1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Lictors

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LICTORS (lictores), in Roman antiquities, a class of the attendants (apparitores) upon certain Roman and provincial magistrates.[1] As an institution (supposed by some to have been borrowed from Etruria) they went back to the regal period and continued to exist till imperial times. The majority of the city lictors were freedmen; they formed a corporation divided into decuries, from which the lictors of the magistrates in office were drawn; provincial officials had the nomination of their own. In Rome they wore the toga, perhaps girded up; on a campaign and at the celebration of a triumph, the red military cloak (sagulum); at funerals, black. As representatives of magistrates who possessed the imperium, they carried the fasces and axes in front of them (see Fasces). They were exempt from military service; received a fixed salary; theoretically they were nominated for a year, but really for life. They were the constant attendants, both in and out of the house, of the magistrate to whom they were attached. They walked before him in Indian file, cleared a passage for him (summovere) through the crowd, and saw that he was received with the marks of respect due to his rank. They stood by him when he took his seat on the tribunal; mounted guard before his house, against the wall of which they stood the fasces; summoned offenders before him, seized, bound and scourged them, and (in earlier times) carried out the death sentence. It should be noted that directly a magistrate entered an allied, independent state, he was obliged to dispense with his lictors. The king had twelve lictors; each of the consuls (immediately after their institution) twelve, subsequently limited to the monthly officiating consul, although Caesar appears to have restored the original arrangement; the dictator, as representing both consuls, twenty-four; the emperors twelve, until the time of Domitian, who had twenty-four. The Flamen Dialis, each of the Vestals, the magister-vicorum (overseer of the sections into which the city was divided) were also accompanied by lictors. These lictors were probably supplied from the lictores curiatii, thirty in number, whose functions were specially religious, one of them being in attendance on the pontifex maximus. They originally summoned the comitia curiata, and when its meetings became merely a formality, acted as the representatives of that assembly. Lictors were also assigned to private individuals at the celebration of funeral games, and to the aediles at the games provided by them and the theatrical representations under their supervision.

For the fullest account of the lictors, see Mommsen, Römisches Staatsrecht, i. 355, 374 (3rd ed., 1887).

  1. The Greek equivalents of lictor are ῥαβδοῦχος, ῥαβδοφόρος, ῥαβδονόμος (rod-bearer); the Latin word is variously derived from: (a) ligare, to bind or arrest a criminal; (b) licere, to summon, as convoking assemblies or haling offenders before the magistrate; (c) licium, the girdle with which (according to some) their toga was held up; (d) Plutarch (Quaestiones Romanae, 67), assuming an older form λιτωρ, suggests an identification with λειτουργός, one who performs a public office.