Annuit cœptis

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The reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States Great Seal of the United States (reverse).svg
The reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States

Annuit cœptis ( /ˈænuɪtˈsɛptɪs/ , Classical Latin: [ˈannʊ.ɪtˈkoe̯ptiːs] ) is one of two mottos on the reverse side of the Great Seal of the United States. The literal translation is "[He] favors (or "has favored") [our] undertakings", from Latin annuo ("I approve, I favor"), and coeptum ("commencement, undertaking"). Because of its context as a caption above the Eye of Providence, the standard translations are "Providence favors our undertakings" and "Providence has favored our undertakings". [1]


On the Great Seal

William Barton's design with Deo Favente and Perennis Deofavente.jpg
William Barton's design with Deo Favente and Perennis

Barton explained that the motto alluded to the Eye of Providence: "Deo favente which alludes to the Eye in the Arms, meant for the Eye of Providence." [2] In western art, God is traditionally represented by the Eye of Providence, which principally symbolizes God's omniscience. In 1782, Samuel Adams appointed a design artist, William Barton of Philadelphia, to bring a proposal for the national seal. [3] For the reverse, Barton suggested a 13-layered pyramid underneath the Eye of Providence. The mottos which Barton chose to accompany the design were Deo Favente ("with God's favor", or more literally, "with God favoring") and Perennis ("Everlasting"). The pyramid and Perennis motto had come from a $50 Continental currency bill designed by Francis Hopkinson. [4] [lower-alpha 1]

Change from Deo Favente to Annuit Cœptis

When designing the final version of the Great Seal, Charles Thomson (a former Latin teacher) kept the pyramid and eye for the reverse side but replaced the two mottos, using Annuit Cœptis instead of Deo Favente and Novus ordo seclorum instead of Perennis. When he provided his official explanation of the meaning of this motto, he wrote:

The Eye over [the pyramid] and the motto Annuit Cœptis allude to the many signal interpositions of providence in favor of the American cause. [5]

Reverse monochrome detail Great Seal of the United States (reverse monochrome).png
Reverse monochrome detail

Annuit Cœptis is translated by the U.S. State Department, [6] the U.S. Mint, [7] and the U.S. Treasury [8] as, "He [God] has favored our undertakings" (brackets in original). However, the original Latin does not explicitly state who (or what) is the subject of the sentence. [9]

Classical source of the motto

According to Richard S. Patterson and Richardson Dougall, Annuit cœptis (meaning "He favours our undertakings") and the other motto on the reverse of the Great Seal, Novus ordo seclorum (meaning "new order of the ages"), can both be traced to lines by the Roman poet Virgil. Annuit cœptis comes from the Aeneid , book IX, line 625, which reads, Iuppiter omnipotens, audacibus adnue coeptis. [10] It is a prayer by Ascanius, the son of the hero of the story, Aeneas, which translates to, "Jupiter Almighty, favour [my] bold undertakings", just before slaying an enemy warrior, Numanus.

The same language also occurred in an earlier poem of Virgil, the Georgics . In line I.40 of that work is the phrase "da facilem cursum atque audacibus annue cœptis". The line is addressed to Caesar Augustus and translates to "give [us] an easy path and nod at our audacious undertakings."


  1. The note can be seen here, and the pyramid portion here.

See also

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  1. "Annuit Coeptis – Origin and Meaning of the Motto Above the Pyramid & Eye".
  2. Papers of the Continental Congress, item 23, folios 137–139.
  3. MacArthur, John D. (2011). "Third Committee". Retrieved 11-25-2011.
  4. "Third Committee's Design for the Great Seal – 1782".
  5. Journals of the Continental Congress, June 1782
  6. "The Great Seal of the United States" (PDF). U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Public Affairs. 2003. Retrieved November 25, 2011.
  7. Bureau of Engraving, Currency Notes
  8. U.S. Treasury (2010). "Portraits & Designs". Retrieved 11-25-2011.
  9. In The Oxford Handbook of Church and State in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010]
  10. Vergilius Maro, Publius (2919 BC). Aeneid . Retrieved 11-25-2011.

Further reading