From the maple leaf to a majestic eagle and everything in between; when it comes to national symbols, our attention is almost solely focused on the animals and flags that represent countries around the world. However, there’s one very important symbol of a country’s identity that is always forgotten; the national motto. They can tell a lot about a country as they often express the values of the country as well as what they are most proud of. They are often very historical and vary in their significance (as well as their awesomeness) but for whatever reason, they are always pushed aside into the background. To bring them back into the light, here is a Top 10 list of the greatest mottos of all time.
#10 – Luxembourg: Mir wëlle bleiwe wat mir sinn (Luxembourgish, We wish to remain what we are)
Probably the most honest national motto in existence, while other countries predominantly use grandiose phrases like peace, justice and freedom… but Luxembourg simply just wants to stay the way it has always been. This micro-nation is pretty tiny, but it is obviously quite comfortable with that and it is this honesty that puts Luxembourg on this list.
#9 – Swaziland: Siyinqaba (Swati, We are the fortress)
Taking a more confident and defiant stance on their national motto, this small south African kingdom is telling the world that they’re not going away any time soon. Although “We are the fortress” sounds more like the name of a indie rock band, you cannot deny how great this motto is. The country doesn’t mean fortress in a brute force militaristic way; different interpretations of the motto include “We are a mystery/riddle” and “We hide ourselves away” making their motto more of a statement on their elusiveness than their prowess.
#8 – Indonesia: Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Old Javanese, Unity in diversity)
This is a motto that should be familiar in meaning to any multicultural state. Choosing this motto was much more of a practical decision for the Indonesian state, where it was used to ease conflicts between religious groups in the 1950’s. Today, the country is 86% Muslim and the motto continues to articulate the diversity that shapes and unites the country. This theme is common amongst national mottos, even to the point where their translated motto was taken practically word for word by the European Union as their own.
#7 – Spain: Plus Ultra (Latin, Further beyond)
Quite possibly the most vague yet strangely significant motto in existence, the Spanish motto makes the list not only because it has the word “Ultra” in it but because of its ability to conjure ideas of reaching out to new frontiers without limit. The motto has its roots with the Pillars of Hercules that were built according to Greek mythology were built near the Straits of Gibraltar and marked the end of the known world with a warning that said “Nec plus ultra” or “Nothing further beyond”. King Charles V of Spain adopted the current motto as a challenge to this myth, pushing himself to surpass the known boundaries of the world for Spain. It’s the kind of motto that would probably be more at home on a NASA space mission badge, but “Plus Ultra” absolutely deserves a spot on this list.
#6 – Scotland (Unofficial): Nemo Me Impune Lacessit (Latin, No-one provokes me with impunity)
Although motto isn’t the official motto of Scotland, one of the origin stories of where they got this unofficial motto is actually pretty interesting. When the ancient Scots were being invaded by Viking raiding parties, the attackers would step on the famous scotch thistle with a scream which alerted the Scots to their presence. “No one provokes me with impunity” actually referred to the thistle itself, which because of this stories like this became a symbol of the Scottish people and it’s military. If you’ve ever seen Braveheart you’ll know that this motto is practically the plot of the movie, making this motto one of the greatest of all time.
#5 – Greece: Ελευθερία ή θάνατος (Eleutheria i thanatos) (Greek: Freedom or Death)
This is absolutely one of the most visceral national mottos in existence today. Mottos of this variety have been used by nations all around the world Revolutionary groups fighting for freedom including the Greeks, but that phrase later became the official motto of the state. In fact, it is one popular theory regarding the use of 9 stripes (for the nine syllables of the motto) in the Greek flag.
#4 – South Korea: 홍익인간 (弘益人間,Hongik Ingan) (Korean, Benefit all mankind)
This is one of the few mottos that actually doesn’t focus inwards, but actually sets out a solid mission for the country and reaches outwards to all of mankind. It is quite honourable that they chose this motto, and it surprised me that there were not many national mottos like this. For the most humanistic motto of all time; they deserve to be on this list.
#3 – France: Liberté, égalité, fraternité (French, Liberty, equality, fraternity)
This kind of “Three Word” motto is incredibly common amongst countries today, but the historical roots and the creation of this motto during the French Revolution is so powerful that it has to belong on this list. These three ideals form the bedrock of democratic ideals and is a motto that will be eternal for the French people. The style of this motto is the inspiration for many others; which is why the French motto belongs on this list.
#2 – India: सत्यमेव जयते (Satyameva Jayate) (Sanskrit, Truth alone triumphs)
These self evident national mottos are quite powerful, because you can put as many flashy words as you want in a motto but it won’t amount to much unless practiced. Truth is an incredible value, and it is something that Ghandi treasured while he was struggling for Indian independence from the British. This motto doesn’t try to blind you with nationalist fervor, but simply tries to remind others that the truth will set them free and that it is a value that should be held in a high regard by the whole of humanity.
#1 – United States (De-facto): E pluribus unum (Latin, Out of many, one)
In my opinion, this is the greatest national motto of all time. It is an awful shame that the American experiment turned out the way that it did, but looking at the founding of the country it is hard not to see what could have been. It is an awful shame that “In God We Trust” was later named the official motto, because that motto is about as significant as the song “Jesus Take the Wheel”. “E Pluribus Unum” never had to be legislated into acceptance because everyone knew exactly what it meant and why it was important to keep in mind. The almost certainly unconstitutional “In God We Trust” had to be legislated and was implemented in the 50’s as a slight to the Soviets. Their original motto was strong, self evident and resolute; out of many we are united to a single purpose.
Honourable Mention – North Korea: 강성대국 (强盛大國, Gangseong Daeguk) (Korean, Prosperous and great country)
Nice try North Korea. You get an honourable mention for simply being incredibly dishonest. Claiming you’re powerful, spending countless amounts of money on their military despite the massive amounts of starvation within the country. In fact, putting on a show is probably more North Korean than anything else; making this motto very appropriate.
– THE DUEL CITIZEN