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The lictor, derived from the Latin ligare (to bind), was a special class of Roman civil servant, with special tasks of attending magistrates of the Roman Republic and Empire who held imperium. The origin of the tradition of lictors goes back to the time when Rome was a kingdom, perhaps acquired by their Etruscan neighbours.

Table of contents
1 Who were the lictors
2 Lictor's tasks
3 Lictor curiatus

Who were the lictors

Originally, lictors were chosen from the plebs but through most part of the Roman history they seemed to be freedman. They were, however, definitely Roman citizens, since they wore togas 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 also possible that they were drawn by lots.

Lictor's tasks

The lictor's main task was to attend as bodyguards magistrates who held imperium: consuls (12 lictors), praetors (6 lictors, 2 within Rome), dictatorss (24 lictors, 12 before Sulla) and curule aediles (2 lictors); the dictator's deputy, the magister equitum ("Master of the Horse") was also escorted by six lictors. Men with proconsular or prepraetorian imperium were also entitled to lictors (the number of lictors being equal to their degree of imperium). They carried rods decorated with fasces and, outside the pomerium, with axes that symbolized the power to execute. 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. They also had to stand beside the magistrate whenever he addresses the crowd. Magistrates could only dispense 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.

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 lictors, who did not carry rods or fasces and whose main tasks were religious. In number of 30, they were at the Pontifex maximus (high priest of Rome) command. They were present at sacrifices, carrying or guiding the animals to the altars. Vestal virgins, as well as the flamen priests, were entitled to be escorted and protected by one lictor curiatus. In the Empire, women of the royal family usually were followed by two of this kind of lictors. The lictor curiatus were also responsible for summoning the comitia curiata, the assembly of the people, and to maintain order during its procedures.

See also: cursus honorumfascesimperium