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The Sacred Chickens | Irene Soldatos
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Publius Claudius Pulcher was a Roman General. In 249 B.C.E. he had command, as Consul, of the Roman fleet during the First Punic War. Before the great naval battle of Drepana, he had to take the auspices, i.e. check whether the omens were good, as was the custom. This was to be accomplished by observing the eating habits of the sacred chickens they had onboard. If the chickens ate the grain that was given them, the omens were good, if the chickens did not, well… you get the idea. Here’s what happened:


[Story as recorded by Julius Paris:]

Claudius wanted to fight a naval battle, and he asked for the auspices in the traditional way of our forefathers. When the man in charge of the sacred chickens replied that they were not coming out of their cage, Claudius ordered them to be thrown into the sea, saying “Since they do not want to eat, let them drink!”1


And what happened with the battle, I hear you ask.

He lost the entire fleet.



1Valerius Maximus, Memorable Deeds and Sayings; One Thousand Tales from Ancient Rome, trans. Henry John Walker, Hackett Publishing: 2004, p. 15.