The state motto of Mississippi is Virtute et Armis. This is a Latin phrase meaning “by valor and arms.” Strictly speaking, the state government has never explicitly declared any phrase to be the official state motto as of 2011, but the phrase Virtute et Armis has appeared on Mississippi's official coat of arms for more than a century and effectively has that status.
The words Virtute et Armis have been the state motto of Mississippi and part of Mississippi's official coat of arms since 4 February 1894, when the state legislature adopted the coat of arms now used by the state. The coat of arms depicts an eagle on a light blue shield background, holding arrows in one claw and a palm branch in the other, much like the eagle that appears on the Great Seal of the United States. The name “Mississippi” appears in gold lettering above the eagle said, while below the eagle are two cotton stalks representing one of the state's important crops. The words Virtute et Armis appear in white letters on a red scroll that wraps around the sides and bottom of the shield, with Virtute to the left side of the shield, Armis to the right, and et directly beneath.
Virtute is related to the English word “virtue,” and so is sometimes translated into English as ”virtue” or similar terms such as “excellence.” The Latin virtute and its root, virtus, are derived from the Latin word for “man,” vir, and so virtute frequently has the more specific connotation of manliness. Thus, unlike the more general meaning of the word “virtue” in modern English, virtute often refers more specifically to positive traits that the Romans and many subsequent cultures have considered essential for manhood, such as strength, fortitude, and other martial virtues. This is the connotation it has in the state motto of Mississippi when it is placed alongside a martial word like armis, meaning arms or weapons.
Use of the Latin Virtute et Armis as the state motto of Mississippi is part of a common practice of incorporating Latin phrases on the coat of arms of government bodies and other institutions, such as universities and military forces. Nearly half of all U.S. states use Latin mottoes. Mottoes that take the form of a Latin phrase listing two concepts, often virtues or descriptive terms, are a common format. Other examples include Mens et Manus, meaning mind and hand, the motto of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Lux et veritas, meaning light and truth, the motto of Yale and a number of other universities.