The Flag of the Commonwealth of Virginia was adopted on January 31, 1861 at the beginning of the United States Civil War. The flag is rectangular with a blue background. In the center of the flag is the seal of Virginia enclosed in a white circle. Virginia’s seal was designed by George Mason, known as the “Father of the Bill of Rights” and George Wythe, whose signature appears on the United States Declaration of Independence.
The seal depicted on the flag of Virginia features a woman, personifying Virtus, or virtue in ancient Roman times. Virtus is a symbol of peace, and she stands with her sword in its sheath resting her weight on a long spear, indicating a victorious battle. Her bare foot rests on Tyrannis, or tyranny, represented by a man in a purple robe and sandals with a fallen crown. The scene symbolizes the Virginia’s—and the United States’—defeat of the British government during the American Revolution. The broken chain in Tyranny’s left hand further emphasizes Great Britain’s defeat by the American Colonies. Virginia is the only state besides New York to include a crown in its flag.
The word “Virginia” appears on top of the seal, and the Latin phrase, Sic semper tyrannis, appears at the bottom. The motto literally means “Thus Always to Tyrants,” and describes the scene depicted on the seal. The phrase’s origins, like the image, date back to Roman times whe Marcus Junius Brutus assassinated the tyrant Julius Caesar. The phrase has been used to ill effect as well during notable U.S. assassinations. John Wilkes Booth shouted, Sic semper tyrannis, when he assassinated Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre on April 14, 1865. Timothy McVeigh wore a T-shirt with the phrase and a picture of President Lincoln when he was arrested after the Oklahom City bombing in April 1995. In Virginia, however, saying Sic semper tyrannis, is a common joke dating back to the Civil War and means “get your foot off my neck.”