It was not uncommon for the armies of Rome, during their time of conquest, to hold their march until the fates had been forseen by a haruspex in their pay. To be a haruspex entailed divining the future from the sacrifice of animals, ordinarily a goat (it was important that the sacrifice be calmed beforehand, an unwilling sacrifice would grant no revelation). The folds and loops and the random bunching of the intestinal veins were carefully inspected. The liver would be sought out and meaning teased from the pattern of its lobes.

Haruspicy and hepatoscopy - the arts of predicting the future from the entrails and liver of a slaughtered animal - were ancient before Rome was born. The Romans learned their skills from the Estrucans, whose vanished civilisation once held sway between the River Tiber and the Alps that shielded their glittering cities from barbarian Europe. Perhaps the Estruscan's knowledge was a gift from their own dark, forgotten gods; perhaps it had come to them from Mesopotamia, where the first civilisations arose.

Haruspicy was only one of the myriad routes to revelation. Signs and portents could be found everywhere by those who cared to look. Practioners of hydromancy cast pebbles into a pool and learned the future from the circles they made in the water. Alectromancy required its adepts to study the movements of a white cockerel as it pecked grain from a magic circle inscribed on the earth. Those who were well versed in the skills of amniomancy could read the future in the birth-caul of a newborn child; and seers trained in the art of geloscopy learned much from the pitch and rhythm of a person's laugh. The practioners of chiromancy - the reading of hands - opened the book of fate by interpreting the lines, whorls and mounds of the human palm. Astragalomancy entailed the casting of lots - the knucklebones of sheep, sticks, pebbles or, in later ages, dice.

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