Heroic images are intended to inspire. Every American knows Emanuel Leutze’s painting of Washington crossing the Delaware on Christmas Day 1776 en route to trounce the Hessians at Trenton. And who isn’t familiar with Felix Weihs de Weldon’s indelible sculpture of the Marines raising the flag on Iwo Jima? Now comes Krieghoff’s 2021 Gun of the Year, The Spartan Gun, engraved on a theme of the 300 Spartans’ defense of the pass at Thermopylae during the Greco-Persian Wars. As every military scholar knows, the 300 were hugely outnumbered by Persian “Immortals,” whose name stemmed from the custom that every man killed was immediately replaced by a fresh fighter.
The deep carving of Spartan hoplites in full fighting kit is by Creative Art, whose Giacomo Fausti engraved the 2015 Krieghoff Gun of the Year with scenes from another legendary last stand: The Alamo. Since the late 1990s Krieghoff, based in Ulm, Germany, consistently has unveiled a Gun of the Year, frequently featuring historic or geographic themes.
This year’s Krieghoff commemorative has a toplever engraved with “ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ,” meaning “come and take [them],” which has become a classic expression of defiance. It is among the laconic phrases reported by Plutarch and was attributed to King Leonidas I in reply to the demand by the Persians that the Spartans surrender their weapons.