Ancient History & Civilisation



Some Amphipolitans came to Sparta and visited Archileonis, the mother of Brasidas, after her son's death.1 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: ‘Strangers, my son was indeed noble and brave, but Sparta has many better men than he.’


(Daughter of King Cleomenes I, born about 506. Married her uncle, King Leonidas I)

1. When the Milesian Aristagoras was urging Cleomenes to make war against the Great King in support of the Ionians2 and was promising him quantities of money, and also adding more to meet his objections, the king's daughter Gorgo said: ‘Father, this miserable little foreigner will ruin you completely unless you drive him out of the house pretty quickly.’

2. Once when her father told her to give grain to some man as a means of payment and added: ‘It's because he taught me how to make our wine really good,’ she said: ‘In that case, father, much more wine will be drunk and the drinkers will also be more fussy and will degenerate.’

3. After seeing Aristagoras having his shoes put on by one of his servants, she said: ‘Father, the stranger has no hands.’

4. When a stranger in a finely embroidered robe was making advances to her, she rejected him with the words: ‘Won't you get out of here? You can't even play a female role.’

5. 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.’

6. On her husband Leonidas' departure for Thermopylae, while urging him to show himself worthy of Sparta, she asked what she should do. He said: ‘Marry a good man and bear good children.’


1. Once when 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.

2. When a messenger came from Crete to report Acrotatus' death she said: ‘Wasn't it inevitable that, when he proceeded against the enemy, either he would be killed by them or he would kill them? To hear that he died in a fashion worthy of me and the city and his ancestors is pleasanter than if he were immortal but a coward.’


After hearing that her son was a coward and unworthy of her, Damatria killed him when he made his appearance. This is the epigram about her:

Damatrius who broke the laws was killed by his mother –

She a Spartan lady, he a Spartan youth.


1. Another Spartan woman killed her son, who had deserted, as unworthy of his country, saying: ‘He's not my offspring.’ This is the epigram about her:


Away to the darkness, cowardly offspring, where out of hatred

Eurotas does not flow even for timorous deer.

Useless pup, worthless portion, away to Hell.

Away! This son unworthy of Sparta was not mine at all.

2. When another woman heard that her son had fallen in the battle-line, she said:

Let there be weeping for cowards; but you, child, without a tear

Do I bury: you are my son, and Sparta's too.

3. When some woman heard that her son had been saved and had escaped from the enemy, she wrote to him: ‘You've been tainted by a bad reputation. Either wipe this out now or cease to exist.’

4. Another woman, when her sons fled from a battle and reached her, said: ‘In making your escape, vile slaves, where is it you've come to? Or do you plan to creep back in here where you emerged from?’ At this she pulled up her clothes and exposed her belly to them.

5. A woman, when she saw her son approaching, asked how their country was doing. When he said: ‘All the men are dead,’ she picked up a tile, threw it at him and killed him, saying: ‘Then, did they send you to bring us the bad news?’

6. As someone was describing his brother's noble death to his mother, she said: ‘Isn't it a disgrace, then, not to have gone on such a fine journey with him?’

7. A woman, after sending off her five sons to war, stood on the outskirts of the city to watch anxiously what the outcome of the battle might be. When someone appeared and she questioned him, he reported that all her sons had perished. She said: ‘Yet this isn't what I asked you, vile slave, but rather how our country was doing.’ When he said that it was winning, she remarked: ‘Then I gladly accept the death of my sons too.’

8. As a woman was burying her son, a worthless old crone came up to her and said: ‘You poor woman, what a misfortune!’ ‘No, by the two gods, a piece of good fortune,’ she replied, ‘because I bore him so that he might die for Sparta, and that is what has happened, as I wished.’

9. When an Ionian woman was priding herself on one of the tapestries she had made (which was indeed of great value), a Spartan woman showed off her four most dutiful sons and said they were the kind of thing a noble and good woman ought to produce, and should boast of them and take pride in them.

10. When another woman heard that her son was behaving badly abroad, she wrote to him: 4 ‘You've acquired a bad reputation. Either shake this off or cease to exist.’

11. In much the same way Chian exiles, too, came to Sparta and levelled many accusations against Pedaritus; his mother Teleutia sent for them, heard their charges, and having concluded that her son was in the wrong, sent him this message: 5 ‘His mother to Pedaritus. Either behave better or stay there with no hope of a safe return to Sparta.’

12. Another woman, when her son was on trial for a crime, said: ‘Son, release yourself either from the charge or from life.’

13. Another woman, as she was sending her lame son up the battle-line, said: ‘Son, with each step you take bear courage in mind.’

14. Another woman, when her son arrived back from the battlefield wounded in the foot and in terrible pain, said: ‘Son, if you bear courage in mind, you will have no pain and will be in good spirits too.’

15.A Spartan who had been wounded in battle and was unable to walk made his way on all fours, ashamed of being laughed at. But his mother said: ‘Son, isn't it really much better to rejoice in your courage than to feel ashamed of being laughed at by idiots?’

16. Another woman, as she was handing her son his shield and giving him some encouragement, said: ‘Son, either with this or on this.’6

17. Another woman, handing over the shield to her son as he was going off on campaign, said: ‘Your father always used to keep this safe for you. So you must either keep it safe too, or cease to exist.’

18. Another woman, in reply to her son who declared that the sword he had was a small one, said: ‘Then extend it by a stride.’

19. When another woman heard that her son had died fighting bravely in the battle-line, she said: ‘Yes, you were mine.’ But when she learned that her other son was still alive as a result of his cowardice, she said: ‘No, you were not mine.’


20. Another woman, when she heard that her son had died in battle right at his place in the line, said: ‘Bury him and let his brother fill his place.’

21. While taking part in a public procession another woman heard of her son's success in the battle-line but also of his death from many wounds. Her reaction was not to remove her garland but to say proudly to the women near her: ‘Friends, how much finer it is to die victorious in the battle-line than to win at the Olympic Games and live.’

22. When a man was describing to his sister the noble death of her son, she said: ‘While I'm happy for him, I'm equally sorry for you, since you've missed making the journey with such a valiant companion.’

23. Someone contacted a Spartan woman to ask if she would agree to let him seduce her. She said: ‘When I was a child I learned to obey my father, and I did so; then when I became a woman I obeyed my husband; so if this man is making me a proper proposal, let him put it to my husband first.’

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

25. When a Spartan woman was asked if she had made advances to a man, she said: ‘No, I didn't. But he made them to me.’

26. A girl who had been secretly deflowered and then brought on a miscarriage exercised such self-control – letting out not a single cry – that neither her father nor her neighbours besides were aware of her delivery. For the encounter of propriety with impropriety served to override her tremendous pain.

27.7 Spartan woman who was up for sale and was asked what skills she possessed, said: ‘To be trustworthy.’

28. Another woman who had been taken prisoner and was being asked much the same question, said: ‘To manage a household well.’

29. When a woman was asked by somebody whether she would be good if he were to buy her, she said: ‘Yes, and even if you don't buy me.’

30. Another woman when on sale was asked by the auctioneer what skills she had and said: ‘To be free.’ When the man who bought her kept ordering her to perform certain services unfitting for a free woman, she declared: ‘You'll be sorry that you didn't decide not to make a purchase like this!’, and committed suicide.

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