(in Greek writers, ραβδοῦχος
attendant upon certain magistrates and other persons discharging official
duties at Rome and in the provinces. Their name has been derived by many
(following Plutarch, Plut. Rom. 26
but apart from the difficulty of
the form of the word for ligator,
it is clear that
binding was not the most ordinary duty of the lictor, nor the duty most
likely to confer the name. Though Corssen favours the derivation from
“a girdle” (see Gel. 12.3
), it is
far more probable that the word comes from licere,
“to summon,” and that their original function was to summon
assemblies: if so, the lictores curiatii
probably represent the oldest class of lictors; though the title
“summoner” might also refer to the magisterial vocatio
through a lictor. We have, however, no
account of their first institution, but find them mentioned in the earliest
times of the monarchy. Livy (1.8
), laying stress
on the favourite Etruscan number twelve,
office from Etruria, and Müller endorses this opinion, in which,
however, as Professor Seeley in his note on that passage observes, no great
confidence can be placed, since there was a tendency to ascribe all ancient
institutions to Etruria. Virgil (Aen.
7.173) might be quoted
against it, when he gives “primos attollere fasces” of the
early Latin kings; but that [p. 2.65]
is merely a synonym for
and it would be absurd to
give it any antiquarian authority. All that can be said is, that this
attendance was in earliest times “insigne regium” (Liv. 3.36
; Dionys. A.
), in the same way as the breaking of the fasces was a
sign of rebellion or deposition (Liv. 2.55
; D. C. 59.29
). It is necessary to distinguish two
kinds of lictors: (1) lictores qui
(2) lictores qui sacris
Both are handed down from the kingly times,
inasmuch as the king held also priestly office, and it is impossible to say
which class is the older; but the attendants on magistrates are certainly
the more important. They were the outward mark of authority: they were not
sent for on special occasions, but attended the magistrate like his shadow:
if he is at home, they are in his vestibule (Liv.
); if he goes to the rostra, they precede him (Liv. 23.23
); when he takes his seat on the
tribunal, they stand by him (Cic. Cluent.
53,147); when he pays a visit, the lictor knocks for his admission (Liv. 6.34
; Mart. 8.66
). The sovereignty of the people
is admitted by the lictors lowering the fasces when the consul comes to the
10), and Plutarch says the custom remained to his
own time. (Cicero calls this “the insolence of liberty:”
2.31, 53.) So also, if a magistrate of lower rank met
a superior, his lictors lowered the fasces, or, if with imperium, removed
their axes; as Dionysius mentions, when he tells the story of Coriolanus
ordering this to be done as a mark of respect to his mother. The magistrate
must, however, dismiss his lictors when he enters the territory of an allied
independent state. We find in Tacitus (Tac. Ann.
), Germanicus with one lictor at Athens; but that this is
allowed him as an accensus,
not as a sign of
is clear, for if it had been his sign
of office he would have had twelve.
The lictors bore fasces with axes, to show that the king or magistrate had
the power of life and death. Therefore this distinction belonged to the
dictator, from whom there was no appeal; to a commander in the field; and in
older times to consuls, before the Valerian law of provocatio
, 55): and the withdrawal of the axes showed the withdrawal
of summary jurisdiction or martial law. The axes were allowed also to
consuls in the triumph, because they still held the imperium, and in
232). The lictors actually carried out the sentence of
death under the old system, for all Roman citizens who were condemned, so
long as the execution was in the hands of the Quaestores Parricidii or
Duumviri Perduellionis, as representatives for this purpose of the consul
(see articles on these offices): but, when executions were controlled by
tribunes and aediles, who were not attended by lictors, the death sentence
was carried out either by the tribune or aedile in person or by a carnifex.
The carnifex seems, too (probably after the appointment of Tres viri
capitales), under the Republic, to have taken the place of the lictor for
execution even of citizens: such, at least, would be the natural inference
from the description in Suet. Cl. 34
“Quum spectare antiqui moris
supplicium concupisset et deligatis ad palam noxiis carnifex
deesset,” &c. On active service the execution under martial
law naturally belonged to the lictors (Liv. 4.29
, &c.). The ordinary duty of
the lictors in the city was submovere turbam,
i.e. to make the people give way to the magistrate, and to disperse any
crowd which might interfere with the business in hand (cf. Hor. 2.16, 9).
This duty was heralded by the cry animadvertite,
i.e. “pay due observance to the
magistrate” (Suet. Jul. 80
speaks of this as “sollennis ille lictorum et praenuntius
clamor.” From Liv. 24.44
, it would appear
that the technical word animadvertere
used of the lictor noticing and reproving disrespect, unless (which would
make better sense) the word jubere
there. The lictors are also the instruments of the magistrate for vocatio,
i.e. the summons of any citizen who
offends; whereas tribunes, as being without lictors, could only arrest by
their own hand, or their viator,
but could not
summon (Varro, ap. Gel. 13.12
); and resistance
to a lictor was equivalent to resistance to the magistrate.
As regards the number of lictors allowed to different offices, the king was
attended by twelve; though Mommsen (Staatsrecht,
i.3 343) suspects from the words decuriae
and decem primi
lictors, that the number 12 superseded an original number 10. Twelve, at any
rate, is the number given by Cicero, Rep.
2.17, 31; Liv. 1.8
; and others. Appian is the only writer who
1.100) says twenty-four, thinking perhaps of the
dictator, and he is inconsistent in this (see Appian, App. Syr. 15
). As the consuls originally
performed the regular duties of administration by turns on alternate months,
so the officiating consul was attended by twelve lictors, the other only by
; Cic. Rep. 2.31
55). Similarly, as the decemvirs held office each for a day in turn, the
decemvir of the day had twelve lictors, the others an accensus
each (Liv. 3.33
appears, however, from Suet. Jul. 20
, that at
some time the custom came in of an accensus
preceding the consul out of office, while twelve lictors followed him. There
can be no doubt that the state of the consular military tribunes was
regulated by the same principle as that of the decemvirs.
The dictator had twenty-four (Plb. 3.87
; D. C. 54.1
; Appian, App. BC 1.100
). Yet Livy (Ep.
89) says that Sulla
was the first so to appear: perhaps, as Mommsen suggests, the dictator was
attended by twenty-four only without the city, and Sulla's innovation
consisted in his using them also within it. The magister
nominated by the dictator, had six lictors (D. C. 42.47
and the same number was assigned to the praefectus
nominated by Caesar in his dictatorship (Dio Cass. l.c.
). Two belonged to the praetor at Rome
(Censorin. 23.3; Cic. de Leg. Agr.
, 93); six to the praetors in the provinces (Appian, App. Syr. 15
Ver. 5.54, 142
), whence Polybius
constantly terms the praetor στρατηγὸς
and, treating it merely as a
synonym for the magistrate, uses this adjective to express even the praetor
at Rome (Plb. 33.1
). (Under the Empire, however,
the praetor at Rome actually had six lictors: Mart.
.) Proconsuls outside Rome
had twelve under the Republic, as would belong to those who acted [p. 2.66]
as consuls; and those of Africa and Asia, at any
rate, had the same number in the earlier Empire. Ulpian (Dig. 1
), however, speaks of the limitation to six for proconsuls. Six
was certainly the number for propraetors, but five only for a quaestor or
legatus pro praetore
(Cic. Att. 10.4
); and for Augustus's time a propraetor who was the imperial
legatus pro praetore
had only five, and was
The emperors had twelve lictors to the time of Domitian, to whom twenty-four
were assigned (D. C. 54.10
), but in the later Empire the attendance of
lictors gradually fell into disuse. It marks the importance of the curatores viarum
under the Empire, that in their
office they had two lictors.
As to the status of the lictors, they are ranked before viatores
(Cic. Ver. 3.66, 153
; ad Q. F.
1.1, 4; Orelli,
4109). From Tacitus, 13.27, we learn that most
lictors were freedmen; whether it was so in republican times it is
impossible to say: in Liv. 2.55
they are spoken
of as belonging to the plebs; it is clear that at Rome, whether freeborn or
not, they were always free. In the provinces it appears from Gellius, 10.3
, that sometimes at least they were taken from
the class of reduced Italians called Bruttiani.
At Rome there was a community of three decuriae of lictors under ten
directors (decem primi
In Rome they wore the toga, which, one would gather from Gellius l.c.
and from Plut. Rom.
, was girded with the licium
but Mommsen observes that ancient
representations of lictors do not show them with any girdle, and that the
limus belonged rather to servi publici.
Rome they wore the red sagulum
(Sil. 9.20), and
at triumphs naturally also the same war-dress (Appian, App. Pun. 61
, calls it χιτὼν θοινικόεις
): at funerals, black (Hor. Ep. 1.7
The fasces, tied with a red strap, were held in the left hand and carried on
the left shoulder: at funerals they were carried reversed (Tac. Ann. 3.2
; cf. Verg. A. 2.45
); the fasces wreathed with laurel (laureati
) in the Republic marked the magistrate who
had been saluted as a victorious imperator, and under the Empire
distinguished the imperial lictors.
The lictors always walked in single file (cf. V. Max.
; Liv. xxiv 44) before the magistrate in office, whence the
last in order, who was the principal lictor, was called proximus
, 59; Verr.
5.54, 142; Tac. Hist. 3.80
), but perhaps also primus
Q. F. 1.1
, 7); and ἡγούμενος
(Appian, App. BC
) may have the same meaning, applied to rank,
not order of march.
Coin representing the children of Brutus led to death by Lictors.
(2) Lictores curiatii
as may be seen from Inscriptions: see Mommsen,
i.3 p. 389) were
employed originally to summon the Comitia Curiata. Of these there were
thirty, according to the number of the curiae; and, when the meeting of the
Comitia Curiata became a mere form, it was represented by the thirty lictores curiatii
Leg. Agr. 2.1. 2
, 31). Ovid (Ov. Fast. 2.23
) speaks of lictors used in
sacred rites, whom Mommsen with some probability takes to be lictores curiatii;
and he also suggests the
possibility that they acted as flamines
They attended specially on the Pontifex Maximus,
probably the same number (ten or twelve) as had belonged to the king; and
they are called “lictores curiatii qui sacris publicis
adparent.” The Flamen Dialis was attended by one of these lictors
(Plut. Quaest. Rom.
93); as was also any Vestal
who appeared in public (Plut. Num. 10
similar distinction was granted to widows of emperors, as though they were
priestesses of a deified husband (Tac. Ann.
; note the refusal
of it by Tiberius,
1.14). These lictores
were constituted as a separate decuria (C. I.
(3) Lictors were specially assigned to attend for the time on the givers of
games who had not otherwise the right to lictors: as, for instance, in
funeral games (Cic. Legg. 2.2.
, 61); perhaps originally because givers of games were so constantly
of magisterial rank that lictors became a customary part of the spectacle;
or the public function conveyed the temporary magisterial rank.
(4) In the games of the Vicomagistri there were two lictores populares denuntiatores,
who belonged to separate
decuria, to attend upon them (D. C. 55.8
; Ascon. in
7; and see article COMPITALIA
). The origin of the name denuntiator
may be gathered from “ludicrum
denuntiare” (Liv. 45.32
As regards the attendance of lictores atri
funeral (Hor. Ep. 1.7
), it must be understood that this can be said only of great
funerals, having a more or less public character, when either the deceased
himself was of magisterial rank and his own lictors attended, or where
funeral games were given, and there were therefore lictors assigned (cf.
Cic. Legg. 2.2. 4
(For full information respecting lictors, see Mommsen,