What does Serjeants Lictors mean in the Bible?


Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament - Serjeants Lictors
These officials are mentioned only in Acts 16:35; Acts 16:38, as taking a message from the praetors of Philippi (see under article Praetor) to St. Paul and Silas, and conveying back to the magistrates their reply. The name in Greek means ‘rod-carriers,’ and is the official equivalent of the Latin lictores (‘beadles’). These men were taken from the lowest class of the people or from the class of freedmen to act as attendants upon the leading magistrates in Rome. A dictator was allowed 24, a consul 12, and a praetor 6. Each carried a bundle of rods with an axe included, as symbols of the power of punishment and of life and death possessed by the higher magistrates. They marched in single file in front of the magistrate and cleared a space for him through the crowd. They had to see that proper respect was paid to the magistrate, and had also to carry out the punishment ordered by him. A minor offender (not a citizen) was bound hand and foot and beaten with the rods; a more serious offender was beheaded by the axe. This power during the Republic was held by generals commanding-in-chief in the field, but the insignia had to be dropped before they passed within the city gates, unless they had been awarded the dignity of a triumph. Within the city a citizen had always the right of appeal against a death sentence of a magistrate (see J. S. Reid in JRS [1] i. [2] 68-99). The constitution of Rome was copied in coloniae, which were in theory parts of Rome itself. Just as Rome had praetores and lictores, so had the coloniae, even where the chief magistrates did not bear that name. Philippi was a colonia, and the two chief magistrates there had their lictores. But in all probability they had no such powers as their originals in Rome had. Their bundles of rods were mostly ornamental, and so was the axe, if indeed there was an axe at all. These magistrates were proud of the forms of the parent city, even if the power possessed by them was merely a shadow. The Acts narrative shows that it was in their power to scourge recalcitrant subjects of the Empire, but not Roman citizens, when known to be such. St. Paul and Silas could indeed have successfully appealed against the treatment which they received.
A. Souter.