An ancient Etruscan symbol, the fasces was a group of twelve birch rods bundled together with an axe. It symbolizes strength in unity; the rods are weak by themselves but strong when bundled together (the number of the rods - twelve - representing the twelve Etruscan cities). The axe represents the power over life and death that the holder bears. The Romans adopted the same symbol after the Etruscans, and used it as a symbol of the division of political authority. Except when a dictator ruled in the Roman Republic, no one man carried the fasces - rather, each Consul carried one. Generally, the fasces were paraded by an officer's lictors.
Although the symbol was adopted by the Fascists, it does not in itself signify fascism. Rather, as a result of the use of the symbol in the Roman Republic, it stands for the equitable division of the power of government, to prevent abuse and encourage responsible leadership. In the United States House of Representatives, a fasces symbol appears on each side of the American flag, and old U. S. dimes, with a picture of the god Mercury on the front, have a design including a fasces on the back.