The one thing that people have wanted to know most of all throughout human history is to reach beyond the here and now and see what the future holds. It is not hard to imagine why: knowledge of the future would help people make better decisions or know that things would work out for the best. Trying to look beyond the present is something we still do today: looking at the weather forecast or reading predictions about the stock market is, in the end, not fundamentally different from how people in the middle ages tried to know whether their harvest would succeed, or whether a business investment would pay off. Techniques have changed, people’s motives have not. Neither has the reliability of attempts to read the future.
The future is, after all, not for humans to know but was (and for many people still is) the territory of gods or a God, and they kept their plans largely hidden. Largely, but not completely: throughout time, divine beings everywhere were known to send signs of their intentions. Whoever knew what to look for, would be able to decode such divine messages and use this knowledge to their advantage.
What exactly these signs looked like varied over time and place: it was believed that the gods or God communicated via birdsong, thunder, dreams or an animal’s liver. The meaning of such signs was often written down, so that it became possible to look up how one should interpret them. These texts, our main evidence of people’s attempts to know the future in the (distant) past, are known as prognostics. Prognostic texts are attested as early as the fourth millennium BCE and are still produced today all over the world, for instance in the shape of horoscopes.