2007-04-06 21:15:49 UTC
By JIM HANZAKOS
Special to the Herald-Citizen
SPARTA -- 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, 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, my grandfather was from.
Searching on the Internet, I found one Hanzakos in Michigan who 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 of whether they paid or not.
For that reason, during the wars that broke out in the 1800s 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
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 reply
sent by King Leonidas to the Persian King Xerxes when Xerxes and over
300,000 men ordered Leonidas with his 7,000 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 is "ê tan ê epi tas," which when translated means "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 11 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, D.C. area. I fought on the streets in every riot in Washington,
D.C. that the '60s and '70s produced, from a small riot in Anacostia in D.C.
to the riots of Maryland 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, Tennnessee 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 prefer that 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 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 Maniots
love their Laconia 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.
Published April 06, 2007 2:06 PM CDT