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Molon Labe: SIG Sauer M1911 Spartan Review

by Peter G. Kokalis   |  April 2nd, 2013 8

There probably was no better time for SIG to offer the Spartan pistol, which celebrates the Greek last stand against the Persians at Thermopylae.

Almost 2,500 years ago, my ancestors, in August or September 480 B.C., fought the Battle of Thermopylae between an alliance of Greek city-states, led by King Leonidas of Sparta, and the Persian Empire of Xerxes I over the course of three days, during the second Persian invasion of Greece.

It occurred simultaneously with the naval battle at Artemisium at the narrow coastal pass of Thermopylae (“The Hot Gates”). The Persian invasion was a delayed response to the defeat of the first Persian invasion of Greece, which had been terminated by the Athenian victory at the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C.

In response, Xerxes had assembled a huge army and navy, and intended to conquer all of Greece. The Athenian general Themistocles had planned that the Greeks would block the advance of the Persian army at the pass of Thermopylae and at the same time block the Persian fleet at the Straits of Artemisium.

A Greek force of approximately 7,000 men marched north to block the pass. The Persian army, considered by modern historians to have been of no more than 100,000 to 300,000 arrived at the pass in either late August or early September. The vastly outnumbered Greeks held off the Persians for seven days—including three of actual battle—before the rear guard was annihilated in history’s most famous last stand. During two full days of battle, the tiny force led by Leonidas blocked the only road by which the huge Persian army could pass.

However, after the second day of battle, a local resident named Ephialtes betrayed the Greeks by revealing a small goat’s path that led behind the Greek lines. Leonidas, aware that his force was being outflanked, dismissed the bulk of the Greek army and remained to guard the rear with 300 Spartans, 700 Thespians, 400 Thebans and perhaps a few hundred others, almost all of whom were killed.

Both ancient and modern historians have used the Battle of Thermopylae as the classic example of the power of a patriotic army defending native soil. The performance of the defenders at the pass at Thermopylae has also been used as an example of the advantages of training, equipment, and the correct tactical deployment of terrain as force multipliers and as a symbol of courage against overwhelming odds.

More to the point, the battle of Thermopylae has very specifically become a symbol of the fight to defend America’s Second Amendment. A Persian emissary was sent by Xerxes to negotiate with Leonidas. The Greeks were offered their freedom and the title “Friends of the Persian People,” and in addition, they would be re-settled on land better than that they possessed.

When these terms were flatly refused by Leonidas, the emissary asked him more forcefully to lay down his weapons. Leonidas’ famous response was for the Persians to “Come and take them (Molon Labe).” An even more famous response came from his general, Dienekes. When Leonidas refused to back down, the emissary told him, “Our arrows will block out the sun.” To this Dienekes replied, “So much the better, we shall fight in the shade.”

As the Persian emissary returned empty-handed, the final end became inevitable. Xerxes delayed for four days, waiting in vain for the Greeks to disperse, before sending his troops to attack them. These famous quotations appear on T-shirts, flags, emblems and placards, wherever patriots rally in defense of the Second Amendment.

Simonides composed a well-known epigram, which was engraved as an epitaph on a commemorative stone place on top of the burial mound of the Spartans at Thermopylae. It is also on the hill on which the last of them died. The original stone has not survived, but in 1955, the epitaph was engraved on a new stone.

The text by Herodotus is an elegiac couplet, commonly used by the ancient Greeks for epitaphs, one of the English renderings is given as follows, “Go tell the Spartans, thou who passest by, that here, obedient to their laws, we lie.” It was well known in ancient Greece that all the Spartans who had been sent to Thermopylae—with the solitary exception of the hapless Aristodemus—were killed in the battle, and the epitaph exploits the conceit that there was nobody left to bring the news of their deeds back to Sparta.

Greek epitaphs often appealed to the passing reader—always called “stranger”—for sympathy, but the epitaph for the dead Spartans took this convention much further than usual, asking the reader to make a personal journey to Sparta to break the news that the Spartan expeditionary force had been wiped out. The stranger is also asked to stress that the Spartans died “fulfilling their orders.”

All of this has now been immortalized on an exceptional Model 1911 pistol from SIG Sauer called The Spartan.

As the expression “Molon Labe” appears prominently no less three times on the new SIG Sauer M1911 Spartan pistol, let’s take a more detailed examination of this phrase. The first word, “molon,” is the aorist active participle—masculine, nominative, singular—of the Greek verb “to come,” meaning in this instance “having come.” The word “labe” is the aorist active imperative—second person singular—of the verb “lambano,” translated as “take [them].”

In Greek these two words function together in a grammatical structure not present in English, called the circumstantial participle. Where English would put two main verbs in two independent clauses joined by a conjunction, i.e., “come and take,” ancient Greek, which is abundant in participles, subordinates one to the other, a linguistic tactic called hypotactic: “coming, take,” with the first action turned into an adjective.

Thus in ancient Greek a nuance is provided not obvious in the English translation, making very clear that the coming must precede the taking (i.e., “having come, take”).

In modern times, many generals and politicians to express an army’s or nation’s determination not to surrender have repeated the expression “Molon Labe.” This motto is on the emblem of the Greek First Army Corps, and is also the motto of the United States Special Operations Command Central (SOCCENT).

The term, “Come and take it,” was a slogan used during the Texas Revolution. In America, both the original Greek phrase and its English translation are often heard from pro-Second Amendment defenders in defense of the right to keep and bear arms. It began to appear on websites in the late 1990s and early 2000s. It expresses the concept that one will not surrender their firearms to anyone, including the government, without strong resistance.

Shotgun News was recently sent a SIG Sauer M1911 Spartan for test and evaluation. Chambered for America’s favorite pistol cartridge, the .45 ACP, this is basically a so-called “Government Model” with a 5-inch barrel (127mm) with six grooves rifling with a 1:16 twist. The width at the grip panels is 1.4 inches (35.6mm) with an overall height of 5.5 inches (140mm) and a total length of 8.7 inches (221mm). The weight, with an empty magazine, is 41.6 ounces (1.18 kg). Both the slide and frame are machined from an unspecified stainless steel.

The M1911 Spartan comes with truly unique oil rubbed bronze Nitron finish on both the slide and frame, with the slide featuring 24kt gold inlay engraving. SIG Sauer’s Nitron finish is a thin layer of amorphous “DLC” that both creates a hard protective coating and enhances lubricity. “DLC,” in turn, is the acronym for Diamond-Like Carbon. DLC thus has some of the properties of diamond.

Although it appears smooth to the naked eye, DLC actually has the form of a microscopic cobblestone street. There are seven different forms of DLC. The various forms of DLC can be applied to almost any material that is compatible with a vacuum environment.

In short, the principal desirable qualities of a Nitron finish are hardness, wear resistance and lubricity, or “slickness.”

The left side of the pistol’s slide is roll marked “SIG SAUER 1911” and with “Molon Labe” engraved with 24kt gold inlay in the exact ancient Greek script as inscribed on the marble of the 1955 Leonidas Monument at Thermopylae. Both of the black Hogue grip panels feature the same script with an ancient Greek helmet.

The grip panels are held to the frame by two 3/32-inch hex head screws, which are threaded into M1911-type frame bushings that can be replaced if the threads are damaged.

SIG Sauer manufactures M1911 pistols with two different slide configurations. The so-called “SIG profile” found on this pistol has a larger radius on top of the slide and relief cuts on the sides. This contour provides a unique look that resembles SIG Sauer classic pistol models, such as the P226 and P220.

The only downside to this slide geometry is the difficulty in finding holsters that can accommodate pistols with this configuration. What SIG Sauer refers to as a “traditional” slide is machined to the same slide radius as the original and vast majority of M1911 handguns.

There are eight slanted cocking serrations on each side of the slide at the rear. The slide’s ejection port has been lowered and flared—and the rear beveled—to enhance ejection reliability and protect empty cases from denting. Like the original M1911, this pistol uses a short recoil spring guide rod.

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