An official attendant assigned to escort a Roman magistrate in public and to execute his instructions. The Greek term rha·bdouʹkhos literally means “rod bearer.” (Ac 16:35, 38; compare Int.) The Roman term was lictor, and as a mark of office and a symbol of the magistrate’s authority the lictor in a Roman colony carried the fasces. This consisted of a bundle of elm or birch rods bound around the handle of an ax, with the blade of the ax projecting from the side of the bundle.
Some of the duties of the Roman constables were policelike in their nature, but they differed from modern-day policemen in that the constables were attached strictly to the magistrate, with the responsibility of being in constant attendance upon him. They were not directly subject to the call of the people but only to the orders of their magistrate.
When the magistrate appeared in public his constables announced his approach, cleared his passage through the crowd, and saw to it that he received the respect due his rank. They mounted guard at his house. They delivered magisterial messages, ordered offenders before the magistrate, and seized lawbreakers, sometimes scourging them.
The constables were technically nominated for one year, but in actuality they often served longer. The majority of them were freedmen. Roman constables were exempted from military service and were given a salary for their service.
Since Philippi was a Roman colony, it was governed by imperial civil magistrates, and these were the ones who gave the command to beat Paul and Silas with rods. The next day, the civil magistrates sent the constables with orders to release Paul and Silas. However, Paul refused to accept relief from the constables but demanded that their superiors, the civil magistrates, acknowledge the wrong done.—Ac 16:19-40; see MAGISTRATE.