“Spartans!” yelled Xerxes, King of Persia. “Hand over your weapons!”
As the Spartans arranged themselves into a phalanx formation, pointing their spears at an ocean of Persian Immortals—Leonidas uttered, “Come and take them.”
The battle of Thermopylae is one of the most legendary stories from the era of Ancient Greece. King Leonidas the First, along with his army of Spartan hoplites—the killing machines of Ancient Greece—held Thermopylae Pass from an army of about 100,000 Persians. What’s truly impressive about this feat was that the Spartans were outnumbered tenfold but managed to hold Thermopylae Pass for three straight days.
Even in the face of inevitable defeat, offered a chance—to surrender, to keep on living—the Spartans, in an act of defiance, would pound their spears on the ground and chant “Molon Labe.”
Their will of fire and lust for war was what solidified the place of the Spartans as one of the strongest, most fearsome warriors the world has ever seen. And that is exactly why “Molon Labe” has such a powerful ring to it even in modern times.
In this article, I’ve compiled 23 of the most badass “Molon Labe” tattoos there are on the internet. Each piece’s artist is credited so that you can check out more of their work or choose to message them directly. There’s also a brief overview of the history of Spartans and “Molon Labe”, so keep reading until the end!
Why Get a Molon Labe Tattoo?
In English, Molon Labe means “come and take them.” And using those two words alone, the Spartans proclaimed their defiance to an overwhelmingly large army and stood their ground. Because of this, the Molon Labe tattoo makes for the perfect tattoo design for someone with a bold, rebellious personality.
A blackwork profile of the Spartan helmet, by W. (@mrx.tattoo.e.custom.art on Instagram).
In fact, a lot of the people who get this tattoo design often harbor a feeling of rebellion or defiance. The meaning of Molon Labe (“come and take them”) is often used by American patriots and proud gun owners as an expression of their defiance against gun confiscation, an issue that has been present since the American Revolution.
A Spartan in full armor, by sandro. (@sandro.ink on Instagram).
Today, gun confiscation is a very commonly proposed solution to lower gun violence, but gun-rights advocates are not having it. The Second Amendment of the US Constitution explicitly states that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” So as a challenge to the attempts of the government to confiscate their firearms, many gun-rights activists have grown fond of Molon Labe.
A Spartan helmet inscribed with the Flag of Texas on its cheek guard, with the words Molon Labe at the bottom, by Black Point Tattoo. (@blackpointtattoo on Instagram).
Molon Labe is also popular among gym rats and athletes. To them, Molon Labe is less of an expression of rebellion towards authority and more of an expression of defiance towards the struggles of the body—overcoming obstacles and forcing their way to greatness.
Overall, this tattoo design is perfect for you if you have a particular fondness for defying “the man” or exceeding your perceived limitations. It’s sleek and stylish, short and succinct, and is backed up by a lot of great history.
Choosing a Design
When choosing a design for a tattoo, you can go for a minimalist approach. Some people do this by opting for a simple inscription of the Greek characters, ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ. And you’ll find that this often looks best when written in a serif font style using a deep shade of black.
A detailed blackwork tattoo of a Spartan hoplite wielding his xiphos (the sword of the Spartans), by Alvar Mena. (@alvarmena on Instagram).
And like other text-based tattoos, it’s usually best placed on at least a semi-flat surface like your forearm. It has enough space for the phrase while providing a flat enough surface so that the tattoo doesn’t look distorted.
A spear pierces through a Spartan helmet, featuring geometric elements, by joy tattooist. (@joy_tattooist_ on Instagram).
The chest is also a very good place to put it, over your pecs or directly beneath your collarbones. It’ll have a nice curve to it which will hug the natural form of your chest muscles. You could also put it on your upper arm, where it’s visible enough but easily hidden in case you have to hide it at work or at a formal occasion.
A minimalist Spartan helmet drawn in traditional style with the words Molon Labe beneath, by Malwina Mosiejczuk. (@_mosiejczuk_ on Instagram).
If you’re interested in personalizing your Molon Labe tattoo, there are a bunch of elements and styles that you can incorporate into your design. Just make sure to collaborate with your artist so they can help you come up with a design that fits your needs.
The Spartan helmet appears with a sword and a modern rifle with the words Molon Labe, a reference to the Second Amendment, by Wicked Catz Tattoo. (@wicked_catz_tattoo on Instagram).
If you want to stay true to the roots of the Molon Labe tattoo, you can opt to incorporate the trademark items of a Spartan hoplite soldier. A pretty common one you’ll see is the Spartan helmet. It’s completely made of bronze and is identified by its pointy cheek guards and extended nose guard, often adorned with a scarlet feather plume at the top.
A Spartan thrusts at his enemies, phalanx formation at the back, by Red and Black Tattoo Zagreb. (@red_and_black_tattoo_zagreb on Instagram).
Another item you can incorporate into your design is the Spartan xiphos (not to be confused with the Roman gladius), which was the sword used by the Spartans. Although if you want to be more historically accurate, you could instead use a spear. The main tactic that Spartans utilized in warfare was the phalanx formation, wherein the hoplite soldiers would arrange themselves in a line perpendicular to the direction of the enemy. From this linear formation, they would inch their way to the enemy, thrusting their spears at any incoming infantry or cavalry.
Blackwork Spartan helmet tattoo featuring a spear, by ikramkg25. (@ikramkg25 on Instagram).
One design I don’t see too often used in Molon Labe tattoo designs is the Spartan shield. It’s often overshadowed by the more popular Spartan helmet, but it might have even played a more important role.
The main war tactic that the Spartans used was the phalanx formation. They would use their spears to thrust at incoming enemies while holding each of their massive circular shields firm in front of them, leveraging its size and durability to avoid incoming damage while still getting their own thrusts in.
A battle worn Spartan helmet is engraved with the words Molon Labe, by Scott Bruggeman. (@scottybtattoos on Instagram).
The Spartan shield is of circular shape and features a triangular symbol (Λ) in the center. This is called the Greek symbol lambda, which in this context, stood for Laconia, the region of Greece where Sparta is located.
If you want to lean more towards an American theme rather than Spartan, you can also incorporate some American influences into your tattoo design. If you’re a gun-rights activist, perhaps you’ll enjoy using the American flag or modern guns as a reference to the Second Amendment.
A Spartan hoplite points his spear at the enemy while in the ranks of a phalanx formation, by Stef Tattoo. (@stef2026 on Instagram).
Or if you’re a fan of rebellion, you can use an image of the small bronze cannon from the Battle of Gonzales in the Texas Revolution. You can also use other trademark symbols of the American Revolution in your design, such as the tricorne hat which was worn frequently by the soldiers of the continental army, or the musket which was their primary firearm of choice.
There are plenty of other ways for you to personalize your Molon Labe design. Just remember that your tattoo artist will likely be more than willing to help you make something unique only to you. Ask them for help so you can get a tattoo that’s perfect for your tastes.
The History of Molon Labe
Laconia is the region in Greece where Sparta is located. And interestingly, the name Laconia is also where the term laconic phrase (i.e. a blunt and often pithy remark) was derived from. The Spartans had a huge reputation for their verbal austerity because of their blunt remarks both in conversation and in diplomacy.
Molon Labe written in Greek letters, emulating the look of carved stone, by electrogiraffe . (@electrogiraffe on Instagram).
One of the greatest examples of these laconic phrases can be seen in the exchange between Sparta and King Philip II of Macedon. After conquering some city states in Southern Greece, King Philip, in an arrogant mood, wrote to Sparta asking whether he should arrive to them as a friend or foe—to which Sparta answered, “Neither.”
Outraged by Sparta’s brash diplomacy, King Philip sent the following message, “You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.”—Sparta’s answer, “If.”
A skull glowing blue from within wears a Spartan helmet engraved with the words Molon Labe, by Vincent Nelson. (@mondotrasho on Instagram).
It’s exactly this type of congenital Spartan behavior which gave birth to memorable, witty phrases such as Molon Labe. Another brilliant laconism uttered by the Spartan Pleistoanax when accused by an Athenian of being ignorant was, “What you say is true. We alone of all the Greeks have learned none of your evil ways.”
Another Molon Labe tattoo emulating the appearance of carved stone, by GRAPE TATTOO. (@grape_tattoo_collective on Instagram).
The Spartans were always a brilliant kind of people. If you could push perfectionism to an even greater extreme—you would get a Spartan. To ensure the prosperity of Sparta, they deemed that they would need to resort to a necessary evil—killing weak babies.
The reason why their armies are so strong and seemingly undefeatable is because they didn’t tolerate the existence of weak or deformed offspring. All babies that were deformed or deemed weak would be murdered in cold blood. This was done in order to maintain the great performance of their economy and military.
Molon Labe in small Greek letters, by Tatu Tom Rock. (@tatutomrock on Instagram).
They looked down on it, yes. It wasn’t something they wanted to do—but they did it anyway. They looked at it as a necessary evil. And I know it’s rather morbid to say—but it paid off. It got them results. Their army was nigh undefeatable and their culture was rich. It was this perfectionism that bred the brains that produced such witty laconisms and defeated legions of Persians.
An arrow pierces a Spartan helmet from the top, by Amanda Costa Tattoo. (@amandacostatattoo on Instagram).
But it should be said that, despite the Spartans being most well-known for their militarism, they were actually extremely cultured. They were ripped as hell—walking, breathing chunks of shredded muscle—but they were nowhere near what you would classify as meatheads.
A bloodied sword pierces through the top of a bloody Spartan helmet, by Paulo Montenegro. (@tatuador_montenegro on Instagram).
Early Sparta was actually a hub for music and poetry, so much so that even poet-musicians would travel from afar just for a chance to work in Sparta. And the Spartans in the Archaic period were extremely defensive about their musical heritage.
A scroll with the words Molon Labe loops around a Spartan helmet with the stars and stripes, by bodymod502. (@bodymod502 on Instagram).
It was to the point that they banned all of their slaves (the Helots) from singing any of the Spartan songs. The Helots were only ever allowed to sing low and baseless songs.
A hyper realistic Spartan helmet accompanied by the words Molon Labe, by Anderson Linden. (@and.linden on Instagram).
In addition, despite the assumptions influenced by modern popular culture, the Spartans put much greater importance on knowledge and education than even the Athenians. Even though the Spartans are known for their mindless discipline and merciless approach to physical fitness, and not for their intellectual and political prowess—the Spartans actually had a functioning democratic government.
Other than that, in their public education system (called the agoge), they believed that the key to excellence was keeping a sharp mind as well as shaped body.
A simple Molon Labe tattoo on the inner bicep in the style it was written in Spartan tablets, by Studio 54 Tattoo. (@studio54tattoo on Instagram).
Even the great Socrates acknowledged the presence of intellectualism in Sparta than in other Greek city states. This is the reason why the people were so sharp-tongued—and why they’re known for their wittiness.
A peek under a Spartan helmet with the words Molon Labe inscribed on the front reveal a legion of Spartan hoplites ready for battle, by Rodrigo Rodrigues. (@lobaotattoo on Instagram).
Even today, Molon Labe is a very famous expression, particularly in the United States. The English translation “come and take it” has been used in the context of the American Revolution, in 1778 at Fort Morris in Georgia, and in 1835 at the Battle of the Gonzales during the Texas Revolution, where it was one of their primary slogans.
A minimalistic Molon Labe tattoo featuring a Spartan helmet and laurel wreath, by By Art Tattoo. (@byarttattoo on Instagram).
It has also been used by military organizations in the 90s and early 2000s, and even by the Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT) in 2006.
In the Battle of Gonzales during the Texas Revolution, the Mexican Government had sent orders to Mexican forces to seize a small bronze cannon that they had granted to the Texans prior to the revolution.
A Spartan helmet with three spears, a Spartan shield (marked with the Greek symbol lambda), and two swords, by freaky tattoo. (@freakykatty on Instagram).
As an act of defiance, the Texans fashioned a flag containing the words “come and take it” accompanied by a black star and an image of the cannon they had received from Mexican officials. They also sent this message to the Mexican Government when asked to return the cannon.
If you’re looking for a tattoo that reflects your inner warrior, look no further than Molon Labe. It’s a tattoo design that has great history and can be personalized however you like. So make it your own—come and take it.
Did you enjoy these Molon Labe tattoo designs or are you looking for more inspiration? Check out the following links to see more designs from talented artists.