AskDefine | Define fasces

Dictionary Definition

fasces n : bundle of rods containing an axe with the blade protruding; in ancient Rome it was a symbol of a magistrate's power; in modern Italy it is a symbol of Fascism

User Contributed Dictionary



fasces plural (singular fascis)
  1. A Roman symbol of judicial authority consisting of a bundle of wooden sticks, with an axe blade embedded in the centre.


Extensive Definition

Fasces (, a plurale tantum, from the Latin word fascis, meaning "bundle") symbolize summary power and jurisdiction, and/or "strength through unity".
The traditional Roman fasces consisted of a bundle of white birch rods, tied together with a red leather ribbon into a cylinder, and including a bronze axe amongst the rods, with the blade on the side.


It has been suggested that since the rods in a bundle are harder to break, or harder for the axe to cut, the fasces symbolises the message "united we stand". Alternately the rods represent the authority to punish citizens, the axe represents the authority to execute them and the ribbons represent the restraint of that authority.
Numerous governments and other authorities have used the image of the fasces as a symbol of power since the end of the Roman Empire. Italian fascism, which derives its name from the fasces, arguably used this symbolism the most in the 20th century. The British Union of Fascists also used it in the 1930s. However, unlike (for example) the swastika, the fasces, as a widespread and long-established symbol in the West, have avoided the stigma associated with fascist symbolism, and many authorities continue to display them.


The fasces lictoriae ("bundles of the lictors") (in Italian, fascio littorio) symbolised power and authority (imperium) in ancient Rome. A corps of apparitores (subordinate officials) called lictors each carried fasces as a sort of staff of office before a magistrate, in a number corresponding to his rank, in public ceremonies and inspections. Bearers of fasces preceded praetors, propraetors, consuls, proconsuls, Masters of the Horse, dictators, and Caesars. During triumphs (public celebrations held in Rome after a military conquest) heroic soldiers—those who had suffered injury in battle—carried fasces in procession.
Roman historians recalled that twelve lictors had ceremoniously accompanied the Etruscan kings of Rome in the distant past, and sought to account for the number and to provide etymologies for the name lictor.
Believed to date from Etruscan times, the symbolism of the fasces at one level suggested strength through unity. The bundle of rods bound together symbolizes the strength which a single rod lacks. The axe symbolized the state's power and authority. The ribbons binding the rods together symbolized the state's obligation to exercise restraint in the exercising of that power. The highest magistrates would have their lictors unbind the fasces they carried as a warning if approaching the limits of restraint.
Fasces-symbolism may derive — via the Etruscans — from the eastern Mediterranean, with the labrys, the Anatolian and Minoan double-headed axe, later incorporated into the praetorial fasces.
Traditionally, fasces carried within the Pomerium—the limits of the sacred inner city of Rome—had their axe blades removed. This signified that under normal political circumstances, the imperium-bearing magistrates did not have the judicial power of life and death; within the city, that power rested with the people through the assemblies. However, during times of emergencies when the Roman Republic declared a dictatorship (dictatura), lictors attending to the dictator kept the axe-blades even inside the Pomerium—a sign that the dictator had the ultimate power in his own hands. But in 48 BC, guards holding bladed fasces guided Vatia Isauricus to the tribunal of Marcus Caelius, and Vatia Isauricus used one to destroy Caelius's magisterial chair(sella curulis).

The fasces in the United States

The following cases all involve the adoption of the fasces as a visual image or icon; no actual physical re-introduction has occurred.
  • In the Oval Office, above the door leading to the exterior walkway, and above the corresponding door on the opposite wall, which leads to the President's private office. (Note: the fasces depicted have no axes, possibly because in Ancient Rome only the lictors, who guarded Roman dictators, had the right to carry fasces with the axe attached within the Pomerium (see above).)
  • The National Guard uses the fasces as its symbol, and it appears in the insignia of Regular Army officers assigned to National Guard liaison and in the insignia and unit symbols of National Guard units themselves. For instance, the regimental crest of the U.S. 71st Infantry Regiment of the New York National Guard consisted of a gold fasces set on a blue background.
  • The reverse of the United States "Mercury" dime (minted from 1916 to 1945) bears the design of a fasces and an olive branch.
  • Two fasces appear on either side of the flag of the United States in the United States House of Representatives, representing the power of the House and the country.
  • The Mace of the United States House of Representatives, designed to resemble fasces, consists of thirteen ebony rods bound together in the same fashion as the fasces, topped by a silver eagle on a globe.
  • The official seal of the United States Senate has as one component a pair of crossed fasces.
  • Fasces ring the base of the Statue of Freedom atop the United States Capitol building.
  • A frieze on the facade of the Supreme Court building depicts the figure of a Roman centurion holding a fasces, to represent "order".
  • At the Lincoln Memorial, Lincoln's seat of state bears the fasces on the fronts of its arms. (Fasces also appear on the pylons flanking the main staircase leading into the memorial.)
  • Four fasces flank the two bronze plaques on either side of the bust of Lincoln memorializing his Gettysburg Address at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
  • The fasces appears on the state seal of Colorado, USA, beneath the "All-seeing eye" (or Eye of Providence) and above the mountains and mines.
  • On the seal of the New York City borough of Brooklyn, a figure carries a fasces; the seal appears on the borough flag.
  • Used as part of the Knights of Columbus emblem (designed in 1883).
  • Many local police departments use the fasces as part of their badges and other symbols. For instance, the top border of the Los Angeles Police Department badge features a fasces. (1940)
  • Commercially, a small fasces appeared at the top of one of the insignia of the Hupmobile car.
  • A fasces appears on the statue of George Washington, made by Jean-Antoine Houdon which is now in the Virginia State Capital

The fasces in France

A review of the images (see images below) included in Les Grands Palais de France Fontainebleau reveals that French architects used the fasces as a decorative device as early as the reign of Louis XIII (1610-1643) and continued to employ it through the periods of Napoleon I's Empire (1804-1815). The fasces typically appeared in a context reminiscent of the Roman Republic and/or of the Roman Empire, frequently in conjunction with other Roman symbols such as Roman armor and SPQR standards.
The fasces appears on the helmet and the buckle insignia of the French Army's Autonomous Corps of Military Justice, as well as on that service's distinct cap badges for the prosecuting and defending lawyers in a court-martial.

The fasces in Russia

The iron fence around Alexandrovskiy Sad beside the Moscow Kremlin near the memorial to fallen soldiers incorporates fasces symbolism. (Coming from Red Square past the History Museum, turn left.) The fence has the general appearance of cast-iron fences of the Soviet era, so apparently the Communist régime did not interpret it as a fascist political symbol.

Other modern authorities and movements

The following cases all involve the adoption of the fasces as a symbol or icon; no actual physical re-introduction has occurred.
  • Napoleon and the French Revolution; this emblem remains on the front cover of French passports and as part of the French coat of arms
  • The Spanish gendarmerie Guardia Civil
  • In the 1920s, Italian Fascism, adapting aesthetic elements of ancient Rome, attempted to portray itself as a revival of its Roman imperial past by adopting the fasces for its symbol, as an emblem of the increased strength of the individual fascis when bound into the entire bundle.
  • Both the Norwegian and Swedish Police Service have double fasces in their logos.
  • The Miners Flag (also known as the "Diggers' Banner"), the standard of 19th-century gold-miners in the colony of Victoria, in Australia, included the fasces as a symbol of unity and strength of common purpose. This flag symbolized the movement prior to the rebellion at the Eureka Stockade (1854).
  • The coats of arms of Norte de Santander, a department of Colombia, and of its capital Cúcuta, both feature a fasces.
  • The crest of the fraternity Alpha Phi Delta displays the fasces in its heraldry.

Conspiracy theories

The fasces symbol as used all over the world (and particularly in the United States) has served as evidence for claims made by conspiracy theorists. These theorists generally speak of a New World Order in which secret organizations (mainly the Illuminati) elusively manipulate or control the events of humanity in an attempt to ultimately control the world through fascism.
Through symbology, the fasces and the Eye of Providence provide two of the primary symbols used to support the assertions of such conspiracy theories. In this context, the use of the fasces allegedly demonstrates that the conspirators secretly support fascism, along with concealed intentions regarding it. The primary group in question, the Illuminati, purportedly appear identified and represented by the Eye of Providence, which (like the fasces) appears in public places (such as U.S. government buildings or churches) throughout the world.
The use of either the Eye of Providence or the fasces in churches in the United States is not common.
fasces in Asturian: Fasces
fasces in Bulgarian: Фасции
fasces in German: Fasces
fasces in Spanish: Fasces
fasces in French: Fasces
fasces in Galician: Fasces
fasces in Italian: Fascio littorio
fasces in Hebrew: פסקס
fasces in Georgian: ფასცები
fasces in Latin: Fasces
fasces in Hungarian: Fasces
fasces in Dutch: Fasces
fasces in Japanese: ファスケス
fasces in Norwegian: Fasces
fasces in Polish: Fasces
fasces in Portuguese: Fasces
fasces in Russian: Фасции
fasces in Swedish: Fasces
fasces in Contenese: 束棒
fasces in Chinese: 束棒

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

armory, badge, badge of office, badges, bale, baton, bindle, blazonry, bolt, bouquet, brassard, budget, bundle, button, caduceus, cap and gown, chain, chain of office, class ring, cockade, collar, crook, crosier, cross, cross-staff, deck, decoration, dress, eagle, emblems, ensigns, fagot, fardel, fascine, figurehead, fleur-de-lis, gavel, hammer and sickle, heraldry, insignia, lapel pin, livery, mace, mantle, markings, medal, mortarboard, nosegay, old school tie, pack, package, packet, parcel, pin, portfolio, posy, quiver, regalia, ring, rod, rod of office, roll, rose, rouleau, scepter, school ring, shamrock, sheaf, sigillography, skull and crossbones, sphragistics, staff, swastika, tartan, thistle, tie, truncheon, truss, uniform, verge, wand, wand of office
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