The symbol of the Fasces (fascis in the singular) was one of the most important ones in the Roman ethos at the time of the Republic.

The origin of this symbol was in a traditional tale that goes like this:

A sick father, on his death bed, calls his sons to him (there are several versions as to how many sons were there). He gives each of his sons a stick and tells them to break it. Naturally each of the sons breaks the stick with hardly any effort. Then the father gives each of his sons a second stick and tells them: "This time, make a bundle out of the sticks, and then try to break it!" Try as they may the sons could not break the bundle, even when they tried to do it together. "These sticks," said the father, "Are you, my sons, when each of you stands apart he can be easily broken and eliminated, but when brothers cooperate they're unstoppable and unbreakable!"

And so the Fasces stood for the unity of the Roman people, and the loyalty of all position holders to the Republic and its values.

Each of the high ranking officials with Imperium (the power of government invested in elected officials) of the Republic had his Lictor (sort of aide) carry a bundle of sticks wrapped around an axe (the Fasces themselves) before him wherever he went. The number of the sticks marked the position of the official:< p> A Praetor had 6 Fasces.
A Consul had 12 Fasces.
A Dictator had 24 Fasces.