But What Does it Mean? Analyzing Penn’s Coat of Arms

Books, latin text, three plates. . . wait. . . that’s a dolphin?

Approved in 1932 and adopted in 1933, Penn’s coat of arms is an iconic combination of the most important historical artifacts to both the university and the state of Pennsylvania. In this article, I would like to break down this unique image piece-by-piece, detailing the origins of its various parts and their significance to Penn.

The Motto

“Leges Sine Moribus Vanae”

For those of you who were not alive before the fall of Rome, this translates to “Laws Without Morals are in Vain.” This line was derived from a longer quote by Quintus Horatius Flaccus, a lyrical Roman poet who lived from 65 to 8 BC. During the time of the university’s founding in 1740, latin was a core subject in the education of aristocrats, such as the Founding Fathers. It was perceived as the language of intellectuals and the common medium for legal documents. In fact, our nations motto, “E Pluribus Unum,” is also a latin phrase.

The Three Plates

A chevron with three plates can be seen at the center of the coat of arms. These plates are taken from William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania’s personal coat of arms (pictured below). The Penn family was instrumental in the early Pennsylvanian government. They were holding the most important governmental offices and key in establishing the charity school that would soon become Penn.

The Dolphin

The animal you see at the top center of Penn’s coat of arms is a dolphin. It was taken from Benjamin Franklin’s shield. Benjamin Franklin’s contribution to not just Penn, Pennsylvania, or the entire United States should not need to be stated. To include an interesting fact many might not know about Benjamin Franklin, he was a natural aristocrat. I mentioned earlier that the founding fathers were aristocrats, however, unlike many of his peers, Franklin was not born into wealth. He earned his wealth and status through merit rather than genealogy.

The Books

We will now cover the last prominent element of the arms, the books. Penn has and always will be an educational institute of the highest caliber. If you think about the time before the internet (oh the horror!), you may remember that people would actually read physical media. Through the majority of human history, the best way to obtain knowledge was through reading. The average scholar would likely spend the majority of their time consuming literature. Being such an important object to the student, it’s no surprise it made it onto the coat of arms. Returning to Ben Franklin, he was an avid reader. He once stated, “From a Child I was fond of Reading, and all the little Money that came into my Hands was ever laid out in Books.”

Studying: We All Do It. (But Where?)

Penn offers both a challenging and rewarding course load for its students. While some may opt to study in their dorms or apartments, sometimes, the environment can be a bit too busy with roommates or other distractions.

When books pile up, the knowledge of man isn’t the only thing you should be immersing yourself in. This is where Penn’s beautiful, scenic outdoor seating comes into play. You may want to visit the Penn Student Garden or the Penn Museum Courtyard for a study session that refreshes both the mind and the senses.

Maybe it’s too cold (Or too hot!). There’s no shame in heading indoors. There’s a reason we invented air conditioning, after all. The Levin Building and Annenburg School both provide optimal places to seek refuge from the elements. The Annenburg School, however, can be a bit full at times. If you want to study there, it would be best to go when many students are in class so you can snag a spot.

When all else fails, any of Penn’s many libraries make for great places as well. The Dentistry Library, in fact, was used as a law library in the movie Philadelphia (1993) featuring Tom Hanks.

To Provide A Concise, Final List With a Few Additional Locations:

Stephen A. Levine Building

425 S. University Avenue

Monday-Friday: 5pm-9:30pm

Saturday: 9am-1pm

Closed Sundays

Van Pelt Library

3420 Walnut Street

Monday-Thursday: 8:30am-12am

Friday: 8:30am-9pm


Sunday: 10am-12am

Biddle Law Library

3501 Sansom Street

Monday-Thursday: 7:30am-11:45pm

Friday: 7:30am-7:45pm

Saturday: 9am-7:45pm

Sunday: 9am-11:45pm

Education Commons

3420 Walnut Street

Monday-Thursday: 9am-8pm

Friday: 9am-5pm

Closed Weekends

Annenburg School

3620 Walnut Street

Monday-Friday: 8am-11pm

Saturday-Sunday: 10am-9pm

Penn Student Garden

Philadelphia, PA 19104