Julius Obsequens


Julius Obsequens was a Roman writer active in the 4th or early 5th centuries AD, during late antiquity. His sole known work is the Prodigiorum liber (Book of Prodigies), a tabulation of the wonders and portents that had occurred in the Roman Republic and early Principate in the years 249–12 BC.[1] The material for the Prodigiorum liber was largely excerpted from the 1st century AD Ab Urbe Condita Libri of the Augustan historian Livy, which chronicled the history of the Roman state from its origin to the beginning of the imperial period, though Julius used it selectively and sometimes added interpretations of the omens and incidents he included.[1] There is a common view that Julius only knew Livy's text wholly or in part from an epitome, but there is scant evidence of this.[1]

The work was first printed by the Italian humanist, Aldus Manutius, in 1508, after a manuscript belonging to Jodocus of Verona (now lost). Of great importance was the edition by the Basle humanist Conrad Lycosthenes (1552), trying to reconstruct lost parts and illustrating the text with wood-cuts. Later editions were printed by Johannes Schefferus (Amsterdam, 1679), Franciscus Oudendorp (Leiden, 1720) and Otto Jahn (1853, with the periochae of Livy).

The text of Julius Obsequens frequently makes reference to unusual astronomical and meteorological events as portentous signs like meteor showers, comets, and sun dogs, alongside earthquakes, aberrant births, haruspicy, and sweating, crying, or bleeding statues.

After the alleged Kenneth Arnold UFO sighting in 1947, Harold T. Wilkins among others, interpreted Julius Obsequens as preserving ancient reports of unidentified flying objects (UFOs).[2] Since Julius wrote some four centuries after the latest of the events he describes, his is not an eye-witness account, and for most of his subject matter his source Livy was himself neither an eye-witness nor even a contemporary.

In the consulship of Gaius Marius and L. Valerius Flaccus, (100 BC) for example, Julius writes:

At Tarquinii a blazing torch was seen far and wide and fell suddenly dropping. Around the setting of the sun an orb similar to a shield seemed to be borne across [the sky] from the west to the east.[3][4]

For the consulship of L. Marcius Philippus and Sextus Julius Caesar, (91 BC) Julius Obsequens reports that:

When Livius Drusus, tribune of the people, was passing his laws, and the Italian War began, many prodigies appeared in the city. Around sunrise a ball of fire flashed out of the sky with a mighty sound from the northern regions. At Arretium as they were breaking bread blood flowed from the middle of the loaves. In the territory of the Vestini for seven days it rained stones and potsherds. At Aenaria a flame which came out of a cleft in the earth flashed out to the sky. Around Regium part of the city and the walls were destroyed by an earth tremor. At Spoletum a ball of fire with a golden hue rolled down to earth. It increased in size and after it was seen being carried from the land to the east it covered the sun with its magnitude.[5][6]

Finally, Obsequens provided another example of this phenomenon for the consulship of M. Aemilius Lepidus and L. Munatius Plancus (42 BC), stating that:

At Rome a mule gave birth by the Twelve Gates. A dead bitch belonging to a temple keeper was dragged away by a dog. Light so shone at night, that it seemed that people woke up for work as though it was daybreak. At Mutina the south facing standard of the Marian victory, of its own accord, turned northward at the fourth hour. When these things were being expiated by sacrificial victims, three suns were seen at around the third hour of the day, then they drew together as one globe.[7][8]


  1. ^ a b c Pelling, Christopher Brendan Reginald (2012), Hornblower, Simon; Spawforth, Antony; Eidinow, Esther (eds.), "Obsequens (RE 2), Iulius", The Oxford Classical Dictionary (4th ed.), Oxford University Press, doi:10.1093/acref/9780199545568.001.0001, ISBN 978-0-19-954556-8, retrieved 2020-05-06
  2. ^ Östling, Erik A. W. (2016). "What Does God Need with a Starship? UFOs and Extraterrestrials in the Contemporary Religious Landscape". In Lewis, James R.; Tollefsen, Inga B. (eds.). The Oxford Handbook of New Religious Movements. II. Oxford University Press. pp. 417–418. ISBN 978-0-19-046619-0.
  3. ^ Julius Obsequens, Prodigiorum liber, XLV. "Fax ardens Tarquiniis late visa subito lapsu cadens. Sub occasu solis orbis clipei similis ab occidente ad orientem visus perferri."
  4. ^ "Julius Obsequens, Book of Prodigies". attalus.org. Retrieved 2021-08-30.
  5. ^ Julius Obsequens, Prodigiorum liber, LIV. "Livio Druso tr.pl. leges ferente cum bellum Italicum consurgeret, prodigia multa apparuerunt urbi. Sub ortu solis globus ignis a septemtrionali regione cum ingenti sono caeli emicuit. Arretii frangentibus panes cruor e mediis fluxit. In Vestinis per dies septem lapidibus testisque pluit. Aenariae terrae hiatu flamma exorta in caelum emicuit. Circa Regium terrae motu pars urbis murique diruta. In Spoletino colore aureo globus ignis ad terram devolutus, maiorque factus e terra ad orientem ferri visus magnitudine solem obtexit."
  6. ^ "Julius Obsequens, Book of Prodigies". attalus.org. Retrieved 2021-08-30.
  7. ^ Julius Obsequens, Prodigiorum liber, LXX. "Mula Romae ad duodecim portas peperit. Canis aeditui mortua a cane tracta. Lux ita nocte fulsit ut tamquam die orto ad opus surgeretur. In Mutinensi victoriae Marianae signum meridiem spectans sua sponte conversum in septentrionem hora quarta. Cum haec victimis expiarentur, soles tres circiter hora tertia diei visi, mox in unum orbem contracti."
  8. ^ "Julius Obsequens,Book of Prodigies". attalus.org. Retrieved 2021-08-30.
  • Julio Obsecuente, Libro de los Prodigios (restituido a su integridad, en beneficio de la Historia, por Conrado Licóstenes), ed. Ana Moure Casas (Madrid: Ediciones Clásicas, 1990)
  • Giulio Ossequente, Il Libro dei prodigi, ed. Solas Boncompagni (Rome: Edizioni Mediterranee, 1992)
  • Beyer, Jürgen, 'Obsequens, Julius', in Enzyklopädie des Märchens. Handwörterbuch zur historischen und vergleichenden Erzählforschung, vol. 10 (Berlin & New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2000–02), coll. 176-8
  • David Engels, Das römische Vorzeichenwesen (753-27 v.Chr.). Quellen, Terminologie, Kommentar, historische Entwicklung (Stuttgart: Franz-Steiner, 2007), p. 221-235.

External links

  • Latin text of Prodigiorum Liber at The Latin Library
  • English translation of Book of Prodigies, by Alex Nice at attalus.org