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The bronze sheep's liver of Piacenza, with Etruscan inscriptions

A haruspex was a sort of augur in the Roman religion who practiced divination, by inspecting the entrails of sacrificed animals, especially the livers of sacrificed sheep. The plural is haruspices.

The practice of haruspicy, the name for this kind of divination, was said to have originated among the ancient Etruscans. A bronze sculpture of a liver, complete with the name of regions marked on it assigned to various gods, has been found at Piacenza, and has been connected to the practice of haruspicy.

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. Haruspicy continued to be practiced throughout the history of the Roman empire; 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. In 408, the haruspices offered their services when the Goths under Alaric threatened Rome; Pope Innocent I reluctantly agreed to allow them to help so long as the rituals were kept secret.

External link:

  • The Art of Haruspicy (http://www.cs.utk.edu/~mclennan/BA/Har) by John Opsopaus. Contains a complete how-to.

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