Historical Usage Of Sic Semper Tyrannis

Sic semper tyrannis is a Latin phrase that means "thus always to tyrants." But throughout history, it has taken on a variety of connotations beyond its direct translation. Many people have used it as a rallying cry against dictators and despots. And some have used it to justify radical views and acts of violence. In this guide, we'll look at some of the famous uses of this phrase throughout history. This video was made with Ezvid Wikimaker.

Killers and Sic Semper Tyrannis

  1. Brutus supposedly coined the phrase after assassinating Julius Caesar in 44 BCE.
  2. John Wilkes Booth shouted it after assassinating Abraham Lincoln in 1865.
  3. Timothy McVeigh wore a shirt featuring the phrase on the day he was arrested for the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

Why Did Brutus Assassinate Caesar?

Motto of Virginia

The commonwealth of Virginia designed their official seal in 1776. After some discussion, they settled on the image of Lady Liberty standing over the body of Tyranny, accompanied by the phrase sic semper tyrannis. This seal is featured on Virginia's flag as well. The image and phrase led to a common joke during the Civil War. Most of the Virginian soldiers didn't speak Latin, and were only familiar with the phrase because of their state's flag. So some joked that sic semper tyrannis meant "get your foot off of my neck."

Other Uses of Sic Semper Tyrannis as a Motto


Since its first use, sic semper tyrannis has been a call to depose abusive leaders by any means necessary. Radicals and revolutionaries have been inspired by the phrase throughout history. But since 1865, the phrase has been heavily associated with the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. So if you're thinking of rallying behind the expression, be very careful and make your intentions clear.

In Depth

Sic semper tyrannis is a Latin phrase that translates literally to "thus always to tyrants." It is a statement of profound meaning because of its flexibility. It can be expressed as a prediction, declaration of motive, or general truth. It has been used to convey the idea that figures of tyranny will always end up being overthrown. This fiery interpretation has resulted in extensive use of the phrase throughout time.

The true origins are unknown. It is attributed to Marcus Brutus, one of the rebellious senators of Ancient Rome who assassinated the dictator Julius Caesar in March of 44 B.C.. Supposedly he announced it to his fellows after Caesar fell. This has never been proven and was disputed by a biographer named Plutarch. He insisted that even if Brutus had time to say it, all the other senators were fleeing the scene and would not have heard it.

Historically, the maligned or oppressed have used it as a battle cry. The intent is to make clear the revolt against tyranny. The earliest confirmed instance was its use for the official Virginia state motto, adopted in 1776. It appears on the great seal and state flag. The design was inspired by the revolutionary mindset championed by new Americans at the time. It depicts a scene centered on the Roman goddess Virtus dressed as a fighter. She holds a spear and sword, and defiantly stands with her foot over a tyrannical figure.

It appears on the great seal and state flag.

It was created by George Wythe, a renowned scholar who signed the Declaration of Independence. Born in Hampton, Wythe was a highly educated judge and law professor. He was also a mentor to Thomas Jefferson and other men of note. He was compared to Aristides, a statesman from Ancient Athens known for honor and decency. He also had his very own Latin motto. It's safe to say that he was hugely inspired by ideas from Ancient Rome and Greece.

This timeless expression isn't always used by the virtuous. In April of 1865, John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln at Ford's Theatre. He believed he was doing a huge service to his country. He expected to be remembered as a hero of the Confederacy. After shooting the president, Booth jumped to the stage and shouted "Sic semper tyrannis, the South is avenged." He fled on horseback and was killed nearly two weeks later by Union soldiers. While hated by some, there were many who didn't regard President Lincoln as a tyrant.

Newspapers from the South even expressed shock and grief over his death. Booth was an advocate of the Confederacy who was born in Maryland. He was an esteemed actor in the southern states and a lover of drama. His father was an English performer who was named after the iconic Brutus from the Shakespearean tragedy Julius Caesar, a play based on Roman history. It is possible that this connection is what led Booth to shout the phrase upon his assassination of the president.

It is possible that this connection is what led Booth to shout the phrase upon his assassination of the president.

In another link to the Civil War, The United States Colored Troops also used it as their motto. The U.S.C.T. were regiments of soldiers recruited for the Union Army. They were comprised of African Americans and other minority factions. They came to represent 1/10th of the manpower that fought for the North. As an oppressed group, their use of the slogan is a textbook example of the expression in action.

This turn of phrase resurfaced in a more recent instance. In 1995, a former US Army soldier named Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb in Oklahoma City. It is considered one of the most significant domestic terror attacks in history. An honorably discharged veteran, McVeigh had been fascinated with weaponry, gun rights, and survivalist living. Over time he fostered a deep mistrust in authority, actively writing letters to newspapers, congressmen and the US government, who he considered to be the ultimate bully.

Upon his arrest directly after the bombing took place, McVeigh was photographed wearing a very specific shirt. It was plastered with a photo of Abraham Lincoln positioned above the slogan, with an extremist quote by Thomas Jefferson on the back. The garment was sold by Southern Partisan, a conservative political magazine from South Carolina.

It was plastered with a photo of Abraham Lincoln positioned above the slogan, with an extremist quote by Thomas Jefferson on the back.

Sic semper tyrannis has been largely tied to radicals throughout history. It has been used as an active cry to galvanize people and further political aims. The phrase has been an inspiration to artists, terrorists and revolutionaries alike. It has also served as a military and state motto, which suggests it conjures strong connections to teamwork in the face of persecution. It is a phrase which is closely related to death, destruction and overthrowing authority. Whether it is right or wrong, this ancient Latin expression is consistently linked to tumultuous events. When using it, always be clear about your intentions.