AskDefine | Define lictor

User Contributed Dictionary





IPA: /'lɪktə/


  1. An officer in ancient Rome, attendant on a consul or magistrate, who bore the fasces and was responsible for punishing criminals.
    • 1985: ‘Beware the power of the mob, Caesar.’ Then, schooled in needful agility, he ran away before a lictor’s whip could reach him. — Anthony Burgess, Kingdom of the Wicked

Extensive Definition

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 and guarding magistrates of the Roman Republic and Empire who held imperium; essentially, a bodyguard. The origin of the tradition of lictors goes back to the time when Rome was a kingdom, perhaps acquired from their Etruscan neighbours.


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 togae 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 is also possible that they were drawn by lots.
Lictors were associated with Comitia Curiata and probably originally one was selected from each curia, since originally there were 30 curiae and 30 lictors (24 for two consuls and 6 for the sole praetor)

Lictor's tasks

The lictor's main task was to attend as bodyguards to magistrates who held imperium. They carried rods decorated with fasces and, outside the pomerium, with axes that symbolized the power to execute. Dictatorial lictors had axes even within the Pomerium. 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, pushing all aside except for Roman matrons, who were accorded special honor. They also had to stand beside the magistrate whenever he addressed the crowd. Magistrates could only dispense with 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. A Vestal Virgin was accorded a lictor when her presence was required at a public ceremony.
The degree of magistrate's imperium was symbolised by the number of lictors escorting him:
Sometimes, lictors were ascribed to private citizens in special occasions, like funerals or political reunions, as a show of respect by the city.

Lictor curiatus

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.

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lictor in Bulgarian: Ликтор
lictor in Catalan: Lictor
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lictor in Spanish: Lictor
lictor in French: Licteur
lictor in Italian: Littore
lictor in Hebrew: ליקטור
lictor in Japanese: リクトル
lictor in Georgian: ლიქტორი
lictor in Latin: Lictor
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lictor in Swedish: Liktor
lictor in Chinese: 刀斧手
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