Laconic humor was the term invented specifically to describe the dry, biting wit of the Spartan people. We personally think it’s a little unfair that pop culture has mainly portrayed the Spartans as a bunch of ass-kicking, throat-ripping slabs of beef. Though that description is entirely correct, it ignores the fact that the Spartan’s were also masters of verbal combat along with the regular, sweaty kind.
To correct that, we’ve collated ten of the wittiest Spartan quotes we could find, to prove that along with ripping your head off, a Spartan could also cause your tongue to explode out of sheer inferiority.
10. “What Splendid Women’s Quarters”
Context: King Agesilaus, upon being shown the huge defensive walls of a neighboring city
King Agesilaus was a Spartan king who ruled the state for 40 years. Though he was described as a small man of unimpressive stature, Agesilaus was a fierce warrior in his youth. This meant by the time he became King in his forties, he was already well known for his courage and bravery. As such, he commanded a great deal of respect from his peers throughout his reign.
Like most Spartans, Agesilaus wasn’t a fan of walls made of brick and stone, believing that a city was defended by its men, not its fortifications. The above quote came from Agesilaus after an unnamed leader from a friendly city proudly showed the Spartan king his city’s impressive fortifications. You can almost picture the smug look on the guy’s slowly fading as King Agesilaus sarcastically praised his giant walls.
What was even better though, was Agesilaus’ response when people would inevitably ask him where Sparta’s walls were. Whenever that question came up, Agesilaus had a doozy of a comeback locked and loaded …
9. “These Are Sparta’s Walls”
Context: King Agesilaus, while pointing to his own men
To quote Lycurgus, legendary lawgiver of Sparta, “A city is well-fortified which has a wall of men instead of brick”. That quote sums up Sparta better than three dozen Blu-Ray copies of 300 ever could.
According to the book “On Sparta” by Greek historian Plutarch, “These are Sparta’s walls” was King Agesilaus’ stock response to anyone who questioned why Sparta lacked fortifications of any kind. Sometimes however, King Agesilaus didn’t need to say anything. For example, some sources suggest that, in order to save his breath, Agesilaus would merely point at his men whenever anyone asked where Sparta’s walls were. Which if we’re honest, is like the third-coolest thing a guy could do without involving tigers or at least four explosions.
Along with hating walls, King Agesilaus also disliked the concept of boundaries. We know this because, when the aging king was asked, “how far do Sparta’s boundaries reach?” he simply held out his spear and answered “as far as this can reach”. We’re guessing the question only ever came up once.
8. “Come and Take Them”
Context: King Leonidas, upon being asked to lay down his arms
King Leonidas was the guy Gerard Butler played in 300. And yes, this is an actual quote from the man, not an invention of Hollywood. After all, a true the Spartan didn’t need a ghostwriter.
According to the historical text “Apophthegmata Laconica,” Leonidas actually said “Molon Labe” upon being told to surrender his weapons by King Xerses. “Come and take them” is a fairly accurate translation, which is fine because translating the quote exactly would probably cause the poor interpreter to catch on fire.
So yes, upon being told to give up his weapons by an army that outnumbered his own 200 to 1, Leonidas’ response was to dare them to try and take them. We’ll never understand how Gerard Butler didn’t just freeze solid from coolness while trying to accurately portray this guy.
Context: Spartan reply to King Philip of Macedon
The above quote is possibly one of the single greatest uses of language ever recorded. Around 350 BC, King Philip II of Macedon started invading the crap out of Greece. After he had several key footholds under his command, Philip decided to start putting pressure on Sparta, and sent them the following threatening message: “If I win this war, you will be slaves forever.”
The Spartan’s sent back a single word in reply: “if”. Other versions of the event involved Philip sending the decidedly more verbose threat, “If once I enter into your territories, I will destroy ye all, never to rise again.” Again, the Spartan’s recorded reply was simply the word “If.” Apparently, the sheer awesomeness of this quote has muddied the waters of history as to the exact wording of Philip’s threat. That’s fine, because the Spartan reply is all we, or anyone else, should care about.
Regardless of what exactly Philip said, the message he’d gotten back was clear: stay the hell away from Sparta. Which he did — although Philip sacked most of Greece, he never once set foot in Sparta, and never bothered them again, except for that other time he totally did.
Context: Spartan reply to King Philip of Macedon (again)
Yep, after punting a bee’s nest and avoiding being stung once, King Philip decided to try his luck against the Spartans a second time, this time after coating himself in honey and bee pheromones.
When King Philip was expanding his empire across Greece, he sent a letter to the current Spartan king, asking if he wanted him to enter his lands as a friend or a foe. The only response Philip ever received was yet another single-word reply: “Neither.”
That’s so manly and badass we’re pretty sure if you printed off this article and poured boiling water over it, you’d have the base ingredient needed to make steroids.
5. “With It or On It!”
Context: Common Spartan saying
Unlike the other entries on this list, this quote isn’t attributed to a single person, but we’re including it anyway to show just how ingrained “not being a freaking coward” was in Spartan society.
“Come back with your shield – or on it” was noted by our friend Plutarch as being the way Spartan mothers would bid their sons goodbye when they went off to war. The quote basically meant that Mommy Dearest expected their son to come back victorious, or dead. Mothers were so stone-faced about the whole “having their children die in battle” thing, that one responded to news that her son had been killed was to very matter-of-factly state, “Then his brother can take his place”. Another Spartan mother greeted her deserter son by pointing at her vagina and threatening to un-birth him. Seriously.
The most important part of the quote is the part about the shield. You see, losing your shield was seen as the ultimate act of failure in Spartan society, because your shield not only protected you, but the man next to you. Spartans who lost their shield in battle were expected to recover it, or die trying. Those who didn’t were labelled deserters, and even their own mothers would disown them.
We’re really not kidding, there are actual Spartan women’s tombstones with epitaphs specifically written to call their own sons losers. Remember that the next time you feel like saying your parents are too strict.
4. “It Will Be the Size of a Lion When I Bore Down On My Enemies.”
Context: An unnamed Spartan soldier when asked why he’d drawn a fly on his shield, instead of something more intimidating.
As you probably guessed from the above entry, Spartans really loved their shields. Along with being a weapon and symbol of strength, shields were more often than not family treasures. They were passed down from father to son, and it wasn’t uncommon for a soldier to beat an enemy to death with same shield his grandfather had used.
It also wasn’t uncommon for Spartans to decorate their shield. This served two purposes: it helped the individual Spartan be identified on the battlefield, and it looked rad as hell. One particularly amusing story concerns the shield of the Spartan fly. An unnamed Spartan soldier spent many hours painting a life-sized fly onto his shield. This annoyed his peers, who accused him of cowardice (because his enemies wouldn’t be able to tell who he was) and of complete idiocy to boot.
The young Spartan then stunned his peers by explaining that the fly would be the size of a giant when he smashed it into his enemies’ face. Many different versions of the quote exist, but the overall gist of what the Spartan was trying to say is clear. “I’m going to shield-punch these guys so hard, my future family will get paid royalties from Captain America.”
3. “Dig It Out For Yourselves”
Context: King Leonidas (again) after kicking a Persian down a well demanding a sacrifice of earth and water
Although 300 was fairly accurate with the quotes it took from real life, it sadly omitted this firecracker in favor of “This. Is. SPARTA!” While that line is as boss as any other, it lacks the sarcasm and wit of what Leonidas actually said.
As far as most historians can tell, the scene played out pretty much the same way as it did in the film, save for the final line. A Persian messenger came to Sparta and demanded a payment of earth and water from King Leonidas, a customary symbol of surrender. King Leonidas responded with, “dig it out for yourselves,” before throwing the messenger down a well.
The film almost include this line, in the scene where Gerard Butler, upon being asked for the payment of earth and water, points to the well and states “there’s plenty down there.” That’s pretty cool, but it still lacks the James Bond-esque quality of the original.
2. “So That We May Get Close to the Enemy”
Context: An unnamed Spartan, after being asked why Spartans fought with short swords
Though a Spartan could easily reduce a human skull to powder with a single blow from their shield, their default weapon of choice for close combat was a short sword known as the xiphos. Though perfect for the kind of “up-close and personal, see the whites of your opponents’ eyes and spit in their face” style of combat that the Spartans excelled at, compared to other swords the xiphos was kind of lacking in the length department.
Never ones to pass up a chance to lay the verbal smack down on someone, the Spartans turned even this fairly inconsequential matter into an opportunity to prove how cool and collected they were. Plutarch lists the original speaker of the quote as “anonymous,” so it is likely attributed to some foot soldier of little historical importance.
That said, the quote appears to have been a popular retort among Spartans. For example, another anonymous soldier, upon being sarcastically asked why the Spartans fought with daggers instead of swords, explained, “Because we fight close to the enemy.” We’re guessing after a burn like that, the guy then leapt into the sea and caused it to evaporate.
1. “Because We are Also the Only Ones Who Give Birth to Men”
Context: Gorgo, Queen of Sparta, explaining why Spartan women were allowed to rule men
Queen Gorgo was the wife of Leonidas, and we’ve chosen her quote above all other simply because of its historical context. At the time she spoke it, women were second-class citizens just about everywhere, except in Sparta. In contrast to the other women of Greece, Spartan women were treated reasonably well, and enjoyed a much greater level of freedom than their peers could ever expect.
Unlike in 300, where Gorgo says a variation on the above line to the Persian messenger Leonidas later kicks down a well, the real quote wasn’t directed at a man, but rather another woman. The legend goes that, while travelling through Attica, a local woman approached Queen Gorgo and innocently asked her, “Why are you Spartan women the only ones who can rule men?”
Unlike the line spoken by her movie counterpart, Gorgo’s response wasn’t a venomous sneer aimed at a man to make herself seem like a more powerful leader, it was a very matter-of-fact statement that all women are fit to lead men because they’re the ones who give birth to them in the first place. Why the movie chose to change that is beyond us — considering that some people today would disagree with her, that has to be the ballsiest statement in Spartan history.