1590s, from Latin fasces "bundle of rods containing an axe with the blade projecting" (plural of fascis "bundle" of wood, etc.), from Proto-Italic *faski- "bundle," perhaps from PIE *bhasko- "band, bundle" (source also of Middle Irish basc "neckband," Welsh baich "load, burden," perhaps also Old English bæst "inner bark of the linden tree"). Carried before a lictor, a superior Roman magistrate, as a symbol of power over life and limb: the sticks symbolized punishment by whipping, the axe-head execution by beheading. Hence in Latin it also meant, figuratively, "high office, supreme power."
updated on October 16, 2014