We’ve seen them before in book 1, Dominus, but as I pen this “reading of the will” scene for Games of Rome I see that they pop up yet again. So, what was a lictor?
A lictor was an officially appointed bodyguard. Often a retired veteran soldier (usually of centurion rank), the lictor was a Roman citizen who wore a toga (or military garb) and carried a bundle of rods tied together to form a long pole. Intertwined with the rods was an axe, included to symbolize the power of “life or death” wielded by Roman magistrates. Most men of political rank were awarded a group of lictors to travel with and protect them, both in and outside of the city of Rome. This gold coin shows three lictors in procession (with the Roman eagle on the other side). Believe it or not, this gold coin was minted by the Dacians in the late first century BC. The Dacians may have been inspired to include this image on their gold coins (called kosons) after seeing similar images on the coins minted earlier by Brutus. Yup, that Caesar-killing Brutus.
Julius Caesar from HBO’s Rome surrounded by lictors.
Like the toga, the Romans inherited the concept of a lictor from the Etruscan kings. In fact, Rome inherited a hell of a lot from the Etruscans — such as triumphs and divination (reading the will of the gods through natural signs).
Gaius Fabius has a group of lictors assigned to him by the state. Because he served as a consul prior to our story (twice consul, in fact), he has “proconsular status” and is thereby allowed to be accompanied by eleven lictors. The emperor has a group of 24 lictors in addition to his personal bodyguard, the Praetorians. Lictors were deliberately easy to identify, given their long ceremonial poles (and axes) sticking up above the heads of the throng. If you saw a group of lictors approaching, you knew somebody important was headed your way.