The Spartans have carried their name through history as some of the greatest warriors the world has ever know. While some of their methods were questionable by our modern standards, it’s difficult to deny that their philosophy of physical training, ruling of state, and personal resilience contain some great value.

Here are some of the greatest quotes about and from the Spartans


As Philip II of Macedon was conquering Greek city-states left and right, Sparta was left alone. Philip had achieved a crushing victory, and Sparta was relatively weak and without walls. Philip sent a message to the Spartans saying “If I invade Lakonia you will be destroyed, never to rise again.” The Spartans replied with one word, “If.”

Philip eventually decided to bypass Sparta as it was a poor region and not worth the fight. Neither Philip nor Alexander attacked the Spartans while they ruled.

When someone asked why they visited disgrace upon those among them who lost their shields, but did not do the same thing to those who lost their helmets or their breastplates, the Spartan king, Demaratos (510 – 491) is said to have replied: “Because the latter they put on for their own protection, but the shield for the common good of the whole line.”

– Plutarch

…Feel no fear before the multitude of men, do not run in panic,

but let each man bear his shield straight toward the fore-fighters,

regarding his own life as hateful and holding the dark spirits of death as dear as the radiance of the sun.”


Xerxes wrote to him, “It is possible for you, by not fighting against God but by ranging yourself on my side, to be the sole ruler of Greece.” But he wrote in reply, “If you had any knowledge of the noble things of life, you would refrain from coveting others’ possessions; but for me to die for Greece is better than to be the sole ruler over the people of my race.”

When Xerxes wrote again, “Hand over your arms,” he wrote in reply, “Come and take them.”

– Plutarch about Leonidas

Herodotus reports that just before the Battle of Thermoplyae, a Spartan warrior named Dienekes was told that the Persian archers could blank out the sun with their arrows. He replied “Good, then we shall have our battle in the shade.”

“It was natural for [Spartan women] to think and speak as Gorgo, the wife of Leonidas, is said to have done, when some foreign lady, as it would seem, told her that the women of Lacedaemon were the only women of the world who could rule men; ‘With good reason,’ she said, ‘for we are the only women who bring forth men’.”

― Plutarch

An old man wandering around the Olympic Games looking for a seat was jeered at by the crowd until he reached the seats of the Spartans, whereupon every Spartan younger than him, and some that were older, stood up and offered him their seat. The crowd applauded and the old man turned to them with a sigh, saying “All Greeks know what is right, but only the Spartans do it.”

Let a man learn how to fight by first daring to perform mighty deeds, Not where the missiles won’t reach, if he is armed with a shield, but getting in close where fighting is hand to hand, inflicting a wound with his long spear or his sword, taking the enemy’s life, with his foot planted alongside a foot and his shield pressed against shield, and his crest up against crest and his helm up against helm and breast against breast, embroiled in the action—let him fight man to man, holding secure in his grasp haft of his sword or his spear!
– Tyrtaeus

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 endeavour to win.

– Tyrtaeus

The Spartans are the equal of any men when they fight as individuals; fighting together as a collective, they surpass all other men.

– Damaratus

Bias, caught in an ambush by Iphicrates the Athenian general, and asked by his soldiers what was to be done, said, “What else except for you to save your lives and for me to die fighting?”

The walls of Sparta were its young men, and its borders the points of their spears.”

– King Agesilaus

In answer to the man who sought to know why the Spartans use short daggers in war, Antalcidas said, “Because we fight close to the enemy.”

For the Spartans, it wasn’t walls or magnificent public buildings that made a city; it was their own ideas. In essence, Sparta was a city of the head and the heart. And it existed in its purest form in the disciplined march of a hoplite phalanx on their way to war!”

– Bettany Hughes

“As a warrior of Sparta come back with your shield or on it.”

– Plutarch

Asked what was the greatest benefit Lycurgus conferred on his countryman, King Agesilaus replied “Contempt of pleasure.”

In answer to some of the citizens who desired to know, “How we can keep off any invasion by enemies,” he said, “If you remain poor, and no one of you desires to be more important than another.”

– Plutarch about Lycurgus

Anaxander, the son of Eurycrates, when someone inquired why the Spartans did not amass money in the public treasury, said, “So that those made the guardians of it may not become corrupt.”

As he permitted the citizens to engaged only in that kind of athletic contests in which the arm is not held up, somebody inquired what was the reason. He replied, “So that no one of the citizens shall get the habit of crying quits in the midst of a hard struggle.”

– Plutarch about Lycurgus

In answer to a man who raised the question how anyone could possibly rule in safety without the protection of a bodyguard, Agasicles said, “If one rules his subjects as fathers rule their sons.”

When his brother said to Teleclus that the citizens did not comport themselves toward himself as they did toward the king (although he was of the same family), but with much less consideration, he said, “The reason is, you do not know how to submit to injustice, and I do.”

When one of the elderly men said to AGIS in his old age, inasmuch as he saw the good old customs falling into desuetude, and other mischievous practices creeping in, that for this reason everything was getting to be topsy-turvy in Sparta, Agis said humorously, “Things are then but following a logical course if that is what is happening; for when I was a boy, I used to hear from my father that everything was topsy-turvy among them; and my father said that, when he was a boy, his father had said this to him; so nobody ought to be surprised if conditions later are worse than those earlier, but rather to wonder if they grow better or remain approximately the same.”

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