Erich Lessing

Part bodyguard, part honor guard, the lictors of ancient Rome were public officials who accompanied the city’s most influential citizens on their rounds. As this endearing 5-inch-high, first-century A.D. bronze trio shows, each lictor carried an ax and a bundle of rods called a fasces, symbolizing the state’s authority to beat and behead (or more generally to judge and punish). By assigning each of the Vestal virgins her own pair of lictors in 42 B.C., the young consul Octavian (soon to become the emperor Augustus) was sending a clear signal that he considered the Vestals to be among the most powerful political actors in the land.