I. R. Bama's Blog

02 Aug 2020

The Fasces: Seldom Discussed Symbols in Numismatics #3

Coins-United States | I. R. Bama

Take a look at the reverse of the Mercury Dime. What's that thing on the back there?

Well, that is called a fasces. A fasces is an ancient object that was the the symbol of Etruscan kings in Italy that predated the Roman Roman Empire, who adopted it as a symbol of magisterial and priestly authority. In addition to its symbolic nature it also had a functional use as well as we will see.
During the Roman empire, a fasces consisted of a bundle of sticks five foot in length, banded together with a red leather ribbon. It had a longer staff in the center. Part of the bundled sticks was one with an ax head mounted on it.

Fasces were carried over the left shoulders of magisterial assistants known as lictors as a symbol of judicial authority. During a judicial proceeding, lte lictor would enter carrying the fasces to signify the power of the magistrate. In a public procession, if two magistrates met, the lictor of the more junior magistrate would lower their fasces to the more senior magistrate in honor and respect of the more senior official's status.

The functional aspect of the fasces was that in the case of a magistrate rendering a death penalty, the axe was removed from the fasces to indicate to the defendant that the death penalty was the sentence and a signal that it was the appropriate time to mount an appeal of the sentence. It also allowed for the execution to be carried out without further delay if the appeal was rejected.

When a magistrate died, he had the right to have a fasces depicted on his tomb and if a magistrate was removed from office for some reason, the sticks of his fasces were broken in symbolic representation of his disgrace.

Because of the use of the faces by the socialist Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, the fasces became associates with "Fascism" a fancy way of saying Socialism and all the oppression of rights and freedoms incumbent with that governmental model.

After 25 years of Barber designs being the face of our coins, a new design was approved created by Adolf Weinman for the dime. On the front of course is Liberty with a winged Phrygian cap with wings. The cap as we have discussed represented Liberty and the wings represented freedom of thought.

On the reverse we find the adoption of the fasces which depicts the ideas of strength through unity and the willingness to defend our freedoms, It is adorned with an olive branch which symbolizes peace, making it contemporary in design with the concepts of the Peace dollar after World War I.



Level 5

As Mussolini took power in Italy, he used the Reed with the axe to show the power of the "Roman Empire". Nevertheless a great blog.

Doug S.

Level 4

Great piece, well done. Doug

I. R. Bama

Level 5

Coins by Gary caught a huge error in my blog. Thank you Gary, I appreciate you pointing my mistake out to me. I have deleted the erroneous information from my blog which was about the Roosevelt dime reverse design. It is another symbol of freedom, a flaming torch. The reverse of the Roosevelt dime features a torch. On the left side of the torch was an olive branch and on the right an oak branch. This design was by John R. Sinnock. Again thanks to Gary for pointing this out to me


Level 5

Part of learning is to be able to humbly accept correction. And you take it well. In the end, we're all the better for it. Keep those posts coming!


Level 4

I’ve always wondered what the reverses meant; thank you for answering my question!


Level 6

Nice to read. I knew the story but I like your slant and style. Thanks.

I'm surprised this didn't en dup like the swastika. Once a symbol of peace and freedom used all over the world, turned into a hate symbol used by none.

I. R. Bama

Level 5

Well, they're trying!

It's Mokie

Level 6

Great effort, I knew the history but it is still fun to be reminded of the sometimes ancient symbolism on our coins.


Level 6

Interesting blog. I like the reverses on both dimes.


Level 5

A fascinating story and information. Thank you for posting such an interesting history. Learned something new again. We should all study each coins design and learn exactly what it represents and why it's design was made.


Level 7

Thanks for the information. I tell everyone there is history on every coin. The blog on the hat goes back to Roman times also. Great information and research. I researched the Gettysburg reverse what that means. It's all so interesting. Thanks allot for sharing.

I. R. Bama

Level 5

Hope you will write about that soon Mike...

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