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.
Use in the United States
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.
Even though Fascism was developed in Europe in the 1910's and came to power in the 1920's, the ideology did not become popular until the 1930's. Conspiracy theorists with an anti-American belief system have pointed to architecture or art with the Fasces in it dating back to the 1700's or 1800's as proof of Fascism in America. Examples include the Lincoln Memorial, the Statue of Freedom, the Liberty Bell, and a statue of George Washington.
First envisioned in the mid-1800's, the Lincoln Memorial design was completed by the Lincoln Memorial Committee in 1911. Another is the Statue of Freedom, which was completed in 1863. Finally, The George Washington Statue by Jean-Antoine Houdon, was completed somewhere between the years of 1788-1892.