Comparative Guts

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The ‘Piacenza Liver’

Municipale Museum of Piacenza
CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)

This Etruscan bronze life-size model of a sheep’s liver was discovered in a field near Gossolengo in Piacenza in Italy in 1877 and is thought to date from the late second or early first century BCE. Although its precise purpose is not fully understood, it is considered to provide important information about the Etruscan practice of haruspicy, specifically the type known as hepatoscopy, which predicted the future using the shape and position of the liver lobes of a sheep. It offers a different yet complementary perspective on the fragmentary references to the practice found in ancient Latin literature (most Etruscan literature has not survived). The model liver is inscribed on the front and the back, and since the inscriptions are oriented away from rather than towards the haruspex, it may, in fact, have been a teaching model for students of haruspicy. It is divided into sixteen sections reflecting and representing the Etruscan cosmological system, first into quadrants, and then with each quadrant then further divided into quadrants, each one corresponding to one of the gods, whose name is engraved within it. For the haruspex examining the liver, if the right god were to be present in the right place, the outlook would be favourable.