Etruscan inscriptions on the bronze sheep's liver of Piacenza

In Roman and Etruscan religious practice, a haruspex (plural haruspices; Latin auspex, plural auspices) was a man trained to practice a form of divination called haruspicy, hepatoscopy or hepatomancy. Haruspicy is the inspection of the entrails of sacrificed animals, especially the livers of sacrificed sheep and poultry. The rites were paralleled by other rites of divination such as the interpretation of lightning strikes, of the flight of birds (augury), and of other natural omens. Practitioners during the period of Roman dominance gradually adopted the title auspex from the older word haruspex, or from the Latin avis (bird) and specere or spectare (to look/see).

Being a specific form of the general practice of extispicy, haruspicy is not original to Etruscans nor Romans. Rather, it is now considered to have originated from the Near East where one would once find Hittites and Babylonians performing similar rites with entrails and producing comparable stylized models of the sheep's liver.


Babylonian haruspicy

The Babylonians were famous for hepatoscopy. The liver was considered the source of the blood and hence the base of life itself. From this belief, the Mesopotamians deemed the liver of special sheep the means to discover the will of the gods. The priest, called a bārû, was specially trained to interpret the "signs" of the liver. The liver was divided into sections with each section representing a particular deity.

The Nineveh library texts name more than a dozen liver-related terms and before cuneiform writing was even deciphered, hints of the existence of Babylonian hepatoscopy were recorded in the Bible. One Babylonian clay model of a sheep's liver, dated between 2050 and 1750 BC, is conserved in the British Museum.[1] The model was used for omen divination which was important to Mesopotamian medicine. This study was carried out by priests and seers who looked for signs in the stars, or in the organs of sacrificed animals, to tell them things about a patient’s illness. Wooden pegs were placed in the holes of the clay tablet to record features found in a sacrificed animal's liver. The priest or seer then used these features to predict the course of a patient's illness.

Haruspicy was part of a larger study of organs for the sake of divination, called extispicy, paying particular attention to the positioning of the organs and their shape. There are many records of different peoples using the liver and spleen of various domestic and wild animals to forecast weather. There are hundreds of ancient architectural objects, labyrinths composed of cobblestones in the northern countries that are considered to be a model of the intestines of the sacrificial animal, i.e. the colon of ruminants.

Etruscan haruspicy

The Etruscans were also well known for the practice of divining by the entrails of sheep. A bronze sculpture of a liver called the "Piacenza Liver" was discovered in 1877—and dating to c. 100 BC—near the town of Piacenza in northern Italy, complete with the name of regions marked on it which were assigned to various gods. It has been connected to the practice of haruspicy. By 1900, a professor of anatomy, Ludwig Stieda, sought to compare this artifact with a Mesopotamian one dated to a millennium earlier.

Etruscan haruspicy probably reached Etruria via the Hittites, perhaps because the Etruscans originated in Asia Minor. The art of haruspicy was taught in the Libri Tagetici, a collection of texts attributed to Tages, a childlike being who figures in Etruscan mythology, and who was discovered in an open field by Tarchon.

Roman haruspicy

Haruspicy continued to be practised throughout the history of the Roman Empire. It was a haruspex, Spurinna, who warned Julius Caesar to beware the Ides of March.[2][3] The emperor Claudius was a student of Etruscan and opened a college to preserve and improve their art, which lasted until the reign of Theodosius I. Further evidence has been found of haruspices in Bath, England where the base of a statue was inscribed to honour a god for a haruspex.

Popular culture

"Haruspicate or scry" is part of a line in "The Dry Salvages", the third of T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets.[4]

Christopher Priest's story "I, Haruspex" set in a Europe on the brink of the Second World War deals with a haruspex fighting off an invasion of earth by the forces of Hell.

"Heiruspecs" is the (purposefully misspelled) name of a hip-hop group from Minnesota.

Ben Kane's [5] series of novels about "The Forgotten Legion" (the second part of the series is "The Silver Eagle") features Tarquinius, an Etruscan haruspex, who trains the central character Romulus, an unrecognized bastard son of Julius Caesar, in the art of soothsaying. Set in the latter half of the first century BC during the Roman civil war after the first triumvirate fell apart, the hero Romulus is a survivor of Crassus's defeat at Carrhae and uses haruspicy to survive and reunite with his twin sister.

The Maryland rock band Clutch refers to 'the false haruspex' in the song "Never Be Moved" [6] and the 'Haruspectre General' in the song "Minotaur",[7] from the albums "Robot Hive" and "Strange Cousins From the West," respectively.

In the video game Titan Quest: Immortal Throne Haruspex is the character class name for a player who selects "Hunting" and "Dream Mastery" as their primary and secondary masteries.

See also


  • Walter Burkert, 1992. The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age (Thames and Hudson), pp 46–51.
  • Derek Collins, "Mapping the Entrails: The Practice of Greek Hepatoscopy" American Journal of Philology 129 [2008]: 319-345
  • Marie-Laurence Haack, Les haruspices dans le monde romain (Bordeaux : Ausonius, 2003).

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Haruspex — Haruspex,der:⇨Wahrsager Haruspex→Wahrsager …   Das Wörterbuch der Synonyme

  • haruspex — 1580s, from L. haruspex (pl. haruspices) soothsayer by means of entrails, first element from PIE *ghere gut, entrail (see YARN (Cf. yarn)); second element from L. spic beholding, inspecting (see INSPECT (Cf. inspect)). The practice is Etruscan.… …   Etymology dictionary

  • haruspex — [hə rus′peks΄, har′əs peks΄] n. pl. haruspices [hə rus′pə sēz΄, har′əspə sēz΄] [L, lit., inspector of entrails < haru (see YARN) + spex (see AUSPEX)] in ancient Rome, a soothsayer who professed to foretell events by examining the entrails of… …   English World dictionary

  • Haruspex — Ha|rụ|spex auch: Ha|rụs|pex 〈m.; es od. , e od. spi|zes〉 etrusk. u. röm. Wahrsager, der aus den Eingeweiden von Opfertieren weissagte [lat.] * * * Ha|rụ|s|pex, der; , e u. Haruspizes […t̮se:s] [lat. haruspex]: (bei den Etruskern u. Römern)… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • Haruspex — Ein Haruspex (lat.; Plural: Haruspices) war ein Angehöriger eines altrömischen Priesterkollegiums. Seine Aufgabe war, aus den Eingeweiden der geschlachteten Opfertiere vorauszusagen, ob die Götter eine beabsichtigte Unternehmung billigten oder… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Haruspex — Ha|rus|pex* der; , Plur. e u. Haruspizes [...tse:s] <aus gleichbed. lat. haruspex, eigtl. »Eingeweideschauer«> jmd., der aus den Eingeweiden von Opfertieren wahrsagt (bei Etruskern u. Römern) …   Das große Fremdwörterbuch

  • haruspex — noun (plural haruspices) Etymology: Latin, from haru (akin to chordē gut, cord) + spex, from specere to look more at yarn, spy Date: 1584 a diviner in ancient Rome basing his predictions on inspection of the entrails of sacrificial animals …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • haruspex — /heuh rus peks, har euh speks /, n., pl. haruspices /heuh rus peuh seez /. (in ancient Rome) one of a class of minor priests who practiced divination, esp. from the entrails of animals killed in sacrifice. Also, aruspex. [1575 85; < L, equiv. to… …   Universalium

  • haruspex — noun A priest in Ancient Rome (originally Etruscan) who practiced divination by inspecting entrails …   Wiktionary

  • HARUSPEX —    The Latin term for the Etruscan ritual specialist.    See also AUGUR; DISCIPLINA ETRUSCA …   Historical Dictionary of the Etruscans

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