The word fasces comes from the Latin word fascis which means bundle. The fasces was a bundle of white birch rods tied with a red ribbon to form a cylinder. Protruding from the side of the bundle was an axe head. The bundle symbolized unity, the axe power, and the red ribbon careful restraint of that power.
During the period of the Republic, fasces were carried by a group of lictors, who accompanied all public officials granted imperium (power of life and death). Included in this group were Praetors, Consuls, Dictators, and Masters of the Horse. The Axe head was not part of the fasces when it was carried through Rome, indicating that only the assembles had power of life or death within the city.
The fasces were probably adopted from the Etruscans, based on the discovery of an ancient Etruscan Fasces in recent times. That fasces featured a two-headed axe which was a common military weapon during the time of the Etruscan civilization.
Fasces were also adopted by the United States as an important symbol of power. They are displayed in the House of Representatives, Oval Office (no axe), on the Seal of the United States, on the Supreme Court Building, and under the hands of Lincoln in his memorial (no axe).
The Fasces were used as a party symbol by Mussolini during his reign as Italian dictator.