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MDCCLXXVI – The Date at the Base of the Pyramid
on the Great Seal of the United States

Realization by Charles Totten (1897)

MDCCLXXVI is 1776 in Roman numerals. This date was suggested by the first Great Seal committee (1776) who placed it along the lower edge of a circle surrounding their design.

Bonfirecrackers Roman numerals decoded:
M = 1000
D =   500
C =   100
L =     50
X =     10
V =       5
I =        1

To decipher "MDCCLXXVI, simply add the numbers:

1000 + 500 + 100 + 100 + 50 + 10 + 10 + 5 + 1 = 1776

For the final Seal, Charles Thomson put this date on the reverse side. The Great Seal's official description says: "On the base of the pyramid are the numerical letters MDCCLXXVI and underneath, the following motto. 'novus ordo seclorum'."

Detail of Blazon

Thomson explained the symbolism: "The date underneath is that of the Declaration of Independence and the words under it signify the beginning of the new American Æra, which commences from that date."

Detail of Explanation

That the founders seriously considered 1776 the beginning of a new era is clear in official papers. For example, the document on which the Great Seal first appeared (Sept. 16, 1782) concludes as follows:

"In Testimony whereof we have caused these our Letters to be made patent and the Great Seal of the United States of America to be thereunto affixed. Witness His Excellency John Hanson President of the United States in Congress assembled the sixteenth day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and Eighty two, And of our Sovereignty & Independence the Seventh."

Note: 1776 was so iconic, that even though there were 14 states by the time the Great Seal was adopted in 1782, the number of stripes and stars and arrows was set at 13, the number of states in 1776.

Historical content is based on the official history of the Great Seal. is not affiliated with the U.S. Government.
Copyright ©MMXIII by John D. MacArthur.