tags:  Egyptian Greek Semitic pun recommended · symbol   —   by Gerry · Sep 2018 · 1562 words

The fasces are a bundle of sticks, twigs, rods, in later times combined with an axe. The symbol was made famous by the Italian fascists, but it has been used by rulers of all times for symbolism. One possible origin for the word fasces could be the Greek, Semitic & Egyptian word root pss, with meanings such as “broken reed”, “division”, “allotment”, “credit”, “broken will”.

Houdon’s Washington with fasces

Houdon’s Washington with fasces, considered “one of the most accurate depictions”.

Unclear origin & etymology

As usual with spook symbols, the symbol has no clear origin or etymology. Wikipedia suggests the Etruscans as originators, and “strength through unity” as a symbolic meaning. I don’t yet know who the Etruscans where, but we will see soon that the real meaning of the fasces is “commercial credit”, “breaking things apart”, and especially “breaking people’s will”.

A few artifacts found showing a thin bundle of rods surrounding a two-headed axe point to a possible Etruscan origin for fasces, but little is known about the Etruscans themselves. Fasces symbolism might be derived via the Etruscans from the eastern Mediterranean, with the labrys, the Anatolian, and Minoan double-headed axe, later incorporated into the praetorial fasces. There is little archaeological evidence for precise claims.


The symbolism of the fasces could suggest strength through unity (see Unity makes strength); a single rod is easily broken, while the bundle is very difficult to break.

Wikipedia: Fasces

Egyptian psš for “reed mat”, “spread out”, “distribution”

In Ancient Egyptian, we find the word root psš which means “bundled mats of reeds” or “strip of cloth”, and by derivation “spread out”.

Because the reed mat is made up of separate reed stalks, “dividing” seems to be as much part of of the psš root as “spreading”. Further, more abstract derivations are “distributing”, “allotting”, “arbitrating”. The psš root even has specifically commercial meanings such as “business shares” & “business partners”.

The root still exists in late Coptic Egyptian, with the same set of meanings.

Egyptian psš = reed, mat, bandlet

𓊪𓊃𓈙𓏏𓏴𓎅 psšt : carpet, matting of reeds — Egyptian (AED)

𓊪𓊃𓈙𓏏𓏴𓎅 psšt : reed stalk; carpet, matting — Egyptian (TLA)

𓊪𓊃𓈙𓏴𓎅 ; 𓊪𓊃𓈙𓏏𓏴𓏛𓎅 pesesh-t : mat, carpet — Egyptian (Budge)

𓊪𓊃𓈙𓎅𓏴𓏏 pesesh-t : bandlet, bandage, strip of linen — Egyptian (Budge)

𓊪𓈙𓈙𓂻 pšš : straddle, spread oneself over, spread out awnings — Egyptian (AED)

Egyptian , psš = division, share, associate, partner

𓊪𓈙𓏴𓏛 : to divide, to share, to have a share (in) — Egyptian (TLA)

𓊪𓊃𓈙𓏏𓏴𓏛𓏥 psšt : sharing out, share, portion — Egyptian (AED)

𓊪𓊃𓈙𓏏𓏴𓏛 psšt : half, part, distribution — Egyptian (TLA)

𓊪𓈙𓊃𓏴𓏛 peshes : to divide, to cleave, to split — Egyptian (Budge)

𓊪𓊃𓏌𓅱𓏏𓏴𓏛𓏥 peshen-t : divisions, shares in an inheritance — Egyptian (Budge)

𓊪𓊃𓈙𓅱𓏴𓏜𓏪𓀀 pesshu : one who divides, adjudicator — Egyptian (Budge)

𓊪𓊃𓈙𓅱𓏴𓏛𓀀 psšw : arbitrator, associate, partner — Egyptian (TLA)

𓊪𓏲𓅭𓏤𓅭𓏤𓏴𓂡 pusasa : to divide, to separate, to distribute, division — Egyptian (Budge)

𓊪𓋴𓈙𓏴 ; 𓊪𓊃𓈙𓏴𓂡 pesesh : to cleave, to split, to slit, to divide, to divide with, to share or participate with someone, to open the legs or arms, to distribute; Copt. ⲡⲱϣ — Egyptian (Budge)

𓊪𓋴𓈙𓏏𓏴𓏜 ; 𓊪𓊃𓈙𓏏𓏴 pesshe-t : ration, allowance, share, division, allotment, lot, part, portion, division; the half of anything; the two halves, the two portions; divisions, borders, boundaries; Copt. ⲡⲁϣⲉ — Egyptian (Budge)

𓊪𓊃𓏴𓂻 ; 𓊪𓊃𓏴𓂡 pesh : to divide, to split, to cut, to separate, to distribute, to share; Copt. ⲡⲱϣ — Egyptian (Budge)

Coptic paš, pwš = division, fraction

ⲡⲁϣⲉ paše : division, half — Coptic (CDO)

ⲡⲱϣ pwš : divide, be separate — Coptic (CDO)

ⲡⲱϣ pwš : division, fraction — Coptic (CDO)

ⲣⲉϥⲡⲱϣ refpwš : divider, distributor — Coptic (CDO)

ⲡⲣⲏϣ prhš : thing spread (mat, cloak) — Coptic (CDO)

Aramaic pss as “allotment”, “permission”

The Egyptian psš root then also surfaces in Aramaic in the spelling pss, again with the meanings “strip” & “fragment”, but mostly in the derived sense of “allotment” & “permission”. We can see it is the same word root, because the spelling is almost identical, and the meanings are identical.

Aramaic pss = allotment, license, permission

פסס pss : to distribute, to pay off the ketubba, to allot, to permit, to enable, to permit to have something, to be permitted — Aramaic (CAL)

מפס mps : permitted — Aramaic (CAL)

פיס pys : lot — Aramaic (CAL)

פיס pys : to cast lots — Aramaic (CAL)

פס ps : small fragment, strip, portion, lot, fate — Aramaic (CAL)

פסה psh : lot, tax — Aramaic (CAL)

פסס pss : license, permission — Aramaic (CAL)

פסיס psys : permitted, broken — Aramaic (CAL)

Hebrew pss as “dividing”, “breaking will” “feigned transfer”

In Hebrew, apart from the global meanings of “dividing” & “partitioning”, we finally encounter specifically spooky meanings such as “weakening”, “breaking someone’s will”, and even “feigned transfer”. The Hebrew terms are officially derived from Greek πίστις pistis, but we have seen that the word root was present in much older empires.

Hebrew pss = tear, strip, partition, weaken, feigned transfer

פסס pss : to be broad, spread; to tear apart; to strip; cp. Arab. faṣṣa (= he separated) — Hebrew (Klein)

פסס pss : to be cut off, be gone; to cut into stripes, divide; to distribute, spread; to distribute an ulcer by manipulation, to pass over with the hand; to break, weaken — Hebrew (Jastrow)

פס ps : stripe, strip; board, partition; All these words derive from פסס (= to be broad, spread) — Hebrew (Klein)

פיס pys : to split, divide, distribute; to penetrate, cause abdominal trouble; to break a person’s anger or will, to pacify, persuade, comfort; to arbitrate, decide; to decide by chance, by drawing lots, counting a certain number; appeased, satisfied, persuaded — Hebrew (Jastrow)

פסיס psys : persuasion, good-will, accommodation; a deed of sale for accommodation, a feigned transfer (a Hebrew adaptation of πίστις) — Hebrew (Jastrow)

פיסין pysyn : (distributions, cmp. Lat. tributum) taxes, esp. pissim, pissin, name of a Roman tax laid on the community and distributed by the latter according to assessments — Hebrew (Jastrow)

פיסטיס pysṭys : trust; a deed of trust; a feigned sale or donation; (πίστις) — Hebrew (Jastrow)

Greek pistis as “commercial credit”, “trust”

The cited Greek term πῐ́στῐς pistis in various forms has mostly to do with trust & credit, and this explicitly includes “commercial credit”.

Passages from Demosthenes cited in LSJ show that πῐ́στῐς pistis was used in a general as well as in a strictly financial sense.

Greek pistis = commercial credit, trust

πίστει pistei : trust in others, faith, persuasion of a thing, confidence, assurance; credence, credit; in a commercial sense, credit; position of trust or trusteeship; assurance, pledge of good faith, guarantee; that which is entrusted, a trust; political protection or suzerainty — Ancient Greek (LSJ.gr)

πῐ́στῐς pistis : trust in others, faith; belief in a higher power, faith; the state of being persuaded of something: belief, confidence, assurance; trust in a commercial sense: credit; faithfulness, honesty, trustworthiness, fidelity; that which gives assurance: treaty, oath, guarantee; means of persuasion: argument, proof; that which is entrusted — Ancient Greek (Wikt)

πιστός pistos : to be trusted or believed; faithful, trusty; trustworthy, worthy of credit; genuine, unmistakable, trustworthy, sure; deserving belief, credible — Ancient Greek (LSJ.gr)

Depositions have been read to you, men of Athens, showing that the defendant has supplied you with funds in excess of the whole amount that he or anybody else possesses; but Phormio has credit with those who know him for so great an amount and for far larger sums, and through this he is of service both to himself and to you.

τοσαῦτα γάρ, ὦ ἄνδρες Ἀθηναῖοι, χρήμαθ᾽ ὑμῖν ἀνεγνώσθη προσηυπορηκώς, ὅσ᾽ οὔθ᾽ οὗτος οὔτ᾽ ἄλλος οὐδεὶς κέκτηται. πίστις μέντοι Φορμίωνι παρὰ τοῖς εἰδόσι καὶ τοσούτων καὶ πολλῷ πλειόνων χρημάτων, δι᾽ ἧς καὶ αὐτὸς αὑτῷ καὶ ὑμῖν χρήσιμός ἐστιν.

Demosthenes 36 57

Yet, if you had confidence in him when you gave the money, why should you have sought some security for yourself before the crime? But if you distrusted him, why did you not, like the others, get a legal acknowledgement before sailing?”

καίτοι εἰ μὲν εἰς πίστιν ἔδωκας, τί πρὸ τοῦ κακουργήματος ἂν τὰ βέβαι᾽ ἐποιοῦ; εἰ δ᾽ ἀπιστῶν ἐτύγχανες, τί οὐχ, ὥσπερ οἱ ἄλλοι, τὰ δίκαι᾽ ἐλάμβανες ἐν τῇ γῇ;’

Demosthenes 32 16

Fasces as a spook symbol before & after fascism

The fasces have been used all over the entire world, and throughout history, apparently by totally unrelated rulers of any stripe. A good non-exhaustive list of fasces symbolism, used by spooks who were not “fascist” in the official sense, can bee seen on German Wikipedia: Fascis. They’re everywhere.

With the strong commercial emphasis of pss in all languages, we may conclude that the original aristocratic meaning was “shares in business” & “commercial credit”. The fasces likely represented finance & banking, in times when its existence was barely known to the public, much less its supreme dominion over all other branches of power.

The horrible spook invention of modern fascism then took the meaning of “breaking apart” literally: to break society apart with violence & terror, and to break people’s will. All these meanings are present in the pss root. World War II was also likely used to “divide” the world once again, and to re-“allot” proportions of it to the ruling families.

tags:  Egyptian Greek Semitic pun recommended · symbol