Along with togas and a Greek-influenced alphabet, the Romans inherited the faces from the Etruscans. A bundle of rods bound around an ax, the faces was the physical symbol of the Imperium: The absolute authority to give commands and enforce them, to scourge and execute the disobediant.
Personal note: I’ve always thought that the Lincoln memorial was creepy, to say the least. All ‘Temple of Zeus’ and whatnot.
In any event, look closely at the arms of Lincoln’s throne:
Each bears the faces. What’s going on here? What were the architect and artist trying to say about Mr. Lincoln and his war?
Interestingly, the faces on the Lincoln memorial do not show an ax. I don’t know if this was an oversight, or intentional. If intentional, was the goal of the artist aesthetic (from a design point of view, the axes would admitedly look awkward and unpleasantly barbaric). Or was the omission an editorial comment? Lincoln bore the Imperium. Enforced it with the scourge, certainly. But not to the extreme of tyranical execution.
An ironic thought, given that our civil war resulted in well over half a million casualties.