The previous post dealt with the Latin noun fascia that meant ‘a strip of material, ribbon, band, bandage, swathe.’ Closely related was Latin fascis, which was ‘a bundle,’ particularly of sticks or of books. Apparently the bundle was named after the band that held together the objects in the bundle.
The Romans used the plural, fasces, to designate, in the words of Lewis and Short’s A Latin Dictionary, ‘a bundle carried before the highest magistrates, and consisting of rods and an axe, with which criminals were scourged and beheaded.’ You can see an illustration of and read more about the Roman fasces in the Wikipedia articles in Spanish and English (with the English article containing more information).
Because the fasces was a symbol of Roman power, subsequent cultures have looked back to it as a symbol of their own. Americans old enough to remember the old dime with the god Mercury on its front may recall that on its back was a fasces. And certain 20th century Romans, better known as Italians, turned to the fasces to symbolize their own dictatorial power; from that symbol they came to be known as Fascisti. We now call each member of such a dictatorial group a fascista/fascist, and the corresponding abstract noun is fascismo/fascism. Tyrants come in all strengths and sizes, so to speak, and in recent years some of the petty ones who speak English have unfortunately taken to calling anyone who disagrees with them a fascist (or some other kind of -ist), when of course the truth is the other way around.
© 2011 Steven Schwartzman