A Special Custom Jewelry Project
The Making of a Custom Spartan Ring
I never knew much about my Greek Grandfather except he came from Sparta Greece and was a restaurant owner. He helped other Greeks in the family to come to America. My Grandfather died before I was born and therefore I didn't know him. My father's mother was Irish, whom my Grandfather met once he had arrived in America. They had eight children. My Grandmother also died before I was born. My father never talked about his childhood or parents. So until recently when I took a real interest in family Genealogy, I didn't know where in Greece, except maybe Sparta, that my Grandfather was from. Searching on the internet, I found one Hanzakos in Michigan that said she knew my Grandfather was related to her Grandfather. She knew that her Grandfather was from the Mani, Peloponnese area of Greece.
Having visited many web sites telling about the Mani Greece area, I had learned that the Maniots (people of Mani) had originally descended from the original Spartans and were freedom fighters over the centuries, never having been conquered by the Persians or Turks throughout the centuries. Instead, they left the original Sparta and moved into the mountains of Mani in Southern Greece. There, they built stone castles and towers in which they lived and fought off any invaders. The area is very rough with little to no water. So it was difficult for any invader to remain there and fight for any length of time. And it was not worth it in the long run to do so. The Maniots maintained the original way of speaking Greek just as in the Spartan days: short and to the point.
Over the centuries many battles were fought against invaders such as the Persians and later the Turks. The Maniots joined the Venetians twice to fight the Persians whom they considered the worse of two evils. But even later when Greece was overrun by the Turks, the Maniots remained free. They were told to pay a tax to the Turkish King but were left alone regardless whether they paid or not.
For that reason, during the wars that broke out in the 1800's against the Turks, the Maniots chose to change the motto on their battle flag, from FREEDOM OR DEATH, to VICTORY OR DEATH. Because they considered themselves as always having been free. The Maniot flag had a blue cross on a white background. This is opposite the Flag of Greece which is blue with a white cross. The Maniot Freedom fighter flag can still be found flying when you visit Mani. There are two other mottos that are endeared to the hearts of the Greek people. One is “Molon Labe”, which means: “Come take them”. This is the replay sent by King Leonidas to King Xerxes the Persian king , when he with over 300,000 men ordered King Leonidas with his 7000 men at the Thermopylae pass to lay down their weapons. Leonidas then sent all but his 300 Spartans and some volunteers back to Sparta to form a defense while they held the pass against Xerxes’ entire army, knowing they would all die in the end.
The other motto “ê tan ê epi tas” which translated meant “either this or upon this”. This is what a Spartan mother told her son as she gave him a shield and sent him off to war, a more complete translation would be “Bring back the shield or come home dead on it”. As cold hearted as it may sound, dishonor was worse than death in those days. Spartans lived for only one thing, The State; Sparta or (Lacedaemia) in the ancient times. This is why the Lambda or L shows up on many Spartan shields.
Some people like myself, who were in the military and spent most of their lives in uniform of one sort or another, understand the deep feelings of loyalty, dedication to duty, and love of country that the Spartans felt. From when I was eleven years old and in a Scout uniform, I remained in uniform until I retired. First the military and then as a police officer in the Washington DC area. I fought on the streets in every riot in Washington DC that the sixties and seventies produced. From a small riot in Anacostia Wash.DC to the riots of MD University during the VietNam War. When it was time to retire, my wife and I needed a place where we could live on a pension . Rand McNally wrote a book on places to retire. Where did we end up? With a Sparta TN address. Just a coincidence or was it?
I was thrilled to think that I descended from the greatest fighting men in all time. But, in my search I could not find a Hanzakos in ancient Greece. Then one day, I found an island near Crete and there I saw two cities side by side: Handros and Zakros. I was shocked, did I just become descended from sheep herders? Although, there are those that would rather have than be descended from a people who seemed as hard as the rocks they lived on I tried to learn whether Handros and Zakros were some sort of roots for my namesake. But having been in contact with a Greek who now lives in Canada, I was told it was just a coincidence because Greeks with a name ending in AKOS come from the Laconia side of Mani Greece. And he had no doubt that my family was from that area. But I was not convinced, so I kept looking. Then on a web site about the Maniots, I read just what he had said. It told that Greek names with one ending meant you were from Messenia and ending with AKOS you were from Laconia in Mani. Since the original towns of Mani are mostly gone anyway, it would be useless to try to find the exact town my Grandfather or his ancestors were from. He may have spent his adult life in Sparta itself, just as many young Maniots today, and then moved to Athens to make a living. It does not matter. Because my ancestors were Maniots descended from the Spartans and that answers the questions I have always had about why I am what I am.
I decided I wanted to leave a family heirloom so that what I have learned about my heritage is not forgotten by future generations. Our local jeweler, suggested I contact Gemstone Designs in Knoxville, TN about having a ring made up. He said that they have the equipment and ability to make any kind of ring I wanted. I mailed Bill Patty at Gemstone Designs and told him my idea for a ring. I wanted a likeness of King Leonidas on top. I wanted a Spartan shield on one side and a Maniot Freedom Fighter flag on the other side. I also wanted the motto “Victory or Death” in Greek. All this on one little ring. Bill told me the ring would be large but it could be done. I looked at Spartan shields and chose one that I felt was a good phalanx shield. The Spartans being famous for the Phalanx battle formation. I also wanted crossed spears so that there was no doubt that it was a shield. The flag had to have white with a blue cross. Bill said that was not a problem. Then Bill asked me if I wanted my name on the ring. I had not thought of that but once he did, it had to be on there. After all, what is a family heirloom without a family name or crest on it? Bill suggested we add another motto: " Molon Labe". I didn't know where he would fit that one but he managed. Now the ring had everything it needed, to tell what I felt about being a son of Sparta. Little did I know one year ago that today I would be saving for a trip to a remote area of Greece hoping to find what it was that made Manists love their Laconic so much. I thought I was being very original in my choosing a Spartan shield for my ring. But I found that many of the military units of Greece have used Spartan shields when forming a unit battle flag.
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