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1590s, from Latin fasces "bundle of rods containing an axe with the blade projecting" (plural of fascis "bundle" of wood, etc.), perhaps from PIE *bhasko- "band, bundle" (cf. Middle Irish basc "neckband," Welsh baich "load, burden," Old English bæst "inner bark of the linden tree"). Carried before a lictor, a superior Roman magistrate, as a symbol of power over life and limb: the sticks symbolized punishment by whipping, the axe head execution by beheading.
(plural form of Latin fascis: "bundle") in ancient Rome, insignia of official authority. It was carried by the lictors, or attendants, and was characterized by an ax head projecting from a bundle of elm or birch rods about 5 feet (1.5 metres) long and tied together with a red strap; it symbolized penal power. When carried inside Rome, the ax was removed (unless the magistrate was a dictator or general celebrating a triumph) as recognition of the right of a Roman citizen to appeal a magistrate's ruling. The discovery of a miniature iron set of fasces in a 7th-century BC Etruscan tomb at Vetulonia confirms the traditional view that Rome derived the fasces from the Etruscans. The Roman emperors, beginning with Augustus in 19 BC, had 12 fasces, but, after Domitian (reigned AD 81-96), they had 24; dictators, 24; consuls, 12; praetors, 6; legates, 5; priests, 1. Lowering of the fasces was a form of salute to a higher official.