Spartan Sayings

- The most famous Spartan proverb of all!


'Son, either with this or on this.'

A spartan mother'Spartan mothers to their sons departing for war, refering to their shield. To come home without the shield was the mark of a deserter, the shield being dropped in running away, and the dead were brought back on it.

To find out more about this phrase from Greek to English, you can go here.



'As far as this can reach.'
When asked 'how far Sparta's boundaries stretched?', King Agesilaus' repied brandishing his spear. [2]

'These are Sparta's walls.'
When asked why Sparta lacked fortifications, King Agesilaus' pointed to his men. [2]




'Not How Many But Where'
"The Spartans used to ask about the enemy, it was not important how many there are, but where the enemy was"Plutarch (46-125 bc), Apophthegmata Laconica, Agis of Anaxandridas, 3 Agesilaos (Eurypontid King, 400-360)

Some selected lines from the works of the Spartan poet Tyrtaeus, who was also a military man, his poems were sung to inspire his men.

'You should reach the limits of virtue, before you cross the border of death. '

'How glorious fall the valiant, sword in hand, in front of battle for their native land!'

'Rise up, warriors, take your stand at one another's sides, our feet set wide and rooted like oaks in the ground. '

'...learn to love death's ink-black shadow as much as you love the light of dawn. '

'Here is courage, mankind's finest possession, here is the noblest prize that a young man can endeavor to win.'

'A slave's life is all you understand, you know nothing of freedom. For if you did, you would have encouraged us to fight on, not only with our spear, but with everything we have.'

When a rich servant of the Persian King asked two Spartans why they would not befriend the Persian King who rewarded his friends and as they were men of merit, if they would only submit to him, he was sure the King would give them Greece to govern. This was their reply: [3]

'We bow down before no man.'

Afterwards (the two Spartan from the entry above) when they came to the Persian King's presence, the guards ordered them to fall down in homage and when they refused, force was used, the Spartan's resisted and this was their reply to the King. [4]

'That's fine, for I shall show that it isn't positions which lend men distinction, but men who enhance positions.'
When he was still a boy, at a celebration of the Gymnopaidai, the Choral director put him in an inconspicuous position. Even though he was already in line to become king, he complied. Leonidas (Agiad King, 491-480, Killed at Battle of Thermopylae)

'Come and take them.'
When Xerxes requested: 'Deliver up your arms', King Leonidas' defiant reply.
Note: It would have been said with the bitter taste of, 'If you think your good enough...'. Leonidas' actual words were 'Molon labe' (μολών λαβέ) using Dorian Greek. "Molon" is a participle that means "after you come" and labe(λαβέ) comes from the verb lambano (λαμβάνω) that is still in use in modern greek and as imperative (λάβε in modern, λαβέ in ancient) meaning 'take'. In ancient greek with one or two words you can have a very specific meaning like this. The exact translation in modern greek would be 'αφού έρθεις, να τα πάρεις' or 'ερχόμενος λάβε τα' or not in exact translation 'έλα να τα πάρεις'.

'Have a good breakfast men, for we dine in Hades!'
King Leonidas' words to his soldiers to enjoy their breakfast as nobody thought that they would survive the day; they didn't.

"After Leonidas was enclosed by the enemy at Thermopylae, desiring to save two that were related to him, he gave one of them a message and sent him away; but he rejected it, saying angrily, I followed you as a soldier, not as a postman. The other he commanded to go on a message to the magistrates of Sparta; but he, answered, that is a messenger ’s business, took his shield, and returned back to his place in the line". [8]

Ares (the god of war) is lord: Greece has no fear of gold.
When told that Persian had more gold than any other nation on earth, this was the reply.

Plutarch, Sayings of Kings and Commanders [ Moralia 191F]:

"When Paedaretus was not chosen to be one of the Three Hundred, an honor which ranked highest in the State, he departed cheerful and smiling, with the remark that he was glad if the State possessed three hundred citizens who were better than himself." [7]

"Begin with your own family."
A man argued that Sparta should set up a democracy, this was Lykurgus reply:

When someone promised to give fighting roosters that would die in combat, the Spartan replied.
"Don't give me those, but let me have ones that kill in combat"

At the Olympic games a Spartan was offered a large bribe to throw a match to which the victor only won a crown made of laurel leaves, he refused and with a great struggle the Spartan beat his opponent in wrestling, when he was asked "What have you gained by your victory Spartan? He replyed, with a smile:
"In battle, pride of place in front of the King." [6]

King Agesilaus, who wanted to liberate the Greeks living in Aisa, consulted the oracle of Zeus at Dodona. The answer he heard back was to 'launch the campaign if the person responsible considered it feasible'. The king informed the ephors of the response, and they told him to go to Delphi and ask again.
When he entered the shire of the oracle he asked the following question:
"Apollo, is your opinion the same as your father's?" The oracle confirmed that it was.

"Our Trachinian friend brings us excellent tidings. If the Medes darken the sun, we shall have our fight in the shade."
Dieneces the Spartan answer to one of the Trachinians who told him, ‘Such is the number of barbarians, that when they shot forth their arrows the sun would be darkened by the multitude.'

'But we have never driven you from the Eurotas!'
When an Athenian claimed that 'We have often driven you from the Cephisus'. Antalcidas a Spartan negotiator's reply.
'Cephisus' is a river that flows through the Athenian plain, and 'Eurotas' is a river that flows near Sparta. The Athenians nor any other enemy had ever reached that far in Lacedamonia towards Sparta. [2]

When told that 'Sparta was preserved by her kings' talent for command', King Theopompus' reply was:
'No, but by her citizens' readiness to obey.' [1].

"Then when you are silent, you are worthless."
When told by an Athenian that speech was the most powerful of all, King Agis' reply: [2]

King Philip of Macedon, wrote to the Spartans, asking whether they wished that he should come as a friend or as a foe; and they returned the answer. The Macedonias took the advice and didn't go.

"It seems all of Greece knows what is the right thing to do, but it is only the Spartans that do anything about it."
An old man who went to the Olympic games, couldn't find a seat to watch. As he went from place to place, he met with insults and jeers, as nobody made room for him. But when he came to the Spartan section, all the boys and many of the men rose and yielded their places for him. Whereupon all other Greeks there applauded the action, and commended the action beyond measure; but the old man, shaking and with tears in his eyes, said,

"So that others may not make decisions on our behalf, but we may for others."
When somebody asked why Spartans drank so sparingly, Leotychidas replied

"By not trusting everything to Fortune."
To a person who asked how a man might best maintain his present favorable circumstances, the Spartan replied

To the man who was amazed at how modest King Agesilaus and the other Spartans' cloths and meals were, the king replyed:
'Freedom is what we reap from this way of life, my friend.'


'What splendid women's quarters."
When being drawn attention to the solid city-walls with its exceptionally strong construction, King Agesilaus remark





A Spartan warrior was said to have painted a life size fly upon his aspis (shield). Asked why, the enemy would be scared of a fly he said. Because when I smash it into their face it would appear a giant. [9]

When he was assigned the last place in the chorus by the man who was organising the dancing, Damonidas said:
Splendid, director! You have discovered how even this undistinguished place may become distinguished!'

'Stranger, it would be more honourable for you to be called a friend of your own city'
King Theopompus' reply, when a foreigner told him that in his own city, he was called a friend of Sparta. [1].

After watching a small boy pull a mouse out of it's hole turn around and bite him on the hand of it's captor and escape, King Agesilaus said.
'When the tiniest creature defends itself like this against a giant aggressor, what ought we to do?' [2]

'Say that throughout the entire time you needed to speak, I continued to listen in silence'
When an envoy stopped after a lengthy speech and was asking what they should report back to his fellow citizens, King Agis' reply [2]

The Sayings of Spartan Women

'Strangers, my son was indeed noble and brave, but Sparta has many better men than he.'
Some Amphipolitans came to Sparta and visited Archileonis, the mother of Brasidas, after her son's death. She asked if her son had died nobly, in a manner worthy of Sparta. As they heaped praise on him and declared that in his exploits he was the best of all the Spartans, she said: [7]

Gyrtias: 'Once her grandson Acrotatus was brought home from some boys' combat badly battered and seemingly dead, and both her family and friends were sobbing, Gyrtias said: 'Won't you keep quiet!? He's shown what kind of blood he has in him,' and she added that brave men should not be howled over but should be under medical care.'

After hearing her son was a coward and unworthy of her, Damatria his mother killed him when he returned to Sparta. This is the epigram on his grave:
'Damatrius who broke the laws was killed by his mother-She's a Spartan lady, he's a Spartan youth.'

A Spartan mother who didn't think her son was Spartan enough, this was found on his tombstone:
'Away to the darkness, cowardly offspring, where out of hatred / Eurotas does not flow even for timorous deer. / Useless pup, worthless portion, away to Hades. / Away! This son unworthy of Sparta was not mine at all.'

'Son, with each step you take, bear courage in mind.'
Unnamed: 'Another woman, as she was sending her lame son up the battlefield, said:

'My father's common sense.'
Unnamed: 'When asked what dowry she was giving the man marrying her, a poor girl said:

When asked by a woman from Attica: 'Why are you Spartan women the only ones who can rule men?', she said: 'Because we are also the only ones who give birth to men.' Gorgo (daughter of Kleomenes I, born ~506. Married Leonidas I)

Let the weeping be for cowards: but you child, I bury without a tear; you are my son, and Sparta's too.
Unamed: When a mother heard that her son died in the battle-line.

Artwork: Statue of Spartan woman kneeling clutching her stomach, 550 - 525 B.C. found in Magnula, a district in Sparta. The statue is housed in the Archaeological Museum of Sparta. It's theme is about child birth.

In making your escape, where is it your going to? Do you plan to creep back in here where you emerged from?
Opening her robe to expose her virgina, a mother confronts her son who had fled from a battle.













Bury him; and let his brother fill his place.
A Spartan mother, hearing that her son died in battle right at his place, this was her reply.

Friends, how much finer it is to die victorious in the battle-line than to win at the Olympic games and live!
A Spartan mother, heard of her sons success in a battle, but also of his death from his many wounds.

Did you expect me to belive they sent you back to bring us the bad news?
When her son was approaching and his mother asked him 'how the war was doing?' Her son replyed, 'all the men were dead', she picked up a weapon and killed him saying...


Other Spartan artifacts and arwork:
- Statue: Spartan woman dancing (note: this statue claimed to have been made c500 B.C. shows a bare breasted girl dancing. The most interesting thing about this statue is she is wearing a skirt that ends above her knees, which did not get popluar till about the 1960's A.D.)
-Statue: Bronze reclining banqueter
-Art: Giovanni Demin. Spartans (women) in wrestling

Spartan children:

Spartan children were taught stories of courage and fortitude. A story survives about a boy who followed the Spartan code. He captured a live fox and intended to eat it, as boys were encouraged to scrounge for food, they were punished if caught. The boy noticed some Spartan soldiers coming, and hid the fox beneath his shirt. When the soldiers confronted him, he allowed the fox to chew into his stomach rather than confess that he had anything, and showed no sign of pain in his body or face. The fox however had gnauged at his stomach and the boy later died from the injuries, this was the Spartan way.


Laconic sayings.

The Spartans are famous for their dislike of long winded speeches. Their communications often being short and straight to the point. Below are some of the recorded comments, either detailing their dislike for long speeches or for their laconic communication skills.

"The long speech of the Athenians I do not pretend to understand. They said a good deal in praise of themselves, but nowhere denied that they are injuring our allies and the Peloponnese."
Sthenelaidas, a Sparta Ephors on hearing from an Athenian delegation on why Sparta should not declare war on Athens.

When the Spartan Lysander finally entered Athens triumphantly and put an end to the 27 year Peloponnesian War, he sent a message back to to Sparta that read "Athens is taken" the reply back from the Ephors to Lysander was "All you needed to say was 'Taken'.


  • *1 'On Sparta' by Plutarch, Lycurgus
  • *2 'On Sparta' by Plutarch, Spartan quotes
  • *3 'Histories' by Herodotus (7.135)
  • *4 'Histories' by Herodotus (7.136)
  • *5 'On Sparta' by Plutarch, Lycurgus 20
  • *6 'On Sparta' by Plutarch, Lycurgus 22
  • *7 'On Sparta' by Plutarch, Lycurgus 25
  • *8 'On the Malice of Herodotus' by Plutarch, page 7
  • *9 Ap.Lak.,Anon.41=Mor.234C-D by Plutarch.

Who are the Spartans?

Ancient Greek thread

When ancient Greek literature and drama is dramatised in today's theatres, when the actor playing an Athenian speaks he uses 'old English', Shakespearean language, when the actor playing a Spartan speaks he uses the 'Scottish' tone to differentiate (ie think of Leonidas in the movie 300, or the actor Sean Connery). When an actor is playing a character from Boeotia he uses a country drawl, the best way to describe this is he sounds like a 'country bumpkin'.








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