The lictor, derived from the Latin ligare (to bind), was a member of a special class of Roman civil servant, with special tasks of attending magistrates of the Roman Republic and Empire who held imperium. The origin of the tradition of lictors goes back to the time when Rome was a kingdom, perhaps acquired by their Etruscan neighbours.
Who were the lictors
Originally, lictors were chosen from the plebs but through most part of the Roman history they seemed to be freedmen. They were, however, definitely Roman citizens, since they wore togas inside Rome. A lictor had to be a strongly built man, capable of physical work. Lictors were exempted from military service, received a fixed salary (of 600 sesterces, in the beginning of the Empire), and were organized in a corporation. Usually they were personally chosen by the magistrate they were supposed to serve, but it also possible that they were drawn by lots.
The lictor's main task was to attend as bodyguards magistrates who held imperium: consuls (12 lictors), praetors (6 lictors, 2 within Rome), dictators (24 lictors, 12 before Sulla) and curule aediles (2 lictors); the dictator's deputy, the magister equitum ("Master of the Horse") was also escorted by six lictors. Men with proconsular or prepraetorian imperium were also entitled to lictors (the number of lictors being equal to their degree of imperium). They carried rods decorated with fasces and, outside the pomerium, with axes that symbolized the power to execute. They followed the magistrate wherever he went, including the Forum, his house, temples and the baths. Lictors were organized in an ordered line before him, with the primus lictor (the principal lictor) right on his front, waiting for orders. If there was a crowd, the lictors opened the way and kept their master safe. They also had to stand beside the magistrate whenever he addressed the crowd. Magistrates could only dispense their lictors if they were visiting a free city or addressing a higher status magistrate. Lictors also had legal and penal duties: they could at their master's command arrest Roman citizens and punish them.
Sometimes, lictors were ascribed to private citizens in special occasions, like funerals or political reunions, as a show of respect by the city.
The lictor curiatus (plural lictores curiati) was a special kind of lictor, who did not carry rods or fasces and whose main tasks were religious. Some thirty in number, they were at the command of the Pontifex Maximus, the high priest of Rome. They were present at sacrifices, where they carried or guided sacrificial animals to the altars. Vestal Virgins, as well as flamines (priests), were entitled to be escorted and protected by one lictor curiatus. In the Empire, women of the royal family were usually followed by two of this kind of lictor. The lictores curiati were also responsible for summoning the Comitia Curiata (the Public Assembly) and to maintain order during its procedures.
Last updated: 05-02-2005 10:12:14
Last updated: 05-03-2005 17:50:55