Virginia's state motto, "Sic Semper Tyrannis," was adopted as an element of its official seal. The Virginia State Motto, adopted in 1776, appears on the State Seal, symbolizing victory over tyranny.
Virginia's motto is Sic semper Tyrannis, meaning Thus ever unto tyrants. This is the original motto recommended for the Seal of Virginia by George Mason to the Virginia Convention in 1776. It has no literary origin of note.
Sic semper tyrannis is a Latin phrase meaning "thus always to tyrants". It is sometimes mistranslated as "death to tyrants" or "down with the tyrant". The full quotation is Sic semper evello mortem tyrannis (literally: "Thus always I eradicate tyrants' lives"). The phrase is often said to have originated with Marcus Junius Brutus during the assassination of Julius Caesar, but according to Plutarch, Brutus either did not have a chance to say anything, or if he did, no one heard what was said:
"Caesar thus done to death, the senators, although Brutus came forward as if to say something about what had been done, would not wait to hear him, but burst out of doors and fled, thus filling the people with confusion and helpless fear..."
The phrase has been invoked historically in Europe and other parts of the world as an epithet or rallying cry against abuse of power. It is the official motto of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the city of Allentown, Pennsylvania. In the United States it is best known as the words John Wilkes Booth shouted during his assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
The law designating the official Virginia state motto is found in the Code of Virginia, Title 7.1, Chapter 4, Section 7.1-26.
This statute describes the Virginia state seal. The motto is specified within this description.
Title 7.1 - BOUNDARIES, JURISDICTION AND EMBLEMS OF THE COMMONWEALTH....
Chapter 4 - Seals and Flag of the Commonwealth.
§ 7.1-26. The great seal.
The great seal of the Commonwealth of Virginia shall consist of two metallic discs, two and one-fourth inches in diameter, with an ornamental border one fourth of an inch wide, with such words and figures engraved thereon as will, when used, produce impressions to be described as follows: On the obverse, Virtus, the genius of the Commonwealth, dressed as an Amazon, resting on a spear in her right hand, point downward, touching the earth; and holding in her left hand, a sheathed sword, or parazonium, pointing upward; her head erect and face upturned; her left foot on the form of Tyranny represented by the prostrate body of a man, with his head to her left, his fallen crown nearby, a broken chain in his left hand, and a scourge in his right. Above the group and within the border conforming therewith, shall be the word "Virginia," and, in the space below, on a curved line, shall be the motto, "Sic Semper Tyrannis." On the reverse, shall be placed a group consisting of Libertas, holding a wand and pileus in her right hand; on her right, Aeternitas, with a globe and phoenix in her right hand; on the left of Libertas, Ceres, with a cornucopia in her left hand, and an ear of wheat in her right; over this device, in a curved line, the word "Perseverando."
(Code 1950, § 7-26; 1966, c. 102.)