What Is An Augur?

What is an augur? Map of ancient rome background.

Augurs feature predominately in my upcoming fantasy series of short stories. Unless you’re knowledgeable about certain strands of history, you might be wondering what is an augur? Well, it all ties into ancient Rome. 

Ties To History

Sketch of a Roman augur, with his lituus.
Sketch of a Roman augur with his lituus, a symbol of his position, and a sacred chicken. (Public Domain)

In Rome (circa 510 B.C. and beyond), augurs were a type of priest, and they practiced augury, a form of telling the future (or “taking the auspices,” as it was known)  by observing birds. Yes, birds. This was done by noting whether birds are flying in groups or alone, making a certain sound, heading in a certain direction, etc. To our modern eyes, this is somewhat ridiculous, but for Romans, it was serious business.

Augury was used to forecast a variety of matters that spanned all sectors of Roman life: commerce, civil actions, matters of war, religion, politics, etc. It was a very prestigious position with the select few being proud to display the symbol of their position, a lituus, which looked like a curved wand.

It should be noted that not all birds were used for augury. In particular, augurs favored ravens, woodpeckers, owls, ossifragae (the bearded vulture), and eagles. There were also sacred chickens — I kid you not.

Artistic License

I’ve taken a lot of artistic license in The Augur’s Rose Series, which will become more apparent as stories are added to it. One of the biggest changes is that the majority of my augurs are women, whereas, in Rome, they were — as far as my research could provide — men. With women being more prone to developing “the arcane” versus men, the world within The Augur’s Rose Series is heavily matriarchal, the opposite of ancient Rome.

However, augurs are still tied into religion, and they were originally formed to “take the auspices.” Only with the presence of real magic, the group gradually morphed into a warrior-like sect that serves the Sisters, a collection of celestial beings, by taking out threats to the Lys Imperium and their own order of priestesses. The Mothers, the title given to the augurs’ leaders, still take the auspices to aid the decision-making process within the Imperium; this has given them a real sort of political power over affairs of state.

So while the lay augurs don’t have much to do with birds anymore, there are still tie-ins to this very real history. I have even given Svein — one of the only male augurs — a crow companion as a nod to this past. And in the future, who is to say whether or not you might spy a sacred chicken or two.

“Don’t mess with the dead. Pure common sense. Necromancy gets messy — yet when pitted against Berit Gyllen . . . something or other . . . Svein is the only one wallowing in the filth when his artifact retrieval mission for the Mothers goes sideways. Perhaps he should have listened when that blasted bird told him to run.”

Acceptance, the first story in The Augur’s Rose Series, will be available Friday, Nov. 24, on the Kindle. Interested readers can pre-order it on Amazon, and it will appear automatically appear in your Kindle library on Nov. 24. Join the release party on Facebook for a chance to win one of two copies.


Published by smwright

Sarah Wright is the author of The Heritage Lost Series and several other works of speculative fiction. Professionally, she works as a staff writer and editor at a newspaper/magazine company. She enjoys interweaving her love of history into her writing, even in the most fantastic settings.

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