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p707 Lictor

Unsigned article on p707 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

LICTOR, a public officer, who attended on the chief Roman magistrates. The number which waited on the different magistrates is stated in the article Fasces.

The office of lictor is said to have been derived by Romulus from the Etruscans (Liv. I.8). The etymology of the name is doubtful; Gellius (XII.3) connects it with the verb ligare, because the lictors had to bind the hands and feet of criminals before they were punished. The lictors went before the magistrates, one by one in a line;a he who went last or next to the magistrate was called proximus lictor, to whom the magistrate gave his commands (Liv. XXIV.44, Sall. Jug. 12; Cic. Verr. V.54, de Div. I.28; Orelli, Inscr. 3218), and as this lictor was always the principal one, we also find him called primus lictor (Cic. ad Quint. I.1 §7), which expression some modern writers have erroneously supposed to refer to the lictor who went first.º

The lictors had to inflict punishment on those who were condemned, especially in the case of Roman citizens (Liv. II.5, VIII.7); for foreigners and slaves were punished by the carnifex; and they also probably had to assist in some cases in the execution of a decree or judgment in a civil suit. The lictors also commanded (animadverterunt) persons to pay proper respect to a magistrate passing by, which consisted in dismounting from horseback, uncovering the head, standing out of the way, &c. (Liv. XXIV.44; Sen. Ep. 64).

The lictors were originally chosen from the plebs (Liv. II.55), but afterwards appear to have been generally freedmen, probably of the magistrate on whom they attended (cf. Tacit. Ann. XIII.27)

Lictors were properly only granted to those magistrates who had the Imperium. Consequently the tribunes of the plebs never had lictors (Plut. Quaest. Rom. 81), nor several of the other magistrates. Sometimes, however, lictors were granted to persons as a mark of respect or for the sake of protection. Thus by a law of the Triumvirs every Vestal virgin was accompanied by a lictor, whenever she went out (Dion Cass. XLVII.19), and the honour of one or two lictors was usually granted to the wives and other female members of the Imperial family (Tacit. Ann. I.14, XIII.2).

There were also thirty lictors called Lictores Curiati, whose duty it was to summon the curiae to the comitia curiata; and when these meetings became little more than a form, their suffrages were represented by the thirty lictors (Gell. XV.27; Cic. Agr. II.12; Orelli, Inscr. 2176, 2922, 3240).

Thayer's Note:

a The lictors, or at least some of them, carried staffs, and apparently banged them on the floor to get your attention: see Florus, I.25.3.

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Page updated: 4 Feb 09