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.
Once, when the people of Smyrna were suffering from a famine, the Spartans agreed to send them grain. All the people of Sparta fasted for an entire day, and the grain thereby saved was sent to Smyrna for the benefit of the people there.
The story of the Persian messengers who demanded earth and water from the Spartans is well known. To the Persians, this request for earth and water was a sign of submission and obedience, a request the Spartans strongly refused. They were thrown into a well by the Spartans, and told that they would find both of each down there. However, the sequel to the story is lesser known.
The Spartans later regretted this incident so greatly, for it was undeniably an immoral act, that they sent two citizens to Persia, who volunteered to be killed by them in order to erase the Spartans’ guilt from their own crime.
Once, a man traveled through Sparta collecting money for the gods. One Spartan, upon seeing this man, commented that he did not think much of gods who were poorer than himself.
A battle painting was once made, which portrayed the Athenians slaying Spartan soldiers. One man, after seeing the painting, kept repeating how brave the Athenians were. A Spartan, fed up with this, finally replied, “Yes, in the painting!”
Namertes the Spartan was sent as an ambassador to another nation, and when one of the people of that country congratulated him for having so many friends, he asked him whether he had any sure means of testing the strength of his friendships. Namertes replied, “Through misfortune.”
Once, while contesting with each other for the hegemony of Greece, the Spartans and Athenians had a dispute. Unable to resolve it on their own, it was suggested by the Athenians that Megara serve as a neutral arbiter. Agesipolis, son of Pausanias, said to the Athenians that it would be a shame if Megara knew more of justice than Sparta and Athens, who led the Greek world.