrieking probably got more intense as your year of being in office ran out and you were facing being replaced as general). In one famous occasion before the Battle of Drepana in 249 BCE the chickens just would not eat. Doubtless they were seasick as this was a naval battle and they were on board ship. The general Publius Claudius Pulcher decided that enough was enough. So he grabbed their coop and tossed it over the side with the saying "If they will not eat, let them drink!" The entire Roman fleet was almost completely wiped out, showing that it is a bad, bad idea to mess with the sacred chickens. He was convicted of sacrilege and exiled. Serves him right. ALWAYS LISTEN TO THE CHICKENS. Land surveyers (the people sent out to set up new colonies) also brought them along, though we know less about how they were used. I imagine people setting up cities entirely based on chicken logic, which is probably not the best logic you could employ in setting up new cities, but it seems to have worked, so who am I to quibble with them. According to Pliny chickens are pretty religious and purify themselves and their eggs after they lay them.

6. What did augurs actually do? Well, the answer is not a lot. The College of Augurs could interpret auspices, but unless they are also a magistrate of the right sort, they cannot look for auspices. (Cicero makes a lot of fun of Mark Antony, who like him was also a member of the college, for not knowing this. Antony probably thought that turning up for meetings and actually reading up on what augurs could do was too much like hard work.)

7. There were also sacred geese of Juno Moneta (Juno the Warner). These once warned the Romans of a sneak attack by the Gauls on the Capitoline; after that they were celebrated and carried around on litters. For some reason the idea of a bunch of smug looking geese being carried around on litters makes me very happy.

8. Pliny the Elder on birds (Book 10 should you want to entertain yourself some time)! Always hilarious, never boring that man (he also said there was no book so bad that some good could not be got from it, so you have to love him for that). Ostriches fight by lifting stones with their feet, hurling them at enemies and then running away. Cuckoos are actually hawks that change into their shape during certain times of the year. Their chicks make good eating, though! Geese, however, are a bit amorous and tend to fall in love with people. In fact, there was a female lyreplayer who once had a fan club of a goose and a ram, both of which had fallen madly in love with her and followed her around. Geese are also very philosophical: in fact, there was a philosopher who kept one because of this. Swans do not sing before they die (score one for Pliny) but they do kill and eat each other (perhaps minus one for Pliny, unless they actually do, in which case, go Pliny!). Quails are cute unless you're a sailor, as they like to alight in droves on ships and sink them with their weight. Doves are completely chaste and never get divorces, though the females are very jealous and wary of other female doves and will give their husbands a hard time if he as much as looks at one. They love their young, and if the female is off gallivanting for too long, their husbands will give them hell for not coming home sooner. Some varieties of doves live 30-40 years. Although you can train other birds, swallows will just not be taught anything, so don't waste your time (the same is true of rats and mice). If you're interested in cooking with birds, Pliny is also your man. Though many of his recipes are probably unworkable or illegal now.

9. A final note on the tragic story of a raven and a shoemaker. Once some ravens (normally a bird that is ill-omened) nested in the Temple of Castor and Pollux in Rome's Forum. One of these flew into a shoemaker's shop, but as it came from a temple, he decided it was a good omen and let it stay. After a while it picked up human speech and would fly into the forum and greet the imperial family by name and wish them good morning. Eventually it would do this for ordinary Romans who passed by and so became loved and cherished by everyone. Of course, the shoemaker did roaring business as a result and his competitors became jealous. One killed it out of spite, saying it had fouled a pair of his shoes. The Romans decided this would be a good reason to have a riot and lynch him. After this was done, they buried the raven in a giant funeral complete with litter and coffin and two slaves carrying this to the place where he was cremated with ceremony. He had a tomb on the Appian Way along with other Roman notables.



I apologise for clogging up your flist with horrific knowledge about the Romans - sometimes I just can't stop myself sharing these things. THE WORLD MUST KNOW.
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