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Staff of Authority

Captain Blackadder: "Don't forget your stick Lieutenant!"
Lieutenant George: "Rather, sir. Wouldn't want to face a machine gun without this."

A Staff of Authority, also know as a staff of office, is a staff or rod which symbolizes an official's position, a social rank or a degree of social prestige. Staffs, scepters, batons, swagger sticks, pace sticks, riding crops (when used like a swagger stick instead of for riding), ceremonial maces, and crosiers are all but a few examples. Canes can qualify if they are used to indicate a specific office or profession.

Long staffs are often associated with old age, because of their original use as walking stick. Such staffs are frequently found in hands of those whose office is associated with intelligence, maturity, wisdom, experience, and careful consideration.

Alternatively, certain types of staffs, such as swagger sticks, regimental sticks and pace sticks, are associated with military authority, physical strength and and aggressive leadership, in large part because such sticks were once used (and in some armies still are) to inflict corporal punishment on subordinates. A swagger stick might be part of making a character looks like a Four-Star Badass, Colonel Badass or Drill Sergeant Nasty.

If the trope is being subverted, a rod or swagger stick might be placed in the hands of a Miles Gloriosus or The Neidermeyer.

This trope is Truth in Television and Older Than Dirt. See also The Other Wiki for more information on Real Life staffs of office, swagger sticks, pace sticks, batons, scepters, ceremonial maces, and croziers

A Magic Staff sometimes doubles as a Staff of Authority. Staffs used mainly for combat purposes that are not intended as a mark of authority would be a Simple Staff. Maces designed for fighting rather than display could fall under Carry a Big Stick. However, there can be overlap in these tropes. A staff, rod or mace can have magical or fighting uses and still be a Staff of Authority, but only if it is also a symbol of authority, rank or position. A Staff of Authority in the hands of royalty would also be a part of Requisite Royal Regalia.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Comicbooks 
  • Tintin tale King Ottokar's Scepter - The new King of Syldavia will be forced to abdicate if he can't find the titular object before the people notices it was stolen. It's all a front for an attempted Anschluss.

    Film 
  • The Dark Crystal - The Skesis emperor carries a scepter which designates his office. In the death scene of the first emperor, Chamberlain indicates his eagerness to take over by reaching for the scepter.
  • The D.I. - Jack Webb's character, a US Marine Corps Drill Instructor almost constantly carries a swagger stick.
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth: in the 1959 film a baton/mace is used by the leader of the military music unit.
  • Patton - General Patton is portrayed frequently carrying a riding crop, indicating both his status as an officer with something of a flair for the dramatic, and his background in the cavalry. This is Truth in Television, though something the movie doesn't mention is that there was also a long dagger concealed in the riding crop, similar to a Sword Cane.
  • Star Trek III: The Search for Spock - Captain Styles of the USS Excelsior is often seen carrying a swagger stick. In one of the novels, Scotty finally got fed up enough to grab it and break it.
  • Star War Episode III: Revenge of the Sith - Tion Medon, Port Administrator of Pau City, carries an ornate staff of office.
  • The Bridge on the River Kwai - Colonel Nicholson (Alec Guiness) is shown carrying a swagger stick in the early scene in the movie when he informs the Japanese commandant that according to the Geneva Conventions, officers cannot be required to perform manual labor. Colonel Saito snaps the stick in half in a fury, while informing him that he is not in command. After the scene where Colonel Saito gives the Colonel permission to assume command of the prisoners and get the bridge built his way, the stick reappears. After the bridge is completed, he drops it in the river while talking to Colonel Saito.
  • Binghamton in the McHale's Navy film carries one in an attempt to look more competent than he actually he is. He ends up hurting himself when he whips it under his armpit too fast.

    Literature 
  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunts Ghosts novel Necropolis, the Master Legislator uses his golden scepter as a staff. This is also a sign that the vote on Sturm's tactics (which Gaunt and other generals have been shut off from comment on) is binding despite the excellent reasons offered against the plan after the vote.
    • Much later on, in The Armour Of Contempt, the story opens with Drill Sergeant Kexie laying down the law with his stick; a cross between a swagger stick and an officer's baton. He calls it Saroo.
  • In Dan Abnett's Warhammer 40,000 novel Brothers of the Snake, the coronation regalia include a scepter and orb. They are supposed to react if the heir is improper, and they don't. More importantly, they are the sealants for the Sealed Evil in a Can; the queen had been assassinated precisely so they would be removed from the Royal Mound. Weather Dissonance soon shows up, and an Inquisitor and a squad of Space Marines must move to contain it.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien - The poem Mythopoeia uses the symbol of a golden scepter to represent the creative human author ruling his own subcreation.
  • Lord of the Rings
    • The Istari, including Saruman and Gandalf have staffs that seem to be symbolic as well as practical. In their confrontation at Isengard after the Ents march on the place, Gandalf breaks Saruman's staff to show that his authority has been revoked by the Powers That Be.
    • The Sceptre of Annúminas was the chief mark of royalty of the North-kingdom of Arnor in Eriador in Middle-earth during the Third Age
    • The Stewards of Gondor are (in theory) the deputies of the kings, and have their own cool stick - a white staff that is their symbol of authority. Just before his suicide, Denethor breaks it in because he believes the kingdom is doomed.
  • The Camberian Council of Katherine Kurtz's Deryni works has two of its members serve as "coadjutors", and they each carry a staff of office as a symbol of their authority to censure other members when discussions get heated.
  • In Starship Troopers, the Drill Sergeants of the Mobile Infantry carry swagger sticks they use to hit the recruits to get them moving. It was felt more dignified to use them then to lay hands on the recruit.
    • It had the added practical application allowing a Sergeant to keep a Trooper out of arm's reach. An angry Trooper can't attack a Drill Sergeant (and get punished for it) if the Sergeant swats him down with the baton first.
  • In the Liaden Universe novel Fledgling, each department chair at the University of Delgado has a staff of office. At least one of them has a concealed sword built into it.
  • Rachel Swirsky's story A Memory of Wind refers to King Agamemnon as holding a staff of office while presiding over the council as which he decides to sacrifice his daughter, and uses the weight of the staff to symbolize the weight of his burdens.
  • The Scarlet Letter The town beadle carries a staff of office.
  • Lords of Discipline - Cadet First Sergeant Maccabbee, of the Carolina Military Institute (A Bland-Name Product rip of The Citadel), carries a swagger stick as part of his Drill Sergeant Nasty routine while training new cadets.
  • In Pyramids High Priest Dios carries a staff which supposedly gives him dominion over the living and the dead. He uses it to restrain the mummified Pharaohs, because for seven thousand years, the lesser priests had believed it did.
  • In the prologue to the first book of Wheel of Time, during his Evil Gloating Ishamael lists the titles and attributes that used to belong to Lews Therin as the leader of the Aes Sedai, and he mentioned that he once "summoned the Nine Rods of Dominion". It is never explained what those rods are (they could be the artifacts later known in the books as the Oath Rods, or other magical artifacts, or just purely symbolic attributes of power) but it is very clear from the context that they are, among other things, symbols of authority linked to Lews Therin's position as first among the Aes Sedai.
  • In the Star Wars novel I, Jedi, ex-Imperial warlord and pirate captain Leonia Tavira is shown in one scene using a riding crop in an unnecessarily sexual manner when berating some of her troops for incompetence. The protagonist can't quite bring himself to believe she's really doing it, adding to his impression of her as a dramatist rather than a practical combatant.
  • In Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Living Legend Willy Wonka carries "a fine gold-topped walking cane" on his person at all times as part of his elegant-if-mismatched ensemble. The major adaptations all have him carry some kind of cane, and in the 2013 stage musical Charlie gets one as part of a full matching ensemble when he becomes Mr. Wonka's heir. (This version's cane also reflects Mr. Wonka's character in its design — it's elegant and Gem-Encrusted, but also bends the way a bamboo cane does.)
  • In Emperor of Thorns as Lord of Orlanth, Jorg has the right to carry his rod of office to the Congressional, where no weapons are allowed. In anticipation of how she expects the Congressional to go, and knowing her husband, Jorg's wife has one made of a wood too dense to float in water and fully capable of beating someone to death with. He uses it to murder an opposing voting block.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Carry On Sergeant - Carried by officers and sergeants.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus - Carried by a color sergeant while marching up and down the square.
  • Hogan's Heroes - In addition to his monocle, carrying around a swagger stick tucked under one arm is the trademark of Colonel Klink
  • Doctor Who - Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart often carried a Swagger stick with him
    • The Sontaran baton is a device of Sontaran design which was carried by certain high ranking officers of the Sontaran Empire. They are symbols of rank and status, as well as multi-function tools.
    • The Time Lords were sometimes shown carrying staffs as part of their extremely ornate ceremonial regalia.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Grand Nagus's staff, which Ferengi are supposed to kiss as a sign of respect.
  • Captain Blackadder carries a swagger stick from time to time in the fourth season of Blackadder, most prominently in the credits when he's leading a company on parade.
  • About 50% of Power Rangers Big Bads. Most can fire energy blasts, and cast spells if you're a magic-based villain (or even if not. Sometimes, how "point, zap, and something happens" works isn't always addressed.) The last few series have lacked it, though.

    Religion, Mythology and Folklore 
  • Mercury's winged staff and the rod of Asclepius in Greek Mythology.
  • Aaron's rod in The Bible, used to show that he and his brother Moses had been vested with divine power.
  • Zoroaster is commonly depicted as carrying a baresman, a bundle of twigs bound together to form a sort of staff, which a symbol of priesthood, or a varza, a form of ceromonial mace, usually stylized as a steel rod crowned by a bull's head.
  • The khakkhara (jap. shakujō) is a ringed staff used in prayer, or as a weapon. It originated in India, it has been used in defensive techniques by traveling Buddhist monks all over Asia for centuries.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer - Overtyrant Greasus Goldtooth has a sceptre bigger than a man.

    Videogames 
  • Eiki Shiki, Yamaxanadu, in Touhou, wields the Rod of Remorse, which she uses to weigh a soul's karma after death.
  • Rift - One of the items in the game is a Mayor's Staff of Office
  • The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion - The Staff of Sheogorath is described as a symbol of office for the Madgod in Oblivion.
  • The staff of Pope Alexander VI in Assassins Creed II turns out to be more than just a symbol of office: it's actually a Piece of Eden.
  • A number of bosses in World of Warcraft carry various rods and staves of office to be looted from their corpses. It might seem disrespectful to whack someone over the head with a royal scepter, but there you go.
  • In Final Fantasy XIII both the Big Bad Primarch Galenth Dysley who bears a very papal apperance carries the long staff version that doubles as a Magic Staff while his lackey Lieutenant Colonel Jihl Nabaat carries a swagger stick that she also wields as a weapon.
  • In Kid Icarus: Uprising every goddess carries one.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, the Deshyrs in the Dwarven Assembly have magical staves as their badge of office. These are purely ceremonial, since the Dwarven inability to wield magic makes them all but useless as anything other than a club... although considering Dwarven politics, this actually might be more than enough.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003) the Ultimate Daimyo's War Staff is not only an object of power, it represents his authority over the Battle Nexus, which is why people who try to usurp him make a priority of obtaining it.

    Other Media 
  • BIONICLE - A Badge of Office is a staff or tool used by Turaga to symbolize their experience and knowledge. Several of these take the form of a staff.
    • Staffs of Office are artifacts used by powerful Soul Renders, which grant special powers in addition to symbolizing their prestige.

    Real Life 
  • The use of staffs, rods and scepters by kings is Older Than Dirt and visual evidence goes back at least to the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians.
  • Teachers or prefects in schools traditionally carried canes or switches which marked their right (and potential threat) to administer canings
  • Orchestral conductors have in their batons symbols of authority as well as tools of their trade.
    • Originally they carried a heavier staff, which they used to literally beat the rhythm. The practice waned after one broke his toe with the staff, and died of blood poisoning.
  • Church sidesmen or dodsmen bear sticks or rods or wands of office, while bishops may use a crozier or crook.
    • Bishop's staff actually symbolically represents a shepherd's staff.
    • In fact, (at least in the Catholic Church), there is a hierarchy of Staves Of Authority. Bishops and archbishops use the crozier, and archbishops also get the added privilege of the patriarchal cross (a staff topped with a double-barred cross) in their coat of arms. The Pope, to show that he has final say on faith and morals (except when he defers to God), does not use the curved crozier, but rather the simple straight ferula (staff + 1-barred cross) as well as the papal cross (staff topped with a triple-barred cross).
  • Roman Centurions carried a vinewood staff as a badge of office, and used them to dole out corporal punishment, cf Cedo Alteram, a Centurion nicknamed for his tendency to break them off on his subordinates.
  • Roman fasceswere a bundle of stick with a blade attached, and were used to symbolize the power of magistrates in the Roman Republic. Representations of fasces can still be found in modern American and European symbolism, generally associated with government authority, though this has become less prevalent because of the symbol's unfortunate association with fascism (particularly Benito Mussolini's variety).
  • In most Commonwealth armies, swagger sticks are officers' accouterments and Warrant Officers and Non-commissioned Officers carry what are referred to as "pace sticks". These are used for a variety of ceromonial purposes, such as Ramp Ceremonies when the remains of the fallen are loaded onto aircraft on Kandahar Airfield for their final flight out of Afghanistan. Drill canes and regimental sticks are also used, and officers in cavalry regiments carry riding crops.
  • North Korea: in this youtube video of the 2005 Arirang Festival Mass Games a baton is used (21:00) for the women's military performance.
  • In several countries (especially Britain and Germany), Field Marshals were traditionally given batons upon their promotion.
  • The ceremonial mace is common in most English-speaking legislatures; the UK parliament at Westminster started the tradition (the Mace of the House of Commons — Cromwell apparently asked for 'that fool's bauble' to be removed as he angrily dismissed the Rump in 1653, but it didn't take), and the new devolved Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly both have very cool-looking, postmodern maces. The Australian House of Representatives and various other Commonwealth legislatures also have maces. Even the United States House of Representatives has a mace: thirteen ebony rods bound with silver (echoing the fasces of the Roman Republic) topped with a silver eagle on a globe.
    • Meanwhile, the officer responsible for the security of Britain's House of Lords is "The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod." Traditionally, the post is given to a retired general, and he does indeed carry a black rod on ceremonial occasions, most notably the State Opening of Parliament (for those not in the know, an annual ceremony when the monarch comes in and gives a speech "opening" the session of Parliament). By long standing tradition, the House of Commons slams the door in Black Rod's face the first time he tries to summon them, symbolising the Commons' right to debate what it pleases irrespective of the monarch's wishes.
      • There are various Gentlemen Ushers in Britain. For most, their primary responsibilities relate to the various British orders of chivalry; of these, Black Rod is responsible for the oldest one (the Order of the Garter) and is thus considered most senior. They began as personal servants to the Monarch, which is why they serve as Her Majesty's personal representative in Parliamentary ceremonies.
    • The United States House and Senate each have a Sergeant at Arms whose job it is to keep order in their respective chambers. Each is given a ceremonial mace (more of an elaborate scepter, really) with which to keep order. If any congressional members become unruly, the presiding officer can have the Sergeant at Arms "present" the mace at the offender, which is usually enough to restore order. Sadly, no examples exist of the mace being used to beat insubordinates into submission.
  • Buddhist monks use the Khakkhara.
  • Referees at Western Martial Arts events carry staves, in part as symbols of authority, but also to break up fighters without getting within range of their weapons.


Simple StaffIndex on a StickSword Cane
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alternative title(s): Staff Of Office; Rod Of Authority
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