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Roman Italy (1st Century AD)


Lucius’ Putative ‘Libri Auspiciorum


Linked pages: Lucius Julius Caesar (Consul of 64 BC)

Lucius' Putative ‘Libri Auspiciorum’     Lucius' Putative ‘Libri Pontificales’

Lucius’ Antiquarian Activity

Timothy Cornell (in T. J. Cornell, referenced below, I: p. 641, Appendix I, A24) deduced from the surviving evidence that Lucius was responsible for:

  1. “... a number of scholarly works, including libri pontificales [probably best translated as ‘books on pontifical affairs’] and libri auspiciorum [books on auspices].

Neither of these works survives.  I discuss: 

  1. the libri auspiciorum below; and

  2. the libri pontificales in my page: Lucius' Putative Libri Pontificales

Libri Auspiciorum

Lucius the Augur

As set out in my main page on Lucius’ political career, Jörg Rüpke (referenced below, at p. 115 and p. 117) recorded that Lucius was first documented as an augur in either 88 or 81 BC, when he would have been in his late teens or early twenties.  Rüpke (at pp. 119-32) had him as the senior member of the college in the period 75 - 40 BC and absent thereafter (which indicates that he died in 40 BC). 

Despite Lucius’ 35 years as the most senior member of the collegium augurum, we find him acting in this capacity in the surviving sources on only one occasion, when he attended a sumptuous banquet that was held to celebrate the inauguration of Lucius Cornelius Lentulus Niger as a flamen Martialis: Macrobius recorded this:

  1. “... pontifical dinner on 20th August [during the term as pontifex maximus of Quintus Caecilius Metellus Pius] ... The pontiffs [present ... included Caius Julius Caesar] ... and Lucius Julius Caesar, the augur who inaugurated Lentulus ...”, (‘Saturnalia’, 3: 13: 11, translated by Robert Kastor, referenced below, at vol. II: p. 93).

According to Jörg Rüpke (referenced below, at p. 938, note 2 and p. 122), the date would have been 20th August 70 BC.

Sources for Lucius’ Works on Augury

Christopher Smith (referenced below, 2010, at p. 261) reproduced four surviving citations (his F1 - F4) of a work on augury by a member of the gens Julia Caesaris, all of which he  attributed to ‘our. Lucius, the consul of 64 BC:

  1. Two of these citations named (or suggested the name of) the cited work:

  2. (F1).  According to the Latin grammarian and philosopher Macrobius (ca. 400 AD):

  3. “Julius Caesar, in the 16th book of his libri auspiciorum, says that a non-voting assembly cannot be held on a market day ...”, (‘Saturnalia’, 1: 16: 29, translated by Robert Kastor, referenced below, at vol. I, p. 201).

  4. (F2).  The Latin grammarian Priscian (ca. 500 AD) glossed a phrase used by:

  5. Caesar in auguralibus”,(‘Institutiones Grammaticae’, 6,: 16: 86)

  6. Christopher Smith (as above) suggested that the phrase in question might well have come from one of a series of libri augurales.

  7. (F3).  In a later passage (‘Institutiones Grammaticae’, 8,: 4: 15), Priscian referred to a phrase used by “L. Caesar”:

  8. Certaeque res augurantur ...” (certain things: begin with the taking of the auspices; or, perhaps, are foreseen through auspices).

  9. (F4).  Festus, in his epitome of the work of the Latin grammarian Verrius Flaccus (died ca. 20 BC), recorded that:

  10. “L. Caesar thought that the consul maior was [traditionally either]:

  11. the man who had the fasces [at a particular point in the consular year]; or

  12. the man who had been elected first.

  13. Moreover, the praetor maior was the urban praetor, while the [other praetors] were called minores”, (‘de Verborum Significatu’, 154 L, translated by Roberta Stewart, referenced below, at pp. 212-3).

  14. As we shall see, comparison with other works in which this topic was discussed suggest that ‘L. Caesar’ expressed this opinion in his capacity as augur.

Smith’s assertion represents the present scholarly consensus.  For example:

  1. Timothy Cornell (in T. J. Cornell, referenced below, I: p. 641, Appendix I, A24) cited Smith’s F1, F2 and F4 when he asserted that:

  2. “Most scholars agree that [our Lucius] ... is known to have written a number of scholarly works, including ... libri auspiciorum”.

  3. More recently, Lindsay Driediger-Murphy (referenced below, at pp. 28-9) asserted that:

  4. “Several augurs are cited as having written about augury, or as having expressed opinions on points of augural doctrine (... often taken as references to texts although, in fact, [... some of them the quoted opinions might originally have been delivered orally]).  Examples include L. Julius Caesar (probably the consul of 64 BC); ...” 

  5. and cited (at note 107) all of Smith’s F1, F2, F3 and F4.

Thus, in what follows, I take it as read that all four of these citations refer to a text or recorded opinion of ‘our’ Lucius, the consul of 64 BC.

Testimony of Priscian (F2 and F3)

Christopher Smith (referenced below, 2010, at p. 263) observed that:

  1. “The most secure [of these four citations] is Macrobius’ reference to a work on auspices [F1 - see below]; this might be the same as the work that Priscian cites in F2, [which] is almost certainly the same as the [work that he] cited ...  in F3.”

If this is accepted, then Lucius Caesar (identified as such in F3) wrote a series of at least 16 book known as the libri auspiciorum (identified in F1). 

Given their lack of context, these two fragments from Priscian tell us nothing about the likely content of Lucius’ work(s) on augural doctrine.  However, further consideration of the other two fragments will throw some light on the matter.

Testimony of Macrobius (F1)

The context in which Macrobius placed F1 is as follows:

  1. “I can be criticised for saying [earlier in this chapter] that nundinae (the market days at the start of  the eight-day Roman week) were feriae (religious festivals), because [there is evidence against this proposition.  For example]:

  2. Titius, in his ‘de Feriis’,  ... called them only dies sollemnes [as opposed to dies religiosus];

  3. Julius Modestus [see below] is certain that, when the augur Messalla asked the pontiffs whether Roman market days ... are held to be religious festivals, they replied that they did not think so; and

  4. [Caius Trebatius Testa] in Book 1 of his ‘de Religionibus’ [1st century BC], says that a magistrate can free a slave and award judgments on a market day.

  5. Against this, however:

  6. Julius Caesar [presumed here to be ‘our’ Lucius], in the 16th book of his libri auspiciorum, says that a contio (non-voting assembly of the people) cannot be called on a market day, which means that a comitia (voting assembly, [which must be preceded by a contio], likewise cannot be held on a market day; and

  7. Cornelius Labeo, in Book 1 of his de Fastis, asserts that a market day is a religious festival”, (‘Saturnalia’, 1: 16: 28, translated by Robert Kastor, referenced below, at vol. I, pp. 199-201).

However, he rationalised this difference by suggesting that market days had been religious festivals until 287 BC, when:

  1. “...  the lex Hortensia made them days of legal business, so that the peasants who came to market in the city could settle their lawsuits; for, on a day not suited to legal business, the praetor could not utter the formula of judgment. So:

  2. those who say that a market day is a religious day have ancient practice on their side to save them from a charge of falsehood; while

  3. those who take the opposite view render a true judgment in the respect of the generations that came after [287 BC]”, (‘Saturnalia’, 1: 16: 29-30, translated by Robert Kastor, referenced below, at vol. I, p.201).

For our purposes, the most interesting thing about this long passage is that contains two augural pronouncements on the status of market days:

  1. that of Lucius; and

  2. that of “the augur Messalla”.

The latter was Marcus Valerius Messalla Rufus, the consul of 53 BC. 

Marcus Valerius Messalla Rufus

According to Macrobius:

  1. “Marcus Messalla, who was the colleague as consul of Cnaeus Domitius [in 53 BC] and for 55 years an augur, begins his account of Janus as follows ...”, (‘Saturnalia’, 1: 9: 14, translated by Robert Kastor, referenced below, at vol. I, p. 97).

According to Jörg Rüpke (referenced below, at p. 117), he was first documented as an augur in 81 BC, at which point Lucius was already a member of the collegium augurum.  Andrew Drummond (in T. J. Cornell, referenced below, I: p. 385 suggested that he owed his early admission to the augurate to Sulla, who had married his sister in ca. 80 BC.  He had a colourful political career, which ended in 51 BC when he was convicted of electoral corruption.  Caesar rehabilitated him to some extent in 49 BC, and he fought in the civil war on the Caesarian side thereafter.  However, he seems never to have returned to political life.

Messalla’s ‘de Auspiciis’

Jörg Rüpke (referenced below, at p. 132) had Messalla as the senior member of the collegium augurum from  in 39 BC (presumably after the death of Lucius), and he remained in this position until 26 BC (see p. 137).  As we shall see, he was also the author of a book that was known as ‘de Auspiciis’.  Andrew Drummond (in T. J. Cornell, referenced below, I: p. 387) suggested that he probably wrote it after his retirement from politics in 51 BC.

Macrobius’ References to Messalla and Lucius

As we have seen. Macrobius recorded that, according to Julius Modestus (a grammarian who was active in the Augustan period), Messalla, in his capacity as augur, had sought a ruling from the pontiffs (presumably from the collegium pontificum) on whether or not market days were automatically also religious holidays, and that he had received a tentative opinion in the negative.  What Macrobius does not tell us is where this exchange between the augur Messalla and the pontiffs had been recorded.  There are at least three possible sources that might have been available to him:

  1. material from the archives of:

  2. the collegium pontificum: or

  3. the collegium augurum: or

  4. material published by Messalla (perhaps in his ‘de Auspiciis’).

Macrobius was, however, specific about the source of his material that he attributed to Lucius: he cited the 16th book of his libri auspiciorum.

Macrobius considered that Lucius’ opinion on this matter was variance with that of the pontiffs (at Messalla’s behest), and suggested that this was because Lucius (unlike the pontiffs) was referring to the situation before the lex Hortensia.  However, as Agnes Michels (referenced below, at p. 85) pointed out,  it is highly  unlikely that this law actually had had that effect.  Furthermore, in relation to Lucius‘ testimony, Macrobius had not realised that: 

  1. “... a negative restriction does not prove a positive character.”

In other words, in stating that comitia could not be held on market days, Lucius had not added anything to the debate on whether or not market days were religious holidays, and we simply do not know whether he would have disagreed with the tentative opinion that the pontiffs had delivered at Messalla’s behest.  (If Macrobius had had direct access to Lucius’ libri auspiciorum, and if they had contained a passage that specifically contradicted the pontiffs’ opinion, Macrobius would surely have cited this passage.  However, we cannot rule out the possibility that he had not had a copy of Lucius’ work at his disposal, and that he had simply used a citation that he had discovered in another source.) 

Conclusions: Testimony of Macrobius (F1)

I seems to me that this passage of Macrobius is useful for our purposes because it suggests that, in the late Republic:

  1. members of both the augural and pontifical colleges were active in ‘pontificating’ on matters relating to the Roman calendar, which must, therefore,must therefore have still been open for debate; and

  2. the colleges (or, at least, the collegium pontificum) issued (and probably documented) decrees on such matters; and

  3. the individual members of the collegium augurum such as Lucius (and possibly Messallla) sometimes published their own opinions on matters of pontifical and/or augural law.

Testimony of Festus/ Verrius Flaccus (F4) 

As we have seen, Verrius Flaccus/ Festus recorded Lucius’ opinion of the significance of the qualifying adjectives maiore and minore when applied to the nouns consul or praetor.  As it happens, Festus had dealt with other opinions on this matter in an earlier entry:

  1. “Some think that he who has the greatest imperium is called the praetor maximus, [while] others think that the [praetor] of the greatest age is called maximus.  There is, in fact, a decree of the collegium augurum, [to the effect] that, in the hymn of the augurium salutis, the praetors are called maiores and minores, not with reference to age, but [with reference] to the strength of their imperium”, (‘de Verborum Significatu’, 152 L, translated by Roberta Stewart, referenced below, at p. 113).

This testimony should logically be the point from which our discussion of F4 should start.

Augurium Salutis and the Decree of the Collegium Augurum (Festus 152L)

Jerzy Linderski (referenced below, 1986 p. 2177) observed that:

  1. “An important function of the collegium augurum was to provide binding explanations of old augural documents concerning the ius publicum (public law).  Here belongs the decree mentioned by Festus, at 152L.”

In other words, this decree probably ruled on the significance of the qualifying adjectives ‘maiore’ and ‘minore’ when applied to the noun ‘praetor’ in an ancient augural document that related to the ceremony known as the augurium salutis.

Georg Wissowa (referenced below, at p. 2328) observed that;

  1. “On the importance of [the augurium salutis], we only have the wild account of Cassius Dio ...”

In this  account, Cassius Dio described the ritual as:

  1. “... a kind of augury that involves enquiring whether the god permits [the Romans] to ask for the safety of the people (as if it were nefas (unholy) even to [make such an enquiry] before permission to do so had been granted)”, (‘Roman History’, 37: 24 :1-2).

Jyri Vaahtera (referenced below, at p. 134) suggested that the early part of this this description:

  1. “... seems to preserve the essence of the [prayer ] pronounced by the augur, which could have been something like:

  2. si est fas (praetorem maximum?) salutem populi Romani petere ...’

  3. [‘If it is holy for (the praetor maximus ?) to pray for the safety of the Roman people ...’]”

Form of the Augurium Salutis

Jyri Vaahtera (above) tentatively suggested that, after the augurs had ascertained that Jupiter was agreeable, the praetor maximus might originally have actually offered up the prayer for the safety of the Roman people: for the likely meaning of this archaic term, see Terry Corey Brennan (referenced below, at pp. 20-2 and pp. 41-3).  Jerzy Linderski (referenced below, 1986 p. 2178), who believed that the decree had probably been issued in 63 BC (see his pp. 2179-80) argued that:

  1. “It is rather strange that the [collegium augurum] should have been called upon to decide a question of merely antiquarian interest].  Few politicians would have been interested in this problem if the praetores maiores and minores were referred to only in the augural formula.  It is therefore quite probable that the praetores maiores and minores (i.e. consuls and praetors) took an active part in the ceremony [at that time].  This would explain their interest in their archaic title, and the need for an authoritative augural pronouncement on this question.”

This certainly suggests that the senior magistrates played a part in the ceremony, at least by the time that the augural decree was issued.  However, Linderski possibly pushed this idea beyond the surviving evidence when he continued:

  1. “As I see it, [at least in the late Republic], the ceremony was first inaugurated by the augurs, and then actually performed by the magistrates cum imperio.”

A passage from Cicero, who was serving as consul at the time of the ceremony of 63 BC ought to throw light on the matter:

  1. “... it was to you, [Cicero], while you were consul [in 63 BC], that the augur Appius Claudius [Pulcher] declared that, because the augurium salutis was unpropitious, a grievous and violent civil war was at hand”, (‘de Divinatione’, 1: 105, translated by Willian Falconer, referenced below, at p. 337).

However, scholars disagree about the implications of this passage: for example:

  1. Jerzy Linderski (referenced below, 1986 p. 2180, note 117) argued that:

  2. “From this passage, it seems to follow that Cicero in his ritual capacity as praetor maior (or perhaps praetor maximus: he was elected ahead of [his colleague], C. Antonius) was to perform the actual ceremony.

  3. Georg Wissowa (referenced below, at p. 2328), on the basis of the same passage from Cicero and the testimony of Festus 152 L, concluded that, at least in Cicero’s time, the ceremony:

  4. “... was carried out by an augur, and it seems that there was no active participation of the magistrates, although they were mentioned in the wording of the prayer.”

We might throw further light on this matter by considering a passage by Cicero, in which he  described the part played in Rome by the:

  1. “... three kinds [of public priests]:

  2. one [that had] charge of ceremonies and sacred rites;

  3. another [that interpreted] those obscure sayings of soothsayers and prophets that shall be recognised by the Senate and the people; and

  4. the interpreters of Jupiter Optimus Maximus, namely the public augurs, shall foretell the future from portents and auspices, and maintain their art.

  5. And the pontiffs shall observe the omens in regard to vineyards and orchards and the safety of the [Roman] people; ...”, (‘de Legibus’, 2: 20, translated by Clinton Keyes, referenced below, at p. 395).

Jyri Vaahtera (referenced below, at pp. 59-60) pointed out that these three categories of public priests were [respectively]:

  1. the pontiffs;

  2. the duoviri/decemviri/ quindecimviri sacris faciundus; and

  3. as Cicero himself said, the augurs.

From this, it seems that, in the augurium salutis:

  1. the augurs would have taken the auspices in order to establish whether Jupiter was content to receive prayers for the safety of the Roman people; and

  2. assuming that the auspices were propitious, the pontiffs would have observed them by offering up the appropriate prayers.

In other words, I think that, while the wording of the augural decree suggests that senior magistrates played some role in the ceremony at the time that it was issued, they do not, of themselves, prove Linderski’s theory that Cicero, as praetor maior (or praetor maximus) performed the ceremony of the augurium salutis in 63 BC.

Frequency of the Augurium Salutis

Cassius Dio gave his description of the augurium salutis in the context of its revival, after what he described as a very long interval, in 63 BC.  He asserted that this ritual:

  1. “... was observed annually on a day on which no army was going out to war, or was preparing itself against any foes, or was fighting a battle.  For this reason, it was not observed [in periods of continuous] perils, especially those of civil strife ... :it would be absurd that [the Romans] should ask Heaven for safety when they were voluntarily causing each other unspeakable woes through party strife and were destined to suffer, [whichever side was] victorious.  Nevertheless, it was in someway possible [in 63 BC] for the divination to be held ...”, (‘Roman History’, 37: 24:1 - 25: 1).

As mentioned above, Georg Wissowa had characterised Cassius Dio’s account as “wild”.  Jyri Vaahtera (referenced below, at p 134) observed that, in particular, his assertion that the ritual was observed annually:

  1. “... cannot be even near the truth: the mere fact that we know so little of this ritual is proof of it.  We know of only one (possible) occasion when this was celebrated [before] 63 BC.”

John Rich (referenced below, at p 544) similarly observed that, although this ritual:

  1. “... may once have been regularly performed, ... the only occasions under the Republic when we know it to have been enacted were in 160 and in 63 BC.”

Georg Wissowa (referenced below, at p. 2328) reasonably suggested that it had:

  1. “... probably originated [as an annual festival] in the period in which (as, for example, the Mars festivals in the oldest fasti show):

  2. the yearly military campaign belonged to the regular events of the year, just as much as the sowing crops or [the reaping of] harvest; and

  3. after the campaign finished successfully, a new holy people was supposed to have been won for the state through augural observations ...”

In other words, if there was ever an annual augurium salutis, it would have fallen out of use after ca. 264 BC, when the Romans turned their attention from the Italian peninsular to the western Mediterranean, and when the concept of annual military campaigns confined to the period between spring and autumn  became impractical.

I return to the subject of later revivals of the ritual below.  However, we should first consider what more can be gleaned about the the significance of the qualifying adjectives maiore and minore when applied to the nouns consul or praetor from:

  1. the augural decree described in Festus 152 L; and

  2. the opinion of the augur Marcus Valerius Messalla Rufus, which was apparently contained in his work  ‘de Auspiciis’.

before returning to the opinion of Lucius, as described in Festus 154 L (F4).

Praetores Maiores and Minores in the Decree of the Collegium Augurum (Festus 152L)


Jerzy Linderski (referenced below, 1986 p. 2177) observed that:

“An important function of the collegium augurum was to provide binding explanations of old augural documents concerning the ius publicum (public law).  Here belongs the decree mentioned by Festus, at 152 L.”

In other words, this decree probably ruled on the significance of the qualifying adjectives ‘maior’ and ‘minor’ when applied to the noun ‘praetor’ in the ancient augural documents that related to the augurium salutis.  As we have seen, the decree contained the ruling that:

“... the praetors [in these documents] are called maiores and minores, not with reference to age, but [with reference] to the strength of their imperium”





As noted above, Jerzy Linderski (referenced below, 1986 p. 2177-81) argued that the decree had been issued in 63 BC to resolve:

  1. “... a dispute as to the precise meaning of the terms maior and minor, [which, as] the college explained, ... did not conform to the contemporary colloquial usage.  [the problem arose because] ... the text of the precatio undoubtedly goes back to the time when the third praetor was introduced (i.e., the terminus post quem is 366 BC).”

Roberta Stewart (referenced below, at p. 114) similarly argued that:

  1. “... as ritual documents, the hymn and the augural decree indicate that, in the precise language of Roman religion, the term ‘praetor’ rightly described and continued to describe the highest ranking [magistrates in the terms that had been in use in the early Republic], and that the distinct terms (consul, praetor) were neither original to nor inherent in the magistracies.”

In other words, both scholars believed that the archaic augural document to which the decree related:

  1. harked back to the situation before the reforms of 367 BC; and

  2. supported the hypothesis that the highest ranking Roman magistrates had originally been called praetors (rather than consuls).

Many scholars would dispute this second assertion: for example, Terry Corey Brennan (referenced below, argued that:

  1. “... the original Republican chief magistracy consisted of two annual collegial consuls .... : the ancient literary tradition is unanimous on this point, and the detailed record provided by the consular Fasti would seem to to provide impressive confirmation of this traditional view.”

However, he apparently did accept that the highest ranking magistrates were referred to as praetores in religious documents: for example, he observed (at p. 22 and note 103, citing Festus 152 L) that:

  1. “... we happen to know that, in the late Republic, the augur’s prayer at the ceremony of the augurium salutis distinguished between praetores maiores (i.e. consuls) and minores (praetors).

Thus (fortunately), we do not need to worry here about when the word consul was first used in normal parlance: all three of these scholars accept that the decree determined the significance of the qualifying adjectives maiore and minore when applied to magistrates who had been termed praetores in an earlier religious document that pertained to the the augurium salutis.

Praetores Maiores and Minores in Lucius’ ‘Libri Auspiciorum’


Jerzy Linderski (referenced below, 1986 p. 2178 argued that:

  1. “It is worth noting in this connection that two eminent augurs of the Ciceronian age:

  2. [‘our’ Lucius, for whom Linderski cited F4]; and

  3. M. Valerius Messalla [Rufus] (cos. 53 BC);

  4. discussed, in their [respective] treatises on the auspices, the constitutional and augural meaning of the terms maior and minor.”

I discuss the relevant passage from Messalla’s ‘libri de auspiciis’ below.  For the moment, we should simply note that Linderski reasonably assumed that F4 came from Lucius’ ‘libri auspiciorum’.



In this context, we should return again to the testimony of Festus (F4):

  1. L. Caesar thought that the consul maior was [either]:

  2. the man who had the fasces [at a particular point in the consular year]; or

  3. the man who had been elected first.

  4. Moreover, the praetor maior was the urban praetor, while the [other praetors] were called minores”, (‘de Verborum Significatu’, 154 L, translated by Roberta Stewart, referenced below, at pp. 212-3).

Terry Corey Brennan (at p. 22 and note 103, citing Festus 154 L), having commented on the wording of the augural decree (above, citing 152 L), observed that:

  1. “It also appears that, within a consular (and praetorian ?) college, one member was [in some way] technically ‘maior’.





As it happens, we know that Messalla recorded his opinion on the matter in a work known as ‘libri de auspiciis’ (‘Books on the Auspices’), as discussed below.  If Linderski is correct in asserting that Lucius:

  1. rendered the opinion recorded in F4 in his capacity as an augur (which is, as noted above, generally accepted); and

  2. published it in a treatise on the auspices;

then F4 would presumably have come from his libri auspiciorum, which Macrobius cited in F1.

The fortunate survival of these three fragments allows us to explore:

  1. the context in which Lucius might have offered the opinion expressed in F4; and

  2. how his opinion relates to those of:

  3. the collegium augurum, as expressed in a formal decree; and

  4. his fellow augur, Messalla.  




Lucius Aemilius Paullus and the Augurium Salutis of 160 BC (?)

As Jyri Vaahtera (above) pointed out, the assertion that the augurium salutis was performed in 160 BC rests only on a single passage from Plutarch’s account of the life  of Lucius Aemilius Paullus Macedonicus, which describes Aemilius’ participation of a public ritual immediately prior to his death in 16o BC.  In the preceding period, Plutarch recorded that Aemilius had:

  1. celebrated a spectacular triumph following his definitive victory over the Macedonians at Pydna in 167 BC; and then

  2. been appointed as censor in 164 BC.

Plutarch then recorded that, while still serving as censor, Aemilius became ill and retired to the countryside.  However, he returned to Rome:

  1. “... when a certain religious ceremony made his presence there necessary and his health seemed to be sufficient for the journey. ... There:

  2. he offered the public sacrifice in company with the other [augurs], while the people thronged about with manifest tokens of delight; and

  3. on the following day, he sacrificed again to the gods, [this time] privately, in gratitude for his [apparent] recovery. 

  4. When the [second] sacrifice had been duly performed, he returned to his house ... [where he suddenly] became delirious, ... and, three days later, he died”, (‘Life of Aemilius Paullus’, 39: 3-5).

Plutarch did not identify the nature of the public religious ceremony that caused the ailing Aemilius to return to Rome.  However, it is perhaps significant that he was  the most senior augur in Italy in 160 BC:

  1. according to Jörg Rüpke (referenced below, at p. 100), Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus was the only member of the collegium augurum with longer service than Aemillius; and 

  2. Polybius (‘Histories’, 31: 33: 1) places Gracchus in Cappadocia at this time.

Furthermore, the private sacrifice that Aemilius made on the following day was (according to Plutarch) in thanks for his own apparent recovery from illness.  Thus, we might reasonably hypothesise that:

  1. while the private sacrifice related to his own health, the public sacrifice in which he took part was the augurium salutis (for safety and well-being of the Roman people); and

  2. he had returned to Rome from convalescence in order to officiate at the public sacrifice because this was considered to be the duty of the longest-serving member of the collegium augurum who was in (or within easy reach of) Rome.

Two considerations allow us to go further, by suggesting that Aemilius himself had promoted the revival of the augurium salutis in this period:

  1. He certainly had the necessary interest and expertise in ancient augural tradition: according to Plutarch he:

  2. “... so carefully studied the ancestral customs of the city, and so thoroughly understood the religious ceremonial of the ancient Romans, that his priestly function [as augur] ... was made to appear one of the higher arts, and testified in favour of those philosophers who define religion as the science of the worship of the gods.  For, he performed all the duties of this office with skill and care, and he laid aside all other concerns when he was engaged in these, omitting nothing and adding nothing new, but always contending, even with his colleagues, about the small details of ceremony, explaining to them that, even though the god was perceived to be good-natured and slow to censure acts of negligence, it was nevertheless a grievous thing for the city [for the augurs] to overlook and condone [any such negligence]”, (‘Life of Aemilius Paullus’, 3: 2-4).

  3. His recent victory at Pydna had not merely ended the decade of fighting in ‘Asia’ known as the Third Macedonian War: it had ended a much longer period of almost continuous fighting for supremacy across the Mediterranean.  Thus, the  Greek historian Polybius (who had lived through the Third Macedonian War) began his study of Roman history by asking:

  4. “Who is so worthless or indolent as not to wish to know by what means and under what system of government the Romans, in less than 53 years [from the start of the Second Punic War on 220 BC], have succeeded in subjecting nearly the whole of the inhabited world to their sole government, which is a thing unprecedented in history?”, (‘Histories’, 1: 1: 5).

  5. He also noted that, after Pydna:

  6. “...  the growth and advance of Roman power was ... complete ... [and] it was now universally accepted ... that, henceforth, all [nations] must submit to the Romans and obey their orders”, (‘Histories’, 3: 4: 2-3).

  7. This would have been an excellent time for the revival of the augurium salutis, which the Romans could now expect to celebrate annually without interruption in times of war. (As we saw above, Octavian/ Augustus revived the ritual again in similar circumstances in 29 BC: his victory over Mark Antony at Actium had ended nearly a century of actual or impending civil war).

We might push this hypothesis yet further by considering the testimony of Valerius Maximus:

  1. “Aemilius Paullus is the most famous example of a very happy father suddenly turned into a very miserable one. 

  2. [First], he gave up two of his four sons ... [for adoption by, respectively], the gens Cornelia and the gens Fabia, thus denying them to himself; and then 

  3. Fortuna took [the other] two away from him: 

  4. one  was buried just three days before his father’s triumph[in 167 BC]; and

  5. the other was seen in the triumphal currus, but died three days later. 

  6. Thus, [Aemilius], who had had so many children that he could give [two of] them away, was suddenly left childless and forlorn.  He showed the strength of mind with which he bore this calamity by adding these final words to his speech to the people concerning his achievements:

  7. ‘Fearing, fellow citizens, that Fortuna might have something bad in store for us in ... our felicity [in victory], I prayed to Jupiter Optimus Maximus, Juno Regina and Minerva that, if any adversity threatened the Roman people, it might all be turned against my house.  Therefore, all is well: by granting my prayers, [Jupiter, Juno and Minerva] ensured that you grieve over my misfortune and I do not [need to] grieve over yours’”, (‘Memorable Deeds and Sayings’, 5: 19: 2, translated by David Shackleton Bailey, referenced below, at p. 543).

Plutarch, who also described this speech (at paragraph 36), did not mention that Aemilius’ prayers had been addressed to Jupiter, Juno and Minerva, but he did indicate that he made the speech shortly after his triumph (before the subsequent execution of the defeated king Perseus).  Given his clear sense of foreboding, it is entirely possible that Aemilius:

  1. arranged for the revival of the augurium salutis; and,

  2. after the enactment of the revived public ritual in 160 BC, used the private ritual that followed:

  3. not, as Plutarch thought, to give thanks for his apparent recovery; but

  4. to pray, once more, that any adversity that threaten the Roman people “might all be turned [instead] against my house”.

This, of course, is simply my speculation, and it is probably safer to follow Mary Beard and her colleagues (referenced below, at pp. 110-1) in observing that:

  1. “... it seems likely that [the apparent revival of ancient rites in the mid 2nd century BC] reflects the ideas of leading priests such as Aemelius Paullus, ... who was [probably] involved, just before his death, [in a celebration of the augurium salutis]”.

Augurium Salutis of 63 BC

As noted above, there is no doubt that the augurium salutis was enacted in 63 BC, not least because Cassius Dio was explicit on this point.  It is worth looking now at the political context within which he located it.  After Pompey had ended the Third Mithridatic War (73–63 BC):

  1. “Temporarily, the Romans had a respite from war for the remainder of the year, so that they even held the so‑called augurium salutis after a very long interval.  ... [This ritual] was observed on that day of each year on which no army was going out to war, or was preparing itself against any foes, or was fighting a battle.  For this reason, amid the constant perils, especially those of civil strife, it was not observed ... :[clearly], it would be absurd that they should ask Heaven for safety when they were voluntarily causing one another unspeakable woes through party strife and were destined to suffer ills whether they were defeated or victorious.  Nevertheless, it was in someway possible at that time for the divination to be held ...”, (‘Roman History’, 37: 24:1 - 25: 1).

Cassius Dio then described the failure of the ritual on this occasion (see below) and a number of other bad omens, which meant that:

  1. “... anyone, even a layman, was bound to know in advance what was signified by them”, (‘Roman History’, 37: 24:1 - 25:1).

He then charted the outbreak of civil unrest that the bad omens portended:

  1. the subsequent sharp deterioration in relations between the tribunes and the Senate, which culminated in the indictment by the tribune Titus Labienus of an aged senator, Caius Rabirius, on a charge of perduellio (high treason) in relation to actions that he had taken at the direction of the Senate some 36 years earlier; and

  2. the unrest at what proved to be the start of the famous conspiracy of Lucius Sergius Catilina.


... during my consulship and on my proposal, a thanksgiving for ten days was for the first time voted to Cnaeus Pompeius after [King Mithridates VI of Pontus] had been slain and the Mithridatic War concluded.  It was again on my proposal that a thanksgiving awarded to those of consular rank was for the first time [subsequently] doubled in length: for you sided with me, after dispatches from the same Pompeius had been read out, announcing the termination of all wars by land and sea, and awarded to him [another] thanksgiving for ten days”, (‘De Provinciis Consularibus’, 27, translated by , translated by Robert Gardner, referenced below, 1958, at pp.571-3).



If, as I suggested above, the longest-serving augur would normally take the auspices at the Augurium Salutis , then this task would have fallen to Lucius in 63 BC (see Jörg Rüpke, referenced below, at p. 123 for the membership of the college in that year, and my main page Lucius Julius Caesar for Lucius’ presence in Rome at this time).  However, none of our surviving sources throws any light on the matter.


We do know from Cassius Dio that the performance of the ritual:

  1. “... did not prove to be regular, since some birds flew up from an unlucky quarter, and so it was repeated”, (‘Roman History’, 37: 24 :1-2).

Cicero referred to this shocking and ominous occurrence, which happened ‘on his watch’:

  1. “... it was to you, [Cicero], while you were consul [in 63 BC], that the augur Appius Claudius [Pulcher] declared that, because the augurium salutis was unpropitious, [another] grievous and violent civil war was at hand”, (‘de Divinatione’, 1: 105, translated by Willian Falconer, referenced below, at p. 337).

Thus, with the benefit of hindsight, Cicero recognised the god’s refusal of a promise of safety for the Roman people as a warning of the imminence of what came to be known as the Catiline conspiracy. 

We also know that at least four members of this college subsequently wrote books on augury:

  1. the books of Lucius and Marcus Valerius Messalla Rufus have already been mentioned; and

  2. Cicero referred to books by another two of their colleagues:

  3. “... there is a great disagreement [within the collegium augurum] between [Caius Claudius] Marcellus and Appius [Claudius Pulcher], both excellent augurs.  For I have consulted their books ...”, (‘de Legibus’, 2: 20, translated by Clinton Keyes, referenced below, at p. 411).

So too did Cicero himself




As we have seen, Festus, in his epitome of the work of the Latin grammarian Verrius Flaccus (died ca. 20 BC), cited the view of ‘Caesar’ (presumed here to be ‘our’ Lucius) that tradition dictated that:

  1. the consul maior (i.e. the senior of the two serving consuls) was either:

  2. the consul who had the fasces at a particular point in the consular year; or

  3. the consul who had been elected first; and

  4. the praetor maior was the urban praetor, while the other praetors were [formally] praetores minores.

Festus gave no indication as to the form in which Verrius Flaccus had discovered this information, although (as noted above) it is generally accepted that Lucius had expressed the opinions in question in his capacity as an augur.

According to Terry Corey Brennan (referenced below, at p. 22),  this passage tells us that:

“... in the late Republic, the augur’s prayer at the ceremony of the augurium salutis distinguished between praetores maiores (i.e. consuls) and [praetores] minores (praetors).”


Messalla’s ‘Libri de Auspiciis’

The existence  of this work by Messalla is known from a passage by Gellius, which he introduced as follows:

  1. “ In the edict by which the consuls appointed the day for the comitia centuriata, it is written, in accordance with an old established form:

  2. ‘Let no magistratus minor presume to watch the skies [for omens].’ 

  3. Accordingly, it is often asked: who are these minor magistrates ? Fortunately, I do not need to answer this question in my own words, because the first book of the augur Messalla’s ‘de Auspiciis’ is at hand as I  write.  Therefore I quote ... Messalla's own words”, (‘Attic Nights’, 13: 15: 4).

Gellius then provided an extremely useful direct quotation from a passage in Messalla’s book in which he gave his answer to this question:

  1. ‘The auspices of the patricians are divided into two classes:

  2. [The greater auspices belong to] the consuls, praetors and censors.  However, the auspices of all these are not the same or of equal rank, because:

  3. while the praetors are colleagues of the consuls;

  4. the censors are the colleagues of neither. 

  5. Therefore:

  6. neither the consuls nor the praetors may either vitiate or hinder the auspices of the censors; and

  7. the censors may neither interrupt nor vitiate those of the praetors and consuls. 

  8. However:

  9. the censors may vitiate and hinder each other's auspices; and

  10. likewise, the praetors and consuls may vitiate and hinder those of each other. 

  11. A praetor, although he is [formally] a colleague of the consul, cannot lawfully elect either a praetor or a consul, as we have learned from:

  12. our forefathers;

  13. what has been observed in the past; and

  14. the 13th book of the ‘commentarii’ of Caius [Sempronius] Tuditanus [see below].

  15. [This is because] the praetor has inferior authority to that of the consul, and a higher authority cannot be elected by a lower, or a superior colleague by an inferior.  [For this reason], at the present time, when a praetor has elected [other] praetors, I have followed the authority of the men of old and have not taken part in the auspices at such elections.  Also the censors are not chosen under the same auspices as the consuls and praetors.  [These greater magistrates are [all] chosen by the assembly of the centuries - see below]

  16. The lesser auspices belong to the other magistrates [i.e. to magistrates other than consuls, praetors and censors].  Therefore, these are called 'minores' and the others ‘maiores magistratus’ (greater' magistrates).  When the lesser magistrates are elected:

  17. their office is conferred upon them by the assembly of the tribes, but

  18. full powers [are conferred upon them] by a law of the assembly of the curiae; ...

  19. [I have moved the final phrase to the end of the bullet above, because it refers to greater magistrates]”, (‘Attic Nights’, 13: 15: 4).

Gellius then summarised the essence of this passage:

  1. “Two things becomes clear from this passage of Messalla:

  2. who the lesser magistrates are; and

  3. why they are so called. 

  4. But, he also shows that the praetor is a colleague of the consul, because they are chosen under the same auspices.  Moreover, they are said to possess the greater auspices, because their auspices are esteemed more highly than those of the others”, (‘Attic Nights’, 13: 15: 5).

‘Commentarii’ of Caius Sempronius Tuditanus

Christopher Smith (in T. J. Cornell, referenced below, I: p.240) assumed that the Caius Tuditanus whom Messalla cited was Caius Sempronius Tuditanus, whose work probably dated to some time after 150 BC and obviously pre-dated that of Messalla himself.  Smith also identified (at II: p. 339) the part of the fragment of Gellius that should be attributed to Tuditanus:

  1. “A praetor, although he is [formally] a colleague of the consul, cannot lawfully elect either a praetor or a consul, ... because the praetor has inferior authority to that of the consul, and a higher authority cannot be elected by a lower: nor a superior colleague [be elected] by an inferior.”

Smith observed (at III: p. 223) that Tuditanus might have been an augur, and that his ‘commentarii’ may have been concerned entirely with augural law.



Cicero wrote from Formiae to Atticus in Rome on 17th March 49 BC:

  1. “... that basest, meanest fellow in the world, [the praetor Marcus Aemilius Lepidus], who says that a consular election can be held by a praetor, is the same as he always was in constitutional matters.  So, of course, that was what Caesar meant by saying in the letter that I copied to you that he wished to avail himself of ... my help in every particular.  ... For it is of great importance to him that [an interrex should not be appointed to elect the consuls of 48 BC], and he secures that if the consuls are ‘created’ by the praetor.  However, it is on record in our augural books that,  far from consuls being legally capable of being created by a praetor, [even] the praetors themselves cannot be so created;  there is no precedent for it; it is illegal:

  2. in case of the consuls, because it is not legal for the greater imperium to be proposed to the people by the lesser; and

  3. in case of the praetors, because their names are submitted to the people as colleagues of the consuls, to whom belongs the greater imperium.

  4. Before long, [Caesar] will be demanding that I should vote [in favour] in the collegium augurum: he will not be content [to rely only on the augurs: [Ser. Sulpicius] Galba; [Q. Mucius] Scaevola]; Cassius [Q. Cassius Longinus]; and Antonius [Mark Antony]” (Letter to Atticus, 9: 9: 3).



We might reasonably assume that these were the only augurs still in Rome.  Many would have been with the Pompeian armies, while:

  1. Lucius was probably still with Caesar’s army; and

  2. Messala was probably still in exile.



John Rich (referenced below, at p 544) similarly observed that, although this ritual:

  1. “... may once have been regularly performed, ... the only occasions under the Republic when we know it to have been enacted were in 160 and in 63 BC.  It was [subsequently] revived after a long intermission in 29 BC, in celebration of Augustus’s victory over Antony and Cleopatra (see below).  He continued to have the ritual performed from time to time, and an inscription [CIL VI 36841) shows that it was celebrated [on seven occasions in the period] 3-17 AD.”



Read more:

L. Driediger-Murphy, “Roman Republican Augury: Freedom and Control”, (2019) Oxford

J. Rich, “Roman Rituals of War”, in:

  1. B. Campbell and L. Tritle (Eds), “The Oxford Handbook of Warfare in the Classical World”, (2017) Oxford and New York, at pp. 542-68

T. J. Cornell (ed.), “The Fragments of the Roman Historians”, (2013) Oxford

R. A. Kaster, “Macrobius: Saturnalia: Volume I, Books 1-2; and Volume II, Books 3-5”, (2011) Cambridge (MA)

J. Rüpke, “Fasti Sacerdotum”, (2008) Oxford and New York

C. Smith,”Caesar and the History of Early Rome”, in

  1. G. Urso (ed.), “Cesare: Precursore o Visionario ?”, (2010) Pisa, at pp. 249–64

J. Vaahtera, “Roman Augural Lore in Greek Historiography: A Study of the Theory and Terminology”, (2001) Stuttgart

D. R. Shackleton Bailey (translator) , “Valerius Maximus: Memorable Doings and Sayings, Volume I: Books 1-5), (2000) Cambridge, MA

P. Tansey, “The Inauguration of Lentulus Niger”, American Journal of Philology, 121: 2 (2000) 237-58

M. Beard, J. North and S. Price, “Religions of Rome, Volume I: a History”, (1998) Cambridge

R. Stewart, “Public Office in Early Rome: Ritual Procedure and Political Practice”, (1998) Ann Arbor, Michigan

J. Linderski, “The Augural Law”, Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt (II 16.3 (1986) 2146-2312

J. Linderski, “The Libri Reconditi”, Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, 89 (1985) 207-34

A. Kirsopp Michels, “The Calendar of the Roman Republic”, (1967) Princeton NJ

R. Gardner (translator), “Cicero: Pro Caelio: De Provinciis Consularibus: Pro Balbo”, (1958) Cambridge MA

T. R. S. Broughton, “The Magistrates of the Roman Republic,Volume II (99 - 31 BC)”,  (1952) New York

C. W. Keyes (translator), “Cicero: On the Republic. On the Laws”, (1928) Cambridge, MA

W. A. Falconer (translator), “Cicero: On Old Age: On Friendship: On Divination”, (1923) Cambridge, MA

G. Wissowa, “Augures”, Realencyclopadie der Classischen Altertumswissenschaft, 2 (1896) 2313-2344 (translated into English in this link)


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