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Colony into Commonwealth
Lesson Six



In 1776, as patriots in Virginia were planning a new form of government, another matter also was being decided: a seal for the Commonwealth. George Mason was in charge of a small committee that planned the seal's design.

Why was everyone worrying about a seal, you might ask. Virginia was about to have a revolution! Can you figure out why a seal was important?

A seal is stamped on documents to indicate that they are official. This was a critical need for a brand new state.

Figures from the ancient world of Rome appear on the seal. Mason's committee selected these figures carefully. The figures stand for, or represent, ideas. They are symbols. The figures were chosen to say something important about Virginia.

People in America admired the Roman republic of long ago. They saw Rome as an example of a well-run government. This is the reason why Mason's committee used symbols from Rome in creating a seal for their own government.


In the 1700s people were more accustomed to interpreting ancient symbols from Rome than we are. The Roman symbols were used more often than they are today. They were part of the language of the time.

Are there symbols that are part of our everyday language? Draw symbols for the words below.


   the United States

   slippery roads

Can you think of other modern symbols? Draw these symbols.


(in small groups)

Half of the groups work with the front of the seal. The other half work with the back of the seal. A time for sharing follows.


1. The standing figure is Virtus (weer´ toos). This figure was a Roman symbol for bravery. What is Virtus holding? (It's hard to tell.)

2. Do you think Virtus looks like a good symbol for bravery? Why or why not?

3. The figure lying down is Tyranny. What does the word "tyranny" mean?

4. Tyranny holds a broken chain in his left hand. He holds a whip in his right hand. Why is he holding these objects?

5. Below the picture is the motto, or saying, "Sic

Semper Tyrannis" (seek sem´  per tee ran´ nees). This is Latin for "Thus always to Tyrants." What does this motto mean?

6. What is the connection between the design

on the seal and the colonial history of Virginia? Whom does Tyranny stand for, or symbolize?


1. The central figure in the design is Libertas (lee´ ber tas). She is the Roman goddess for freedom.

Libertas' cap is called a "pileus" (pi´ lee us). During the Revolution, the pileus was worn in America to show support for the patriots.

What is Libertas holding?

2. The figure at the right is Ceres (seer´ es), the Roman goddess of agriculture. She holds a sheath of wheat in her right hand. She holds a cornucopia in her left hand. Define the word "cornucopia."

3. Why is Ceres holding the wheat and cornucopia?

4. The figure at the left is Aeternitas (i ter´ nee tas). Aeternitas means "eternity" in Latin. Define eternity.

5. Aeternitas holds a phoenix. Look up the ancient story about this bird. Why is Aeternitas holding a phoenix?

6. Aeternitas also holds a globe. What does this mean, or symbolize?

7. The motto, or saying, reads "perseverando" (pear se ver an´ do). This is Latin for "by enduring." What does the word "endure" mean? When the seal was designed in 1776, how was this motto important to Virginia?


Design a seal for your school.

  • Decide what you want to say about your school. What is your message?
  • Say this with symbols.
  • Share your seal with your classmates. What do their seals say about your school? Can you interpret, or read, the symbols?

Find a building, painting, or statue with symbols from ancient Rome or Greece. Try to figure out the meaning of the symbols.

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