Despite the Spartan’s axiomatic toughness, they could be astonishingly gentle when dealing with their fellow Spartiates. In court cases, the punishments doled out were, at times, the sort of thing one might expect a parent to assign to a child. One rich man was condemned to go without dessert with his dinner. Others were sentenced to bring back a reed or a handful of laurel leaves. Even Agesilaus, one of Sparta’s ablest kings and commanders, asked that his friend, even if guilty, be found not guilty, for his sake.
Ogedei, even as khan, was a very kind-hearted man, unwilling to punish unless necessary, and naturally inclined to find an excuse for petty crimes. Once, while traveling with his older brother Chagatai, they came across a Muslin engaged in wudu, the ritual ablutions undergone for purification, washing himself in a running stream, an activity forbidden by the Yasak, the law code of the Mongol Empire. It just so happened that Chagatai was chief guardian of the Yasak, who was charged with ensuring that the law code was observed.
Chagatai therefore wished for the man to be immediately executed, but Ogedei delayed, commanding instead that the man be arrested and judged the next day. During the night, Ogedei sent a messenger to the prisoner telling him to tell the court that he hadn’t been washing, but had been fishing for a dropped piece of gold in the stream, the entirety of his property.
The next morning, the prisoner told the tale that he had been instructed to tell, and the court ordered that the stream be searched. A golden piece was found, thoughtfully placed there by Ogedei the previous day, in order to accomplish this ruse. Ogedei therefore judged that the law must be followed in the future, but as for this case, since the man was so poor as to risk execution over a single piece of gold, he should be given ten pieces of gold, so that he need never again violate the Yasak by chasing after all of his wealth in a stream.
One of Lycurgus’s pieces of advice to his countrymen, the Spartans, was to always accept the surrender of their foes. For if their foes thought they would die either way, they would fight to the death, but if they were assured their survival if they surrendered, then fear would cause them to surrender, preserving Spartans’ lives and power.