Disappearing Axes

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Fasces are bundles of rods that symbolizes the authority and dignity of a magistrate. (I find Drogula pretty convincing with how he nuances their function and meaning.) What seems uncontroversial is that fasces with axes were carried outside the pomerium (the sacred boundary of the city) and without axes inside the city. The difference being that when one commanded troops one had more summary authority than in a civic context. Marshall makes a relevant point about the understanding of the symbolism, especially in relation to the axes themselves:

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He then advocates a very practical reading that both the axes and rods were actually used for punishment and executions and thus any symbolism would be a reaction to their use. Above is the first use of the symbol on the Roman coin series in 83 BC by a partisan of Cinna, Norbanus. This was followed shortly by this coin of 81 BC:

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And then this one later in 63 BC:

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Even on this famous scene of the first consul of 509BC, struck 54 BC, the fasces all have axes:

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And then the next time they show up in 44 BC, the Axes are removed:

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And it stays gone during the ensuing Civil Wars:

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Somewhere in the Wars between Caesar and Pompey Axes went out of symbolic fashion…

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I didn’t mention this coin of c. 70/69 BC because I just don’t think Roma is holding fasces. I think it’s a scepter and we can see the hilt of her sword as well. It’s just not how you hold a set of fasces and the two ends are differentiated as on other types. There is no stripping on any specimens to suggest rods are being portrayed:

Silver coin.

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4 thoughts on “Disappearing Axes

  1. I know you are concerned with ancients, but I’d love to get your thoughts on the symbolism of the fasces with an axe on the reverse of Adolph Weinman’s Winged Liberty Dime

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