Fasces

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Fasces (pronounced /ˈfæsiːz/, a plurale tantum, from the Latin word fascis, meaning "bundle"[1]) are a bundle of wooden sticks with an axe blade emerging from the center, which is an image that traditionally symbolizes 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.

Contents

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. They were carried by the lictors who accompanied the magistrates. The axe often represents 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.[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.

Usage

The term is related to the modern Italian word fascio, used in the twentieth 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, 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.

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