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Auguste Bouché-Leclercq-The Measurement Of The Roman Auguracula



Today’s sharing from the Blue House of HYGEIA is another excerpt from Auguste Bouché-Leclercq’s monumental and ground breaking study, ‘Histoire de la Divination dans l’Antiquité’, published in 1879 in Paris in 4 volumes. This time he explains the way the temples of the augurs, known to us as auguracula, were surveyed and built in ancient Rome. English translation by HYGEIA from the original French.


From an article by Edilio Boccaleri.
From an article by Edilio Boccaleri.
From an article by Edilio Boccaleri.
From an article by Edilio Boccaleri.
Arx-di-banzi-il-rito-di-fondazione. Credit:


‘It is proper to start, alike the augural ceremonies, by the surveying of the observation field or temple. After all that has been said about the Etruscan and Umbrian temple, it is enough to be reminded that the roman temple does not differ much from these two other types. It is also includes a celestial space connected to an identical terrestrial space, guided by two directing lines that meet perpendicularly in the center. It is only in the orientation of the temple in connection with the cardinal points, and in the position of the median lines in relation to the sides of the perimeter, that the diverse national rites may differ.

We can admit, in the absence of decisive arguments, that the roman augurs were orientating the temple in ideal lines, to allow the observation of the auspices, and by the parallel axes of the sides the surface of the temples built or the foundation of cities. As for the distinction of left and right, behind and in front, adjusted by the position of the observer, we could find that the terminology disagree on this point with the actual usage, and that the usage could have change in time or  affect the diverse applications of the auspices into diverse orientations.

Livy, recounting Numa’s  inauguration ceremony, places at the left of the king placed at Noon an augur turned towards the East. “ This one determines the  Eastern and western regions of the temple, calling right the southern parts and left the North.” Livy, I,18.

Servius also states that: ” The Augural discipline acknowledge as ‘left’ the Northern.” Dionysius of Halicarnassus describes Romulus questioning the auspices in a temple orientated in such way, and explains by a natural philosophy point of view the preference for the sun rise more than the sun set, in the north over the south. But, we also hear that anterior was called Noon and posterior, North; at the same time acknowledging that they were in fact, right and left.

The lesson to take away from these texts is that the Roman Augural temple is theoretically orientated towards Noon and almost towards East: This means that the augur magistrate directs his gaze following the ‘cardo’ or meridian, but that the assistant augur, chosen according to the custom to only see favorable omens, invariably turn himself towards on the side he actually expects them. For him, the ‘decumanus‘ becomes the main line, and usage was established to judge the orientation of the temple just by the augur’s attitude, all in concordance with the Hellenic usage. A proof that the directing axis of the temple was really the meridian, is the fact that in Rome, left was seen as the lucky side. Without doubt, the other system can claim the argument in placing at the North the dwelling of the gods, but the Greco-Roman symbolism seems not to have been crafted under the influence of this exotic legend: it puts lucky omens on the Eastern side, source of light and life.

The augurs were using, to survey the temple, the ‘lituus‘, which became the characteristic attribute of their priesthood. It was placed in the palatine Salii council, and after the great fire destroyed it, the precious relic was miraculously saved from the flames.

The surveying of the temples took a great space in the augural rituals, because the operations were complex and were conducted with the assistance of prayers and sacramental formulas (precationes augurales). The text of these formulas had to be relevant for each type of temple, and even at each temple, with detail modification if needed, as the limits surrounding the inaugurated place were inserted. Was was called ‘enunciate the places’ (effari loca) or also ‘comprehending the temple’ (concipere templum). Varro kept the formula used for the augural temple (auguraculum) of the Capitol, which was used for the urban auspices. We recognize the vague form and precautions of language, and the overloaded style of these types of documents: “May my temple and its restricted space, said the augur, be as I am enouncing them correctly with my speech. May this old tree, whatever tree I may talk about, marks-of the temple and the restricted space on the right. Between these points, I mark-of my temple with these lines, by sight, by thought, in the most exact manner that I can manage“. “Templa tescaque me ita sunto, quoad ego ea rite lingua nuncupavero. Olla vera arbos quirquir est, quam me sentio dixisse, templum tescumque me esto in sinistrum. Olla vera arbos quirquir est, quam me sentio dixisse, templum tescumque me esto in dextrum. Inter ea conregione conspicione cortumione, utique ea rite dixisse me sensi.” Varro, Lingua Latina, VII, 8. The effect of such a formula was to free, from all lay servitude (loca liberata et effata), the places aimed by the augur.

The silence kept by the historians upon these complex technical operations caused that we did not fully realize until now the place of the periodically renewed surveying of the temples within the social manners and the professional duties of the augurs. A temple is not only a geometrical canvas used to interpret divinatory signs: It is on earth the foundation of human and divine property; its outline binds to the ground the supernatural warranty of the land-claim and the celestial benediction bestowed to all who inhabit the land. Rome was a vast temple, whose perimeter was the sacred line of the ‘pomerium‘. Within this line were particular temples, dwellings of the gods or esplanades proper to question the omens: outside, not only properties once orientated and limited by the founder of the city, but also special places inaugurated by the meetings of the ‘comices‘, the popular assemblies, or even of the senate, all deliberating assemblies was taken as a temple.’



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Auguste Bouché-Leclercq-The Measurement Of The Roman Auguracula

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