To emphasize the superiority of this imperium over that of the consuls, the dictator might be preceded by twenty-four lictors, not by the usual twelve; and, at least in the earlier period of the office, these lictors bore the axes, the symbols of life and death, within the city walls.
For the purpose of passing the lex curiata, and probably for its other purposes as well, this comitia was in Cicero's day represented by but thirty lictors (Cic. de Lege Agraria, ii.
Its pliant and flexible branches are made into brooms; and in ancient Rome the fasces of the lictors, with which they cleared the way for the magistrates, were made up of birch rods.
As the emblem of official authority, they were carried by the lictors, in the left hand and on the left shoulder, before the higher Roman magistrates; at the funeral of a deceased magistrate they were carried behind the bier.
The lictors and the fasces were so inseparably connected that they came to be used as synonymous terms. The fasces originally represented the power over life and limb possessed by the kings, and after the abolition of the monarchy, the consuls, like the kings, were preceded by twelve fasces.