Fasces

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An unusual fasces image, with the axe on the outside of the bundle of rods.

Fasces (pron.: /ˈfæsz/, a plurale tantum, from the Latin word fascis, meaning "bundle")[1] is a bound bundle of wooden sticks, sometimes including an axe with its blade emerging. The fasces had its origin in the Etruscan civilization, and was passed on to ancient Rome, where it symbolized a magistrate's power and jurisdiction. The image has survived as a representation of magisterial power. A secondary meaning of the bundling of sticks may have been "strength through unity".[2] Fasces frequently occurs as a charge in heraldry, and should not be confused with the related term, fess, which in French heraldry is called a fasce.

Contents

Origin and symbolism

Although little is known about the Etruscans, a few artifacts have been found showing a thin bundle of rods surrounding a two-headed axe.[3] Fasces-symbolism might derive—via the Etruscans—from the eastern Mediterranean, with the labrys, the Anatolian and Minoan double-headed axe, later incorporated into the praetorial fasces. There is little archaeological evidence.[4]

By the time of the Roman Republic, the fasces had evolved into a thicker bundle of birch rods, sometimes surrounding a single-headed axe and tied together with a red leather ribbon into a cylinder. On certain special occasions, the fasces might be decorated with a laurel wreath.

The symbolism of the fasces suggested strength through unity; a single rod is easily broken, while the bundle is very difficult to break. The axe represented the power over life or death through the death penalty, although after the laws of the twelve tables, no Roman magistrate could summarily execute a Roman citizen.[5]

Republican Rome

The fasces lictoriae ("bundles of the lictors") symbolised power and authority (imperium) in ancient Rome, beginning with the early Roman Kingdom and continuing through the Republican and Imperial periods. By Republican times, use of the fasces was surrounded with tradition and protocol. A corps of apparitores (subordinate officials) called lictors each carried fasces before a magistrate, in a number corresponding to his rank. Lictors preceded consuls (and proconsuls), praetors (and propraetors), dictators, curule aediles and the Flamen Dialis. During Roman triumphs (public celebrations held in Rome after a military conquest)

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.[citation needed] The highest magistrate, the dictator, was entitled to twenty-four lictors and fasces.

Another part of the symbolism developed in Republican Rome was the inclusion of a single-headed axe in the fasces, with the blade projecting from the bundle. The axe indicated that the magistrate's judicial powers (imperium) included capital punishment. Fasces carried within the Pomerium—the boundary of the sacred inner city of Rome—had their axe blades removed; within the city, the power of life and death rested with the people through their assemblies. However, during times of emergency, the Roman Republic might choose a dictator to lead for a limited time period, who was the only magistrate to be granted capital punishment authority within the Pomerium. Lictors attending the dictator kept the axes in their fasces even inside the Pomerium—a sign that the dictator had the ultimate power in his own hands. There were exceptions to this rule: 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).

An occasional variation on the fasces was the addition of a laurel wreath, symbolizing victory. This occurred during the celebration of a Triumph - essentially a victory parade through Rome by a returning victorious general. All Republican Roman commanding generals had previously held high office with imperium, and so were already entitled to the lictors and fasces.

Usage

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

Numerous governments and other authorities have used the image of the fasces for 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, 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.

Fasces in the United States

Several offices and institutions in the United States have incorporated representations of the fasces into their iconography.

Fasces in France

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

A review of the images included in Les Grands Palais de France Fontainebleau [8][9] reveals that French architects used the Roman fasces (faisceaux romains) 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. The French Revolution has used many references to the ancient Roman Republic in its imagery. During the First Republic, topped by the Phrygian cap, the fasces is a tribute to the Roman Republic and means that power belongs to the people. It also symbolizes the "unity and indivisibility of the Republic",[10] as stated in the French Constitution. In 1848 and after 1870, it appears on the seal of the French Republic, held by Liberty. There is always the fasces in the arms of the French Republic with the "RF" for République française (see image below), surrounded by leaves of olive tree (as a symbol of peace) and oak (as a symbol of justice). While it is widely used by French officials, this symbol never was officially adopted by the government.[11]

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

Flag of the National Fascist Party of Italy. Fascism utilized the fasces as its political symbol.
Greater coat of arms of Italy of 1929-1943, during the Fascist era, bearing the fasces.
The coat of arms of the Swiss canton of St. Gallen has displayed the fasces since 1803
The Grand Coat of Arms of Vilnius, Lithuania bearing the fasces.

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

Sources

See also

Notes

  1. ^ Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary: fasces
  2. ^ Fascio
  3. ^ Haynes, S. (2000). Etruscan civilization: A cultural history. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum.
  4. ^ "Fasces". 2011-03-26. http://www.livius.org/fa-fn/fasces/fasces.html. Retrieved 2011-04-13.
  5. ^ Livius.org, fasces
  6. ^ The Supreme Court Historical Society
  7. ^ Bach, Ira and Mary Lackritz Gray, ‘’A Guide to Chicago’s Public Sculpture’’, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1983 p. 11-12
  8. ^ 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
  9. ^ 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
  10. ^ Site of the French Presidency
  11. ^ Site of the French Presidency

External links