I came across this excerpt that was put up as a "joke" in an issue of the Reader's Digest:

After invading Greece, Philip II of Macedon sent a threatening message to the Spartans: "You are advised to submit without delay, for if I bring my army on your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people and raze your city."

The Spartans replied with one word: "If"

Given the modern-day image of the Spartans being superb, tough warriors, and the hilarity of this "joke" aside...

1) Did Philip II actually send this message to the Spartans? When was this?

2) Did the Spartans actually taunt him with the word "if"?

3) If not the above, did something even remotely similar occur?

  • 1
    @user2448131 Well, you could've put that up as an answer ._. Commented May 27, 2017 at 17:11
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    Why the down votes? I've heard this story many times as well but never bothered to check it's veracity. Seems a reasonable question to me.
    – TheHonRose
    Commented May 28, 2017 at 11:23
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    @TheHon Bows down in gratitude Commented May 28, 2017 at 11:24
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    I imagine the downvotes were due to the original wording of the question. It seemed less historical and more trivial. Good Edit.
    – justCal
    Commented May 28, 2017 at 13:28
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    Re "...the modern image of the Spartans...", you've got to be kidding. Spartans had that image long before movies were even invented. Indeed, I didn't even know such a movie existed until just now.
    – jamesqf
    Commented May 29, 2017 at 6:37

1 Answer 1


Plutarch, in De garrulitate , writes this concerning the brief, concise language used by the Laconians:

The Lacedaemonians to Philip; Dionysius in Corinth. And when Philip wrote thus to the Spartans: If once I enter into your territories, I will destroy ye all, never to rise again; they answered him with the single word, If. To King Demetrius exclaiming in a great rage, What! have the Spartans sent me but one ambassador? the ambassador nothing terrified replied, Yes; one to one. Certainly they that spoke short and concisely were much admired by the [p. 244] ancients.

see also Laconic Phrase, where the following is noted (emphasis mine):

Subsequently, neither Philip nor his son Alexander the Great attempted to capture the city. Philip is also recorded as approaching Sparta on another (?) occasion and asking whether he should come as friend or foe; the reply was "Neither".[5]

So I guess one word was sufficient.


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