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Source of NOVUS ORDO SECLORUM

The motto Novus Ordo Seclorum was coined by Charles Thomson in June 1782. He adapted it from a line in Virgil's Eclogue IV, a pastoral poem written by the famed Roman writer in the first century B.C. that expresses the longing for a new era of peace and happiness.

The original Latin in Virgil's Eclogue IV (line 5) is:
"Magnus ab integro seclorum nascitur ordo."

For a better sense of its meaning, below are two translations (by James Rhoades and by C. S. Calverley) of the passage at the beginning of Virgil's poem which refers to the Sibyl who prophesied the fate of the Roman empire.

Now the last age by Cumae's Sibyl sung
Has come and gone, and the majestic roll
Of circling centuries begins anew
:
Justice returns, returns old Saturn's reign,
With a new breed of men sent down from heaven.
Only do thou, at the boy's birth in whom
The iron shall cease, the golden age arise. . .

Under thy guidance, whatso tracks remain
Of our old wickedness, once done away
Shall free the earth from never-ceasing fear.
He shall receive the life of gods, and see
Heroes with gods commingling, and himself
Be seen of them, and with his father's worth
Reign o'er a world at peace.

Come are those last days that the Sybil sang:
The ages' mighty march begins anew.
Now come the virgin, Saturn reigns again:
Now from high heaven descends a wondrous race.
Thou on the newborn babe – who first shall end
That age of iron, bid a golden dawn. . .

Thou, trampling out what prints our crimes have left,
Shalt free the nations from perpetual fear.
While he to bliss shall waken; with the Blest
See the Brave mingling, and be seen of them,
Ruling that world o'er which his father's arm shed peace.

That key phrase (bolded above) has also been translated as:
a "great series or mighty order of ages is born anew."

Charles Thomson was a former Latin teacher, and Virgil was his one of his favorite poets. Inspired by the above passage, he coined the motto: "Novus Ordo Seclorum" and placed it beneath the unfinished pyramid where he explained it signifies "the beginning of the new American Æra," which commences from the Declaration of Independence in 1776.

An accurate translation of Novus Ordo Seclorum is:
"A New Order of the Ages"

Note: Seclorum is a shortened form of seculorum, where the first "u" is deleted. In Latin poetry, it was very common to drop a letter in the middle of a word in order to preserve the meter of the poem – a device known as syncope.

Another proper spelling is "sæculorum." "æ" is an example of a ligature where two letters are combined into a single character.

Annuit Coeptis, the motto above the eye of Providence was inspired by Virgil's The Georgics. Also, Virgil's epic masterpiece, The Aeneid describes an ancient symbol of peace held by the American Bald Eagle, the olive branch.



Historical content is based on the official history of the Great Seal.
Copyright ©2014 by John D. MacArthur.