Scholia Reviews ns 12 (2003) 6.
Jyri Vaahtera, Roman Augural Lore in Greek Historiography. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2001. Pp. 194. ISBN 3-515-07946-7. EURO39.00.
University of Cape Town
The practices and lore of Roman augurs, often arcane and highly technical and very imperfectly mediated to us, have given birth to a scholarship of remarkable complexity and subtlety since the late nineteenth century: the works of Bouché-Leclercq, Valeton, Catalano and Linderski are the most conspicuous.[] Roman religion has enjoyed a revival in interest since the 1980s, but Vaahtera's work is the first to study systematically historians who wrote in Greek to discover the breadth and depth of their knowledge of Roman augury. A fascinating part of his purpose is to see if '"the Greek perspective" could make us see some of our Latin sources differently' (p. 8). Most if not all of the passages discussed by Vaahtera have featured in earlier scholarship, but the virtue of studying the material author by author is that Vaahtera can establish with greater security the exact terminology used by these authors for augurs and augural practice, and thereby permit us to use the Greek sources better in order to fill out the Latin sources.
Vaahtera divides his study into four parts, which I shall discuss in sequence, recording his key findings. Firstly he unearths the mentions of augurs in the earliest Greek historical works which concern Rome, most importantly Timaeus, Polybius, Diodorus Siculus and Plutarch. The extant fragments of Timaeus yield nothing, although he was greatly interested in religion; this should not surprise us, as he had no Roman historians to use and never visited Rome. Polybius by contrast lived in Rome for over fifteen years and was socially connected with eminent Romans who were members of the augural college (e.g. Scipio Aemilianus); moreover, his famous discussion of the constitution of the Roman republic comments on the great superstition of the Romans (6.56.6-8). Nonetheless, his narrative on the whole contains minimal religious material (e.g. Fabius Maximus 'sacrificed to the gods' [3.88.7] compared with the detail in Livy 22.9.7ff) and nothing which advances our knowledge of augury.
From the Late Republic the fragments of Posidonius' fifty-two volume world history, which continued Polybius' work from 146 BC, contain no mention of auguralia, although Posidonius' five volume PERI\ MA/NTEIAJ is a major source for Cicero's De Divinatione. Juba of Mauretania (via Plutarch's Roman Questions) offers somewhat arcanely the information that a bird seen on the left is good omen because those who auspicate while looking east (the Romans in other words) have the north on their left. Only one passage from Diodorus Siculus' surviving books is useful, that in which the augural contest between Romulus and Remus is presented and where Diodorus' source, who cannot be identified, displayed an interest in augural terminology.[]
Greek historians writing from the mid-first century BC onwards were far better off than their predecessors in dealing with augural matters since many works were published by Roman augurs and others on the intricacies of their discipline and were available for use. However, this new information finds its way into Dionysius of Halicarnassus and Appian via the Roman historiographical works they utilised, not through direct consultation; Plutarch, by contrast, did consult antiquarian works.
The second part of Vaahtera's study investigates Greek names for Roman
institutions. If we ignore the literal transcriptions of Roman terms found in
Greek translations of senatorial decrees (e.g. AU)/GOUR), the Greeks had three
techniques for creating translations: by the use of equivalent institutions in
Greek culture (e.g. for pontifex I(ERODIDA/SKALOJ, vel sim.), by
calquing (e.g pontifex becomes GEFUROPOI/OJ), or by periphrasis. We find
that the Greek historians had different approaches -- Dionysius of
Halicarnassus employs a very varied terminology, often changing even in
mid-story (see pp. 61-63), whereas Cassius Dio 'aimed at precise and invariable
terminology' (p. 57). Vaahtera is able to make precise identifications of the
terminology used for Rome's augurs par excellence, the members of the priestly
college -- e.g. O)RNIQOSKO/POJ (except at Dion. Hal. 2.6.2). Generic terms such
as MA/NTIJ are problematic in that they are used for many kinds of public and
private diviners. Dionysius of Halicarnassus in particular can make fundamental
misidentifications -- at 2.22.3 the MA/NTEIJ he explicitly identifies as haruspices
are shown by the following narrative to have been augurs, those who confirm the
election of priests. Appian never uses MA/NTIJ for augurs, which enables the
interpretation of previously disputed passages (e.g.
The third and longest part of Vaahtera's study concerns 'the augures and their disciplina'. Vaahtera follows Valeton in showing that Greek authors managed to convey without confusion the designation of favourable and unfavourable signs, which could be problematic because of the different associations of left and right in Greek and Roman augury. In studying versions of the famous augural 'contest' between Romulus and Remus Vaahtera holds that the absence of references to the delimitation of the templum shows that a Romulus who cheats, that is, pretends to have seen 12 vultures or sees them by accident, is a Greek invention. This weakness aside, the account of Dionysius is rich in the ritual details of auspication. When, however, Dionysius alleges that in the regal period Rome's priests were elected by curiae and that their election was confirmed by the augurs (2.22.3), Vaahtera shows that he does not understand the difference between inauguration and auspication. In a detailed discussion of Plutarch's description of the inauguration of Numa (pp. 104-12) Vaahtera demonstrates the difficulties experienced by writers not familiar with the intricacies of Roman augury, even when using sources which were excellent. Yet, on the basis of Plutarch Vaahtera dares to differ from Linderski in arguing that the auspicant was able to observe in both a terrestrial and a celestial templum simultaneously. Following the detailed account of Romulus' 'self-inauguration' in Dionysius of Halicarnassus (2.4.2-5.2), which is based on an excellent antiquarian source, Vaahtera rebuts the generally accepted notion that the auspicant sat in his tabernaculum to auspicate and clarifies that Romulus was rather taking auspices of investiture, after which the lex curiata which would confirm his office could be passed.
Vaahtera has useful discussions of the terminology for regiones and templa (pp. 126-133) and the pomerium in Greek historiographers.[] On one of the more perplexing augural ceremonies, the augurium salutis Vaahtera seems to me to make an excellent point in arguing that the signs received at the ceremony in 63 BC were not negative, as a result of which the repetition of the ceremony is intelligible in Roman practice.
One of the key distinctions between Roman augury of the historical period and augury in the Greek world was that the former had no predictive function. Dionysius does not understand the difference (e.g. 2.64.4), but Plutarch, Appian and Cassius Dio are familiar with Roman augural practice and aspects such as electoral procedure, qualifications for the office and interactions with the Senate.
This leads to Vaahtera's fourth major heading, the ius augurale publicum, how the Greek historians dealt with the public auspicia which were held by Rome's magistrates (pp. 144- 64). Vaahtera begins with a very clear explanation of terms such as spectio and obnuntiatio which have dogged the interpretation of important episodes in the history of the Late Republic. Dionysius proves least interested in such technicalities, whereas Cassius Dio (38.13.3-6) provides a very detailed description which renders many technicalities well, but is too concise on the issue of what kind of obnuntiatio was legally binding on a magistrate presiding over elections. Vaahtera's interpretation (pp. 158-60) of I(EROMHNI/A (Dio 38.6.5) as the trinum nundinum between the proclamation and holding of elections makes excellent sense.
Vaahtera's work is a very useful addition to the series of Historia Einzelschriften, providing many a sensitive reading of Greek historiographical texts which had not been investigated systematically for the light they can shed on Roman augural lore. While Vaahtera's third and fourth sections are the weightiest and repay careful reading, the first two parts lay a careful foundation [].
[] A. Bouché-Leclercq, Histoire de la divination dans l'antiquité (Paris 1879-82); I. M. J. Valeton produced a series of articles all published in Mnemosyne between 1889 and 1893; P. Catalano, Contributi allo studio del diritto augurale I (Turin 1960); J. Linderski, 'The Augural Law' in ANRW 2.16.3, 2146-312 and various articles, now handily collected in Roman Questions: Selected Papers (Stuttgart 1995).
[]. I am not convinced that Vaahtera's translation of Diodorus' E)K TW=N DEXIW=N MERW=N (8.5) as 'from the right parts' is more helpful to one who is not familiar with the arcana of augury than the Loeb's 'favourable'. Certainly to translate TAUTOMA/TOU as 'by mere chance' is inappropriate in an augural context; something like 'without visible cause' or another expression which stresses that Romulus had no role in the appearance of the twelve vultures is necessary.
[] Vaahtera's interpretation of Dio 53.32.5 (p. 133) needs some refinement: in 23 BC the Senate gave Augustus proconsular imperium which he could exercise from within the city, but which was not valid within the pomerium. That deficiency was not remedied until 19 BC (see J. W. Rich, Cassius Dio: the Augustan Settlement [Warminster 1990] 170).
[] It would detract undeservedly from the merits of this book to give space to those instances where the expression is odd to a native English speaker. Vaahtera has done us a service in presenting his arguments in English - in no instance is it difficult to understand what Vaahtera means. There are very few typographical errors (e.g. p. 17 heralds for heralds', p. 35 'for the' omitted before first time, p.61 n. 66 Dionusius for Dionysius) which I have detected and the book is well produced.