Molon labe (Greek: μολὼν λαβέ molṑn labé), meaning “come and take [them]”, is a classical expression of defiance.
According to Plutarch, Xerxes, king of Persia, demanded that the Spartans surrender their weapons and King Leonidas I responded with this phrase. It is an exemplary use of a laconic phrase.
The phrase was reportedly the defiant response of King Leonidas I of Sparta to Xerxes I of Persia when Xerxes demanded that the Greeks lay down their arms and surrender.
This was at the onset of the Battle of Thermopylae (480 BC). Instead, the Greeks held Thermopylae for three days.
Although the Greek contingent was defeated, they inflicted serious damage on the Persian army. Most importantly, this delayed the Persians’ progress to Athens, providing sufficient time for the city’s evacuation to the island of Salamis.
Though a tactical defeat, Thermopylae served as a strategic and moral victory, inspiring the Greek forces to crush the Persians at the Battle of Salamis later the same year and the Battle of Plataea one year later.
The source for this quotation is Plutarch, Apophthegmata Laconica 51.11, found among the Moralia, a collection of works attributed to Plutarch, famous for his Parallel Lives.
Molon labe has been repeated by many later generals and politicians to express an army’s or nation’s determination not to surrender.
The motto ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ is on the emblem of the Greek First Army Corps and the Cypriot Second Infantry Division, and is also the motto of United States Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT).
The expression “Come and take it” was a slogan in the Texas Revolution.
Molon labe has been used once again in Greek history, on 3 March 1957, during a battle in Cyprus between members of the EOKA organization and the British Army.
After someone had betrayed his location, the British forces surrounded the hideout of the second-in-command of EOKA, Grigoris Afxentiou, near the Machairas Monastery. Inside the hideout were Afxentiou and four of his followers. Realizing he was outnumbered, Afxentiou ordered them to surrender themselves while he barricaded himself for a fight to the death.
The British asked Afxentiou to come out and surrender. He replied with the phrase Molon labe, imitating the ancient Spartans.
Unable to get him out, and after sustaining casualties, the British set fire to the hideout, and he was burnt alive. The British buried his body in the yard of the central jail of Lefkosia, where it lies today.
Currently In the United States
The original Greek phrase and its English translation are often heard from pro-Second Amendment citizens as a defense of the right to keep and bear arms.
It began to appear on web sites in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
In the Second Amendment or firearms freedom context, the phrase expresses the notion the person uttering the phrase is a strong believer in these ideals and will not surrender their firearms to anyone, especially to governmental authority.
In college football, the Michigan State Spartans football team wore alternate jerseys featuring the phrase in their 2011 rivalry game with the Michigan Wolverines.
American Revolutionary War
Sunbury, Georgia, is now a ghost town, though in the past it was active as a port, located east of Hinesville. Fort Morris was constructed in Sunbury by the authority of the Continental Congress. A contingent of British soldiers attempted to take the fort on November 25, 1778. The American contingent at Fort Morris was led by Colonel John McIntosh (c. 1748-1826). The Americans numbered only 127 Continental soldiers plus militiamen and local citizens. The fort itself was crudely constructed and could not have withstood any concerted attack.
The British commander, Colonel Fuser, demanded Fort Morris’ surrender through a written note to the American rebels. Though clearly outnumbered (he had only about 200 men plus artillery), Colonel McIntosh’s defiant written response to the British demand included the following line: “As to surrendering the fort, receive this laconic reply: COME AND TAKE IT!”. The British declined to attack, in large part due to their lack of intelligence regarding other forces in the area. Colonel Fuser believed a recent skirmish in the area, combined with Colonel McIntosh’s bravado, might have reflected reinforcements and so the British withdrew.
The British returned in January 1779 with a larger force. They later conquered and controlled nearly all of Georgia for the next few years. Col. McIntosh’s defiance was one successful and heroic event which inspired the patriots as the War moved to the Carolinas and then north.
The Fort Morris Historical Marker is on Martin Road, Midway, Georgia. It is located at the visitor center for the Fort Morris Historic Site. The center is located off Fort Morris Road, at the end of the Colonels Island Highway (Georgia Route 38). The marker memorializes the battle and notes the “Come and Take It!” response.
In recognition of his valor of defending Fort Morris in Sunbury, McIntosh was awarded a sword by the Georgia Legislature with the words “Come and Take It” engraved on the blade. McIntosh later served in the War of 1812 as an American General, still protecting the Georgia coast. He served honorably, receiving honors from the City of Savannah for his service.
In early January 1831, Green DeWitt wrote to Ramón Músquiz, the top political official of Bexar, and requested armament for defense of the colony of Gonzales.
This request was granted by delivery of a small used cannon. The small bronze cannon was received by the colony and signed for on March 10, 1831, by James Tumlinson, Jr. The swivel cannon was mounted to a blockhouse in Gonzales and later was the object of Texas pride.
At the minor skirmish known as the Battle of Gonzales—the first battle of the Texas Revolution against Mexico—a small group of Texians successfully resisted the Mexican forces who had orders from Colonel Domingo de Ugartechea to seize their cannon.
As a symbol of defiance, the Texians had fashioned a flag containing the phrase “come and take it” along with a black star and an image of the cannon that they had received four years earlier from Mexican officials.
This was the same message that was sent to the Mexican government when they told the Texians to return the cannon; lack of compliance with the initial demands led to the failed attempt by the Mexican military to forcefully take back the cannon.
Replicas of the original flag can be seen in the Texas State Capitol, the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, the Sam Houston State University CJ Center, the University of Texas at El Paso Library, the Marine Military Academy headquarters building, the Hockaday School Hoblitzelle Auditorium, and in Perkins Library at Duke University.
All credits to: https://en.wikipedia.org