During the times of the republic, a victorious general, who had been saluted by the title of imperator by his soldiers, had his fasces crowned with laurel (Cicero, Pro Ligario, 3).
Valerius Publicola, the champion of popular rights, further established the custom that the fasces should be lowered before the people, as the real representatives of sovereignty (Livy ii.
A dictator, as taking the place of the two consuls, had 24 fasces (including the axe even within the city); most of the other magistrates had fasces varying in number, with the exception of the censors, who, as possessing no executive authority, had none.
Its pliant and flexible branches are made into brooms; and in ancient Rome the fasces of the lictors, with which they cleared the way for the magistrates, were made up of birch rods.
As representatives of magistrates who possessed the imperium, they carried the fasces and axes in front of them (see Fasces).
Later, under the empire, when the emperor received the title for life on his accession, it became restricted to him, and the laurel was regarded as distinctive of the imperial fasces (see Mommsen, Romisches Staatsrecht, i., 188 7, p. 373).
The lictors and the fasces were so inseparably connected that they came to be used as synonymous terms. The fasces originally represented the power over life and limb possessed by the kings, and after the abolition of the monarchy, the consuls, like the kings, were preceded by twelve fasces.