The "parable of the arrow/sticks", as described in the title, is frequently repeated amongst many nations and civilisations, even though many of them have not come into contact with each other.

One version of the story that was quoted from Iroquois folk legends by John Hancock goes:

“…They have frequently taken a single arrow and said, children, see how easy it is broken, then they have tied twelve together with strong cords – and our strongest men could not break them. See, said they, this is what the Six Nations mean. Divided a single man may destroy you – united, you are a match for the whole world.”

This story has also been attributed to the Mongols, the Bulgarians, in Aesop's Fables, and is thought to be the origin of the Roman fasces.

What is the oldest known reference to this story?

1 Answer 1


The oldest reference of the fable is in Babrius's collection, dated to before 200AD. From there it spread eastwards, explaining the Asian versions.

The Iroquois version may be independent; some estimates of its origin are as early as 1142.

Given how common the symbolism is, the story may have had much older, or independent, origins.


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