Fasces is a bound bundle of wooden rods, 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 axe associated with the symbol, the Labrys the double-bitted axe from Crete, is one of the oldest symbols of Greek civilization. To the Romans, it was known as a bipennis; the image has survived in the modern world as a representation of magisterial or collective power and governance. The fasces occurs as a charge in heraldry: it is present on the reverse of the US Mercury dime coin and behind the podium in the United States House of Representatives. During the first half of the twentieth century both the fasces and the swastika became identified with the authoritarian/fascist political movements of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini. During this period the swastika became stigmatized, but the fasces did not undergo a similar process; the fact that the fasces remained in use in many societies after World War II may have been due to the fact that prior to Mussolini the fasces had been adopted and incorporated within the governmental iconography of many governments outside Italy.
As such, its use persists as an accepted form of governmental and other iconography in various contexts. The fasces is sometimes confused with the related term fess, which in French heraldry is called a fasce. A few artifacts found showing a thin bundle of rods surrounding a two-headed axe point to a possible Etruscan origin for fasces, but little is known about the Etruscans themselves. Fasces symbolism might be derived via the Etruscans from the eastern Mediterranean, with the labrys, the Anatolian, Minoan double-headed axe incorporated into the praetorial fasces. There is little archaeological evidence for precise claims. By the time of the Roman Republic, the fasces had developed 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 could suggest strength through unity. This symbolism occurs in Aesop's fable "The Old Man and his Sons".
A similar story is told about the Bulgar Khan Kubrat, giving rise to the Bulgarian national motto "Union gives strength". However, bundled birch twigs could symbolise corporal punishment; the fasces lictoriae symbolised power and authority 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 protocol. A corps of apparitores called lictors each carried fasces before a magistrate, in a number corresponding to his rank. Lictors preceded consuls, dictators, curule aediles and the Flamen Dialis during Roman triumphs. According to Livy, it is that the lictors were an Etruscan tradition, adopted by Rome; the highest magistrate, the dictator, was entitled to twenty-four lictors and fasces, the consul to twelve, the proconsul eleven, the praetor six, the propraetor five, the curule aediles two. Another part of the symbolism developed in Republican Rome was the inclusion of just a single-headed axe in the fasces, with the blade projecting from the bundle.
The axe indicated. Fasces carried within the Pomerium—the boundary of the sacred inner city of Rome—had their axe blades removed. During times of emergency, the Roman Republic might choose a dictator to lead for a limited time period, the only magistrate to be granted capital punishment authority within the Pomerium. Lictors attending the dictator kept the axes in their fasces 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, Vatia Isauricus used one to destroy Caelius's magisterial chair. An occasional variation on the fasces was the addition of symbolizing victory; this occurred during the celebration of a Triumph - a victory parade through Rome by a returning victorious general. All Republican Roman commanding generals had held high office with imperium, so were entitled to the lictors and fasces; the modern Italian word fascio, used in the twentieth century to designate peasant cooperatives and industrial workers' unions, is related to fasces.
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 been used to hearken back to the Roman republic by those who see themselves as modern-d
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