Etruscan Books Haruspicini
Divination was the main subject treated through these books. More specifically the observation of lightening and animals’ guts was the method to practice Divination.
The Babylonians already in 3000 BC used to practice Divination by the analysis of animals’ guts, usually they were head of cattle, goats with particular characteristics. The liver was considered the spring of blood, so, the spring of life. The sacerdos usually called bārû, use to take into consideration during their divination reading apart the liver, also the lobs, the gall-bladder, the appendix; Dimensions and Location of the organs was very important. Example, if the gall-bladder was significantly swollen on its right side this was a sign of improvement of military power for the king. In case the swollen was the left part of the Gall-Bladder, then the sign was not as favorable as the previous example; in fact, it would have meant a future whit the victory of the enemies. Other signs could be read and treated by looking at the measure of the Bile Duct; a very long Duct would mean long life. Further, other divination signs usually involved in the reading were also Kidney Stones.
Divination was an art with particular success and spread from Babylon reaching slowly the italic peninsula, here the Etruscans extended it down to Greeks and Romans. The most ancient anatomic model utilized by Etruscan hierophants for the practice of divination dates back to 2000 BC . In 1887 this evidence was found at Piacenza; made out of bronze and with the shape of a ram liver is a proof that dates back to 100 BC. The model contains various inscriptions engraved, each one refers to more or less forty types of divinities; besides that, the model represents the structure of the world, and the distribution of the celestial pantheon following the Etruscan vision.
For the Etruscans the author of the hieroscopy was Tages (Tagete the god-child); this is a description of his arrival:
During his usual harvest, Tarchun, the legendary founder of the Tarquinii Dynasty who then established the city of Tarquinia, saw from the furrows a genius coming out with minute dimensions and a childish face. He had grey hair and the wisdom of a venerable old man. Astonished Tarchun made all Etruria come to that place to worship the Minute God; Tages (Tagete) was his name. The God, considered the nephew of Tinia (Tin), gave his teaching to the Etruscans for the creation of the Etruscan Discipline.
The art of Hieroscopy increased its best lore in the Etruscan culture and the ritual was particularly felt and followed by everyone.
This ritual was designed by different milestones. Who was conducting the hieroscopy, usually an adept or soothsayer, could choose the ram and then proceed to its sacrifice. Besides examining liver and its guts, very significant was the behavior of the animal during the ritual, the quantity of blood coming out and the time the animal to breathe its last. These were all divine signs that could be interpreted only through the sacrifice of the animal (Haruspicina art).
After an accurate inspection (where more than one soothsayer could take part), the animal was burnt up on an altar to draw from it the last omens. These last signs could be interpreted by the color and movements of the sacrificial flames (Empiromanzia) and its fumes (Capnomancy).
Even Jewish, when reading their passages in the Old Testament, demonstrate how they acknowledged and took into account the rituals of hieroscopy. An example is in the Book of Genesis XLIV, 5,12 where it is mention the cup for the divination belonging to Joseph who had found it in the sack of Benjamin; In the Book of Numbers XXII, 7, is written that the elders of Moab and Midian had gone to Balaam with something of the Divination ritual; finally, there is another proof in the book of Hezekiah XXI, 21 when the king of Babylon stood up still ‘’looking at the liver’’.
Regarding the Romans, Philostratus talks about the trial to Apollonius of Tyana charged of murder because of the act of sacrifice of a young plebian to celebrate a magic ritual against the Emperor.
Often the hieroscopy used to be practised before the beginning of a war or battle. The ancient literature is rich of episodes and it gives an impression of how important was the consultation of animal guts for the art of Divination.
Hieroscopy has been very important for the development of Medicine because from this cult start the first sparks of studies towards the construction of animal anatomic models. This practice stopped during the period of Catholicism that basically banned it.