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Staff of Authority

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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 known 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 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 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 look 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 Martial Arts 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.

Compare Lawman Baton, another stick that expresses authority (in this case, the law).


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Moriarty the Patriot: While William's Sword Cane doesn't seem to be inherently associated with his position, the fact that he is seen with it so incredibly often, even in depictions outside of canon, and no one else in the series has one emphasizes its place as his authority. Also, it's a convenient weapon.
  • Prison School: Meiko Shiraki is the Vice-President of the Underground Student Council. She is in charge of guard duty during the boys' two months incarceration and carries a riding crop which she frequently uses to discipline them.

  • Medici Chapels: Giuliano holds an unadorned baton and sits like a proud general, an image the sculpture is intended to evoke because of the subject's status as Florenze's co-ruler.
  • Seven Virtues: "Fortitude" holds a scepter in her hands to convey that she's a hardened Lady of War.
  • Sistine Chapel: Jesus makes it pretty clear who the King of Kings is in “The Resurrection of Christ” by emerging from His tomb with an imperial rod taller than Him. Just to make it clearer who is in charge, the staff is topped off with a cross, turning a symbol of humiliated criminals into the symbol of the glorified Lord.

    Comic Books 
  • In the 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 notice it was stolen. It's all a front for an attempted Anschluss.
  • The Transformers (IDW):
    • The Transformers: Combiner Wars: The Mistress of Flame has a staff that resembles a large hammer. It honors the Forge of Solus Prime, the weapon of choice for the very first female prime, and the central figure in their religion.
    • The Transformers: More than Meets the Eye: Chief Justice Tyrest has a massive scepter that he carries about. Within it is a suggestion weapon that can knock everyone down with a thought.
  • Wonder Woman: Queen Hippolyta carries a golden scepter with a winged figure on its crown.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Maleficent: The titular character getting one of those is one of the signs of her turn to "evil", as the Moors are stated to need no queen or king beforehand.
  • The Dark Crystal: The Skesis emperor carries a scepter that designates his office. In the death scene of the first emperor, Chamberlain indicates his eagerness to take over by reaching for the scepter.
  • The DI: Jack Webb's character, a US Marine Corps Drill Instructor almost constantly carries a swagger stick.
  • Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959): 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 Guinness) 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 is. He ends up hurting himself when he whips it under his armpit too fast.

  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's 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.
  • Tolkien's Legendarium:
    • J. R. R. Tolkien's poem "Mythopoeia" uses the symbol of a golden scepter to represent the creative human author ruling his own subcreation.
    • The 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.
      • This follows the custom of the Kingdom of Númenor, whose annals speak of successive kings "taking the sceptre."
      • 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 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.
  • A Practical Guide to Evil: In Liesse-Become-Twilight, Catherine is offered an ancient sword of the Kings of Callow, but decides it's the wrong tool for her and chooses not to take it up. Instead she accepts a yew staff, symbolizing her new Role as "she who will bring order to the strivings of Named". The staff is later noted to be not quite an artefact, but too solid and responsive to her will to be mere wood.
  • 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 than 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 at which he decides to sacrifice his daughter, and uses the weight of the staff to symbolize the weight of his burdens.
  • The Chronicles of Narnia: In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the eccentric magician Coriakin, who is the ruler of an island populated by dwarf-like creatures known as the Duffers (and the mentor of the Duffers), is described as having "a curiously carved staff".
  • 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.
  • Discworld:
    • In Pyramids High Priest Dios carries a staff that 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.
    • As Commander of the City Watch, Sam Vimes has a ceremonial truncheon with silver facings and the inscription "Protector of the King's Piece".
  • In the prologue to the first book of The 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 in-universe what those rods are, 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. Supplementary materials explain that the Rods are in fact people, sovereigns of the individual nations of the time, who presumably carried ceremonial rods of office at some point.
  • In the Star Wars Expanded Universe 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. He uses it to murder an opposing voting block.
  • Sir Thursday of The Keys to the Kingdom wields the Fourth Key, which normally takes the form of a baton but can turn into different types of swords.
  • Redwall: Hare commanders usually carry swagger sticks, often in place of swords. Doesn't stop them from kicking ass, as one managed a Dying Moment of Awesome with it.
  • Matthew Hawkwood carries a tipstaff that identifies him as Bow Street Runner. It also doubles as a Lawman Baton when needed.
  • Princesses of the Pizza Parlor: In the first episode, Princess Cassandrella has a "scepter of office, a sign of her service as priestess of the Moon."

    Live-Action TV 
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus - Carried by a colour 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 that 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.
  • Deep Space Nine. The Sceptre of the Grand Nagus, leader of the Ferengi Alliance. Ferengi show their submission to the Nagus's authority by kissing the golden head on top of the staff. In "The Search", Commander Sisko wants Quark's help to find the Founders. Quark naturally refuses, whereupon Sisko produces the Sceptre to show The Grand Nagus himself wants him to go. (Sisko makes Quark kiss the Sceptre too, just to troll him).
  • 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. In the final episode, Blackadder reminds Lt George, see page quote, not to forget his stick just before going over the top.
  • Power Rangers
  • In Battlestar Galactica (1978) Commander Cain carries a swagger stick as part of his larger-than-life military maverick persona.
  • In The Prisoner (1967), one of Number Two's marks of office is a shooting stick (the other being a striped Oxbridge-college-style scarf). The particularly vicious and brutal Number Two played by Patrick Cargill in "Hammer into Anvil" turns his into a Sword Cane.
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power: In his Tin Tyrant form, Sauron carries a sceptre to show his dominance over the Orcs.

    Religion, Mythology and Folklore 
  • Hermes' 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 ceremonial 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.
  • In The Iliad, the kings of the various Greek clans wield staffs as symbols of their authority. The staffs are referred to as representing Zeus, and whenever one of them makes an Oath or Order as a king they specifically swear by their staff.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer
    • The ogre Overtyrant Greasus Goldtooth has a sceptre bigger than a man.
    • The symbol of office for Supreme Patriarch of the Imperial Colleges of Magic is the Staff of Volans, a powerful Magic Staff that was crafted (and named) for the first Patriarch soon after the Colleges' founding.
  • In Warhammer 40,000:
    • Space Marine chaplains carry a Crozius which serves not only as a symbol of their rank but doubles as a powerful maul. Their evil counterparts the Dark Apostles use corrupted versions of them as well.
    • Some Rogue Trader lord-captains (as explained in Rogue Trader) carry a ceremonial scepter that serves as a symbol of office, a key to unlock their ship's functions, and/or an emergency melee weapon.
  • The "Staff of Office" in the Star Wars: Roleplaying Game serves this function. Making it easier for the owner to convince people to let them hold on to it, as well as being usable as a blunt weapon.
  • Dungeons & Dragons has a number of magical rods, staffs, and wands that display authority:
    • The Rod of Lordly Might is a Shapeshifter Weapon that also improves the wielder's leadership abilities.
    • The Rod of Rulership is a magic rod that can magically compel a large group into following your commands.
    • The Ruby Rod of Orcus is an Artifact of Doom carried by Orcus as a token of his status as the Demon Prince of the Undead. It's also a magic weapon so powerful that it's capable of slaying even a god.
    • Boccob, the god of magic in the Greyhawk setting, always carries the Staff of the Archmage (an artifact level version of the Staff of the Magi) that indicates his status as the master of arcane magic.
    • The magical Staff of Power and Staff of the Magi are both mage staffs that almost always indicate that the wielder is a mage of impressive power, if only because they're such desired magic items among wizards and sorcerers that anyone who's not strong enough to fend off all comers will swiftly lose it (and likely their life).

    Video Games 

  • In Girl Genius, Gil's swagger stick during the Mechanicsburg arc doubles as weapon that targets lightning strikes. The more pre-charged the atmosphere (naturally or otherwise), the greater the strike it can summon on its target.

    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.
  • Vendel from Trollhunters is the leader of Trollmarket and carries a staff wherever he goes. When Blinky gets the offer of being Vendel's successor, special emphasis is put on him taking Vendel's staff.
  • In the finale of Star Wars Rebels, Ahsoka is seen with one of these, as a Shout-Out to Gandalf. Interviews with the creators state that she earned it doing something spectacular, something that might or might not be addressed in the future.

    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.
  • Church sidesmen or dodsmen bear sticks or rods or wands of office, while bishops may use a crozier or crook.
    • A 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 sticks 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).
  • Most Commonwealth armies feature some form of stick as a way of denoting authority.
    • Swagger sticks are officers' accouterments, the most common being a short cane with regimental insignia on the handle. Certain units have their own unique twist on the stick, such as cavalry officers carrying riding crops and officers in traditionally Irish regiments carrying sticks made from blackthorn.
    • Sergeants carry pace sticks made out of wood and brass both as a symbol of their authority and for practical training purposes (see the page image for an Australian example). When open, the stick's ends spread to the length of an average soldier's pace so that sergeants can measure out exactly how far apart soldiers should stand in formation. When closed, pace sticks are carried similarly to swagger sticks, tucked under sergeants' left arms, in ceremonial settings.
    • Drum majors carry elaborate maces that they use to keep time when regimental bands are playing and to signal marching orders when on the move.
  • 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 — to which Black Rod responds by banging on the door with his rodnote .
    • Then there are the Gold and Silver Sticks, ceremonial bodyguards to the sovereign.
      • 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 Historical European Martial Arts events carry staves, in part as symbols of authority, but also to break up fighters without getting within range of their weapons. This can be seen as far back as the engravings in Joachim Meyer's "A Foundational Description Of The Art Of Fencing", written some time in the mid-16th century.