Birds in the Ancient World: Winged Words by Jeremy Mynott


The Voice and Wings of Perfect Augury

Birds in the Ancient World: Winged Words: Winged Words by Jeremy Mynott

Before any major decision, Romans consulted the birds. Taking the auspices, augury from birds, was systematised and institutionalised. The Greeks had practised it on a much more casual basis. The word ornis meant both bird and omen in Greek. If, at important moments, birds flew overhead the Greeks were happy to read their fortunes from them, but they didn’t bother going out of their way to find birds.

It was different in Rome. At a relatively early stage in their history, an office of bird watcher was created on the Capitoline Hill in Rome to examine the flight of birds. Roman armies took chickens along with them so that military chaplains could read the way they ate food. Chickens eating quickly was a good omen. Chickens eating slowly or not at…

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