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Reverse side of Great Seal on the exterior of a U.S. post office

Origin and Meaning of the Motto
on the Foundation of the Unfinished Pyramid on the Great Seal

Novus ordo seclorum is the Latin motto suggested in 1782 by Charles Thomson, the Founding Father chosen by Continental Congress to come up with the final design for the Great Seal of the United States.

On June 20, 1782, Congress approved Thomson's design for both sides of the Great Seal, whose official description for the reverse side specifies:

"On the base of the pyramid the numerical letters MDCCLXXVI &
under neath the following motto. 'novus ordo seclorum'"

Detail of official explanation

Although Thomson did not provide an exact translation of the motto, he explained its meaning in conjunction with the date MDCCLXXVI (1776) on the base of the unfinished pyramid:

"the words under it signify the beginning of the new American Æra"

Detail of official explanation


  • NOVUS means new, young, novel, or renewed.
  • ORDO means order, row, or series.
  • SECLORUM means ages, generations, or centuries.

An accurate translation of Novus Ordo Seclorum is "A New Order of the Ages," but the meaning of this motto is better understood when seen in its original context.

Discover the Source of Novus Ordo Seclorum.

The farsighted founders of the United States looked back into history as well as forward, realizing their actions would have long-lasting consequences for future generations.

In January 1776, Thomas Paine inspired the Colonies with a vision of this new American Era. In Common Sense, he wrote: "The cause of America is in a great measure the cause of all mankind... 'Tis not the concern of a day, a year, or an age; posterity are virtually involved in the contest, and will be more or less affected, even to the end of time, by the proceedings now."

In his June 1783 farewell letter to the Army, General George Washington wrote: "The foundation of our Empire was not laid in the gloomy age of Ignorance and Superstition, but at an Epoch when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period."

    Novus ordo seclorum does not mean "new world order."
  • Novus ordo seclorum is an 18th-century Latin phrase (derived from a 1st-century B.C. one).
  • "New world order" is a 20th-century English phrase that, if converted to Latin, would not be novus ordo seclorum.
  • Seclorum is a plural form. New worlds order!?
  • Ordo refers here to a sequence – not a system, hierarchy, or organization
  • Charles Thomson explained that the motto refers to the new American Era commencing in 1776.

Other myths about the reverse side of the Great Seal

President Franklin D. Roosevelt
and "A New Order of the Ages."

Historical content is based on the official history of the Great Seal.
Copyright ©2016 by John D. MacArthur.