As volcanoes grow, they become ever heavier. Unlike mountains exhumed by erosion of rocks that generally were lithified at depth, volcanoes typically are built of poorly consolidated rocks that may be further weakened by hydrothermal alteration. The substrates upon which volcanoes rest, moreover, are often sediments lithified by no more than the weight of the volcanic overburden. It is not surprising, therefore, that volcanic deformation includes-and in the long term is often dominated by-spreading motions that translate subsidence near volcanic summits to outward horizontal displacements around the flanks and peripheries. We review examples of volcanic spreading and go on to derive approximate expressions for the time volcanoes require to deform by spreading on weak substrates. We also demonstrate that shear stresses that drive low-angle thrust faulting from beneath volcanic constructs have maxima at volcanic peripheries, just where such faults are seen to emerge. Finally, we establish a theoretical basis for experimentally derived scalings that delineate volcanoes that spread from those that do not.