The phrase Novus ordo seclorum (Latin for "New order of the ages"; ; Latin pronunciation: ['now?s 'ordo se'klor?]) is the second of two mottos that appear on the reverse (or back side) of the Great Seal of the United States. (The first motto is Annuit coeptis, translated "He has favored our endeavors".) The Great Seal was first designed in 1782, and has been printed on the back of the United States one-dollar bill since 1935.
|Ultima Cumaei venit iam carminis aetas;||Now is come the final era of the Sibyl's song;|
|Magnus ab integro saeclorum nascitur ordo.||The great order of the ages is born afresh.|
|iam redit et Virgo, redeunt Saturnia regna,||now justice returns, honored rules return (or return of Saturn's reign);|
|iam nova progenies caelo demittitur alto.||now a new lineage is sent down from high heaven.|
The forms saecla, saeclorum etc. were normal alternatives to the more common saecula etc. throughout the history of Latin poetry and prose. The form saeculorum is impossible in hexameter verse: the ae and o are long, the u short by position. For the medieval exchange between ae, æ and e, see Æ; the word medieval (mediæval) itself is another example.
Medieval Christians read Virgil's poem as a prophecy of the coming of Christ. The Augustan Age, although pre-Christian, was viewed as a golden age preparing the world for the coming of Christ. The great poets of this age were viewed as a source of revelation and light upon the Christian mysteries to come.
The word seclorum does not mean "secular", as one might assume, but is the genitive (possessive) plural form of the word saeculum, meaning (in this context) generation, century, or age. Saeculum did come to mean "age, world" in late, Christian Latin, and "secular" is derived from it, through secularis. However, the adjective "secularis," meaning "worldly," is not equivalent to the genitive plural "seclorum," meaning "of the ages."
Thus the motto Novus ordo seclorum was translated by Charles Thomson, a Latin expert who was involved in the design of the Great Seal and proposed it, as "A new order of the ages." He said it was to signify "the beginning of the new American Era" as of the date of the Declaration of Independence.