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date: 23 September 2021



  • Andrew Drummond


  • Roman History and Historiography
  • Roman Law
  • Roman Material Culture

Comprised bundles of rods, approximately 1.5 m. (5 ft.) long and of elm- or birchwood, and a single-headed axe; they were held together by red thongs and carried by lictores. An iron set from a late 7th-cent. tomb at Vetulonia may support the later tradition of their Etruscan origin. They were the primary visible expression of magisterial authority and hence the focus of a complex symbolism of the magistrates' legitimacy and of their powers vis-à-vis citizens, subjects, and each other. They were regularly regarded (and in the republican period used) as instruments of execution and by common consent the absence of the axe from the fasces of magistrates (other than dictators and triumphing generals) within Rome symbolized citizen rights of appeal (provocatio) against capital coercitio. The alternation of precedence between the two consuls was manifested in alternate ‘tenure’ of the fasces (although exactly what that implies is unclear), and the number of a magistrate's fasces depended on his rank: consuls (and in the republic proconsuls) had twelve (and hence also reputedly their predecessors, the kings); dictators probably had twenty-four, praetors and magistri equitum (see magister equitum) probably six. In the Principate, senatorial governors had the number appropriate to their previous magistracy, imperial legates had five. In 19 bce Augustus was given the right to twelve fasces ‘everywhere in perpetuity’ (Cass. Dio 54. 10. 5), though some suppose he had twenty-four outside Rome (cf. also Cass. Dio 67. 4. 3 (Domitian)); as imperatores emperors always had their fasces laurelled. Curule aediles and quaestors (but not censors) may also have had fasces, at least in certain circumstances, and lictors were progressively assigned to those giving games, envoys, certain priests, and others. Later evidence does not maintain Cicero's careful differentiation between the fasces and the (two) ‘staves' (bacilla) carried before municipal magistrates.


  • E. S. Staveley, Historia, Zeitschrift für alte Geschichte 1963, 458–484.
  • A. J. Marshall, Phoenix 1984, 120–141.
  • T. Schäfer, Imperii Insignia. Sella curulis und fasces (1989), 196–232.