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definition - bundle of sticks

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synonyms - bundle of sticks

bundle of sticks (n.)

bundle of firewood, faggot, fascine

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Roman fasces.

Fasces (pronounced /ˈfæsiːz/, a plurale tantum, from the Latin word fascis, meaning "bundle"[1]) symbolize summary power and jurisdiction, and/or "strength through unity".[2] Fasces frequently occur as a charge in heraldry, and should not be confused with the related term, fess, which in French heraldry is called a fasce.


Origin and symbolism

The traditional Roman fasces consisted of a bundle of white birch rods, tied together with a red leather ribbon into a cylinder, and often including a bronze axe (or sometimes two) amongst the rods, with the blade(s) on the side, projecting from the bundle.[3] It was used as a symbol of the Roman Republic in many circumstances, including being carried in processions, much the way a flag might be carried today.


The term is related to the modern Italian word fascio, used in the 20th C. to designate peasant cooperatives and industrial workers' unions.

Numerous governments and other authorities have used the image of the fasces as a symbol of power since the end of the Roman Empire. It has also been used to hearken back to the Roman republic, particularly by those who see themselves as modern-day successors to the old republic and/or its ideals. 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, has avoided the stigma associated with much of fascist symbolism, and many authorities continue to display them, including the federal government of the United States.

The fasces was a prominent symbol of Mussolini's Fascist Party and the movement was named for the axe and rods. Fasces are included in the national emblem of the French Republic.


"With one hand he returns the fasces, symbol of power as appointed dictator of Rome. His other hand holds the plow, as he resumes the life of a citizen and farmer." — A statue of Cincinnatus in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The fasces lictoriae ("bundles of the lictors") 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 consuls (and proconsuls), praetors (and propraetors) and dictators. 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 the Roman Republic, the blade was always removed from the bundle whenever the fasces were carried inside the city, in order to symbolize the rights of citizens against arbitrary state power (see above).
National Guard Bureau insignia
  • The grand seal of Harvard University inside Memorial Church is flanked by two inward-pointing fasces. The seal is located directly below the 368-foot steeple and the Great Seal of the United States inside the Memorial Room. The walls of the room list the names of Harvard students, faculty, and alumni that gave their lives in service of the United States during World War I along with an empty tomb depicting Alma Mater holding a slain Harvard student.
  • The National Guard uses the fasces on the seal of the National Guard Bureau, 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 United States Supreme Court building depicts the figure of a Roman centurion holding a fasces, to represent "order".[4]
  • The main entrance hallways in the Wisconsin State Capitol have lamps which are decorated with stone fasces motifs.
  • At the Lincoln Memorial, Lincoln's seat of state bears the fasces—without axes—on the fronts of its arms. (Fasces also appear on the pylons flanking the main staircase leading into the memorial.)
  • The official seal of the United States Tax Court bears the fasces at its center.
  • 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.
  • The hallmark of the Kerr & Co silver company was a fasces.
  • On the seal of the New York City borough of Brooklyn, a figure carries a fasces; the seal appears on the borough flag. Fasces can also be seen in the stone columns at Grand Army Plaza.
  • 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
  • Columns in the form of fasces line the entrance to Buffalo City Hall.
  • VAW-116 have a fasces on their unit insignia
  • San Francisco's Coit Tower has two fasces-like insignia (without the axe) carved above its entrance, flanking a Phoenix.
  • The seal of the United States Courts Administrative Office
  • In the Washington Monument, there is a statue of George Washington leaning on a fasces
  • A fasces is a common element in US Army Military Police heraldry, most visibly on the shoulder sleeve insignia of the 18th Military Police Brigade and the 42nd Military Police Brigade.

The fasces in France

The National Emblem of France is backed by a fasces, representing justice.

A review of the images (see images below) included in Les Grands Palais de France Fontainebleau [5][6] 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.[citation needed]

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.[citation needed]

Other modern authorities and movements

Stamp of Nazi Germany to show the alliance with Mussolini's fascist Italy
The coat of arms of the Swiss canton of St. Gallen has displayed the fasces since 1803

The following cases all involve the adoption of the fasces as a symbol or icon; no actual physical re-introduction has occurred.


Tassi Scandone Elena, Verghe, scuri e fasci littori in Etruria - Contributo allo studio degli insignia imperii. Volume n. 36 della Biblioteca di Studi Etruschi dell'Istituto Nazionale di Studi Etruschi ed Italici, Istituti Editoriali e Poligrafici Internazionali, Pisa - Roma, 2001. ISBN 88-8147-263-5. Pp. 272, con VII tavv. f.t.

See also


  1. Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary: fasces
  2. Fascio
  3. LaDestra.Info » Blog Archive » Il fascio littorio ricostruito nella sua storica realtà
  4. The Supreme Court Historical Society
  5. Les Grands Palais de France Fontainebleau , I re Série, Styles Louis XV, Louis XVI, Empire, Labrairie Centrale D'Art Et D'Architecture, Ancienne Maison Morel, Ch. Eggimann, Succ, 106, Boulevard Saint Germain, Paris, 1910
  6. Les Grands Palais de France Fontainebleau , II me Série, Les Appartments D'Anne D'Autriche, De François I er, Et D'Elenonre La Chapelle, Labrairie Centrale D'Art Et D'Architecture, Ancienne Maison Morel, Ch. Eggimann, Succ, 106, Boulevard Saint Germain, Paris, 1912

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