As we’ve discussed before, the ancient Spartans loved them some trash talk and greatly respected the art of the withering verbal slap down. As a result of this, everyone from the mightiest Spartan kings to lowly unnamed soldiers that fought in their armies are credited with some of the most badass one-liners in history.
Here’s a list of 10 more we found particularly hilarious.
10. The quote: “By showing contempt for death.”
Context: Agesilaus the Great’s answer to being asked how he fostered such a famous reputation.
King Agesilaus II was a famed Spartan king renowned for his fearlessness and wit. Contrary to his short, unimposing frame Agesilaus was a ferocious warrior who, if he was in an Age of Empires game, would almost certainly have the ability to instantly level up any soldiers he was within range of.
Lame from birth, Agesilaus had more than his fair share of critics, many of whom refused to believe the stories about his battlefield prowess, even when he was surrounded by 80 bronze-clad warriors who’d witnessed his actions firsthand. This led to Agesilaus snarling the quote above when he was asked how such an unassuming man earned a reputation as such a throat-ripping badass.
9. The quote: “At least I can’t run away.”
Context: Androcleidas, a Spartan with a bum leg’s response to being asked by some soldiers why he should be allowed to fight among their ranks.
The Spartans were infamously pretty dickish to babies and would often leave those they felt were too sickly or weak to grow into a powerful Spartan warrior to die on a cliff. That said, there were several notable Spartans who suffered from physical disabilities such as the above mentioned Agesilaus, and the lesser known Androcleidas.
Little is known about Androcleidas save for the fact he had a crippled leg and should probably have a burn unit named after him. The story goes that Androcleidas volunteered to take part in a battle, only to be mocked by the more able-bodied men surrounding him, who asked what a man with a crippled leg could even do to help them. Androcleidas’ exact response isn’t known, but the basic gist is that he very calmly explained that his injury only stopped him from running away, which as a Spartan he’d never do anyway.
8. The quote: “Then we shall be the more famous, for we shall kill more men.”
Context: Paedaretus, upon being told the enemy they were about to face in battle greatly outnumbered them.
Paedaretus was a Spartan mostly famous for being one of the men not picked to take part in the Battle of the 300 at Thermopylae, a slight he took in stride by happily exclaiming that he was glad Sparta had 300 men better than himself at its command.
Although Paedaretus missed out on becoming a legend by fighting and dying alongside the 300, he still earned his place among the pantheon of Spartans who’d spat in the face of death by displaying typical Spartan defiance in the wake of overwhelming odds. It’s said that upon being informed that an army they were about to face outnumbered them, Paedaretus’ reassured his fellow soldiers by explaining that a bigger army just meant everyone had more soldiers to kill with stylish sword combos.
7. The quote: “By Heaven, the Persian was a greedy fellow who, when he had all this, came after our barley-cake.”
Context: Pausanias, shortly after beating the Persians in battle and ordering the food that was going to be fed to their generals be served to him instead.
Famed Spartan general Pausanias was well known in his lifetime for his confidence in combat, and respected for his sound leadership. This led to him being tasked with personally commanding the Spartan army during the Battle of Plataea, one of the largest land-based battles the warrior-nation ever took part in.
Upon achieving a decisive victory over the Persians, Pausanias tracked down their commander, Mardonius (who was the cousin of Xerxes) and had his head cut off and put on a spike as revenge for what happened to King Leonidas at Thermopylae. Pausanias then had a massive statue erected talking about how great he was, and then had all of the food the Persians had set aside in preparation for their presumed victory and ate it all in front of captured Persian POWs. Because that’s just how Pausanias rolled.
6. The quote: “How to be free.”
Context: An unnamed Spartan upon being asked what he, as an uneducated brute, knew.
Despite their fearsome, almost mythical reputation among their fellow Greeks for their ferocity in combat and ability to dropkick people’s heads off, the Spartans were largely thought of as brutish and uneducated by most. This stood in stark contrast to their society, which – considering the time period – was remarkably advanced, socially speaking.
Although it’s true they didn’t place as much of an emphasis on more artistic pursuits, Spartans granted both women and the elderly freedoms and respect they weren’t afforded in more “civilized” parts of Greece. In regard to the latter there’s a famous story about an elderly man being mocked by a crowd of Athenians while trying to find a seat at an Olympic event. After being harassed and jeered at by everyone he passed the old man happened upon the section housing the Spartan spectators, who all in unison stood up and offered him a seat. Stories like this led to it being common wisdom in ancient Greece that “only in Sparta does it pay to grow old.”
The fact that Spartans seemingly enjoyed a far freer society than many of their fellow Greeks resulted in them being fiercely proud of their autonomy and the uttering of the above quote in response to a snide comment from another Greek. As the quote is widely attributed simply to “unknown” we know nothing about the Spartan who said it, other than that they probably had a massive penis.
5. The quote: “Not how many, but where?”
Context: How Spartan’s enquired about enemy forces.
To say the Spartans loved fighting is an understatement so massive its gravity would turn a block of frozen titanium into a 3-mile wide puddle. Undefeated in almost every engagement they ever took part in, the Spartans were understandably rather confident in their skill.
This is no better summed up than by the fact that it was Spartan tradition to never enquire about the size of an enemy force, only where it was located so that they could walk over and stab it to death. Given that the most famous battle the Spartans ever took part in involved just 300 men* fighting against an army of well over 100,000 and almost winning, it should go without saying that this wasn’t just a hyperbolic boast intended to scare an enemy or something.
(*We know there were actually about 7,000 total, but by the end only 300 Spartans remained among the 1,400 or so Greeks who held the Hot Gates so we’re sticking with the legend.)
4. The quote: “Athens is taken.”
Context: Spartan general Lysander’s letter home after ending a 27-year long war.
Spartans intensely disliked flowery language and would literally beat the desire to say any more than was necessary out of children from a young age, physically punishing any child who gave an answer to a question deemed unnecessarily long-winded. This led to even regular Spartans becoming masters of the understatement.
For example, after ending a nearly 3-decade long conflict known as the Peloponnesian War by utterly decimating the Athenian navy, Spartan general Lysander sent a letter home simply saying, “Athens is taken.” Now if you think that Lysander couldn’t have possibly been any more succinct, we’re sorry to say that you’ve made a terrible Spartan because although Spartan statesmen were happy Lysander had achieved victory, they weren’t all that impressed with the way he announced it…
3. The quote: “All you needed to say was ‘Taken’.”
Context: The reply from Sparta to Lysander.
Yep, the Spartans genuinely thought a 3-word letter detailing how a war had just been won was two words too long, and were so annoyed about that fact they wrote a pissy letter back to a guy who’d just crushed an enemy that had been a thorn in the collective side of the entire state telling him so.
It’s not known if Lysander responded to this letter but we’re going to assume that if he did, the font he would have used would have been so small it could only be read with an electron microscope the size of the bag of craps he didn’t give.
2. The quote: “I do not think much of gods poorer than myself.”
Context: A spartan citizen’s response to being asked for money as part of a collection for the gods.
Although the Spartans worshipped the same gods as other ancient Greeks, they mainly paid tribute to the strongest and coolest gods and goddesses from the Greek pantheon like Apollo (the god of music and truth), Ares (the god of war), and Athena (the goddess of wisdom). While this was by no means unique in ancient Greek culture and it’s noted that most, if not all cities favored certains gods over others, the Spartans are the only people who seemed willing to be outright hostile to certain deities.
For example, it’s known that an unnamed Spartan once dunked on a god when a well-meaning citizen of another city asked him to spare a coin for the temple. The Spartan’s response, which has now been enshrined in history, was to derisively mock the very concept of a god needing help from a mortal, presumably before inventing the moonwalk and gliding away while giving the finger.
1. The quote: “Because her laws are more powerful than I am.”
Context: King Demaratus upon being asked how he, a king, had somehow been exiled from Sparta.
Now you’d think given everything we’ve said about the Spartans so far that they wouldn’t exactly be fond of laws. However, the Spartans were not only huge fans of the law, but believed so strongly in it that even kings bent to its will. This sentiment is perhaps best summed up by the aforementioned Pausanias, who once said that, “laws ought to have authority over the men, and not the men over the laws.”
Spartans believed so much in the unflinching nature of laws that king Demaratus willingly went into exile rather than attempt to challenge or change them and openly accepted both criticism and admonishment from those he encountered afterward, using himself as an example that even a king had to obey the laws set by his forefathers. Then again, Demaratus did go and fight for the Persians and served as Xerxes’ advisor during the Battle of Thermopylae so even though he thought the Spartan law was more powerful than himself, he clearly didn’t think Spartan shields were stronger than Persian cheekbones. A mistake you’d think as a Spartan he wouldn’t have made.