Pyrrhus of Epirus

Orfeas Katsoulis | Sep 26, 2023

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Pyrrhus (319-272 BC), from the family of Pyrrhids, king of Epirus (307-302 and 296-272 BC) and Macedonia (288-285 and 273-272 BC), Epirus general, one of Rome's strongest opponents. According to Titus Livius, Hannibal considered Pyrrhus to be the second greatest general after Alexander the Great. The first of them was Pyrrhus, the second, and the third, according to Plutarch, the greatest of all commanders.

Pyrrhus was the third cousin and great-nephew of Alexander the Great (Pyrrhus' father, Eacidus, was the cousin and nephew of Olympias, Alexander's mother). Many of Pyrrhus' contemporaries believed that Alexander the Great himself was reborn in his person.

Pyrrhus was the son of Eacidus, king of Epirus, and Phthias, a Thessalian. He was considered a descendant of Achilles.

At the end of 317 B.C. a general revolt broke out in Epirus: Pyrrhus' father was declared deposed by a general decree; many of his friends were put to death, others managed to escape; the king's only son, Pyrrhus, then 2 years old, was carried with great peril by some of his cronies to the land of the Taulantine king Glaucius.

At the end of 307 B.C. the Epirotes, unable to bear the cruelty of King Alketes, who had become king after the death of his father Pyrrhus, and the Macedonian influence in the country, put him and his two sons to death in the same night. And then Glaucius hastened to install his son Eacidus Pyrrhus, who was twelve years old by that time, as his legacy.

In 302 B.C., deeply convinced of the loyalty of his people, Pyrrhus went to Illyria to attend the wedding of one of the sons of Glaucius, at whose court he had grown up; in his absence the Molossians revolted, drove away the king's adherents, plundered his treasury and placed the diadem on Neoptolemus, son of King Alexander, predecessor of Pyrrhus' father on the throne of Epirus.

Pyrrhus fled Europe and went to the camp of Demetrius Poliorketes, under whose leadership he apparently gained his first combat experience during the Fourth War of the Diadochi. In 301 BC he took part in the battle of Ipsae on the side of Antigonus One-Eyed and Demetrius Poliorgetus.

After the battle of Ipsos he returned with Demetrius to Greece. However, Athens refused to accept the defeated general (Demetrius). Leaving Pyrrhus in Greece to guard the cities (in charge of his garrisons), Demetrius began to ravage the Balkan possessions of Lysimachus.

In 300 BC Seleucus summoned Demetrius to Syria for an alliance, who in the same year began a war with Ptolemy. In 299 BC, after a peace between Demetrius and Ptolemy, Pyrrhus was sent as a hostage to Egypt.

In 299 or 298 BC, Ptolemy I arranged his marriage to Antigone, daughter of Berenice I (of Egypt) and her first husband Philip. For both of them it was their first marriage union. Between the marriage and 296 B.C., they had a daughter, Olympias.

In 296 B.C., having received support in money and troops from Ptolemy I, Pyrrhus went to Epirus; so that King Neoptolemus did not ask for help from some foreign power, he concluded a treaty with him, under which they were to rule the country together.

Having secured the support of the nobility, in 295 BC he invited Neoptolemus to a feast and killed him there. Thus Pyrrhus became the sovereign king of Epirus.

Around the same time Ptolemy's second child was born, or soon after, Pyrrhus' wife Antigone probably died. Antigone played an important role in the elevation of her husband, and after her death Antigone was named the colony Antigonia in her honor. Medals with the inscription ΑΝΤΙΓΟΝΕΩΝ were minted there.

It seems that around this time Pyrrhus received Kerkyra as a consequence of his marriage to Agathocles' daughter Lanassa. That this island was Lanassa's dowry can be inferred from the fact that she then leaves for it (see below). Ptolemy I evidently had to facilitate this marriage in order that the representative of his cause in Greece might gain even more power; and Agathocles was too busy with wars in Italy to be able to turn to Greek affairs the kind of attention Ptolemy I desired in marrying his daughter to him. According to Pausanias, Pyrrhus took Kerkyra by open force.

Under the pretext of helping one of the pretenders to the throne, Pyrrhus' troops invaded Macedonia in 295 B.C. and seized a vast territory: of the ancient Macedonian lands Timthea and Paraveia, and of the newly acquired ones Acarnania, Amphilochia and Ambrachia. Uninterested in the success of Pyrrhus, Lysimachus wrote him a forged letter in the name of Ptolemy; he knew what strong influence Ptolemy had over Pyrrhus; in which he invited him to refuse to continue the war further for 300 talents, to be paid by Antipater I, another pretender to the Macedonian throne and at the same time his brother. However annoyed Pyrrhus was by this deception, he nevertheless made peace; the three kings assembled for the oath; an ox, a ram, and a goat were brought in for the sacrifice, but the ox fell before the axe struck it; the others laughed, and Pyrrhus was advised by his soothsayer Theodore not to make peace, as this sign meant that one of the three kings would die, so Pyrrhus did not swear this peace. Both brothers divided Macedonia or ruled it together.

Other sovereigns, fearing the strengthening of Pyrrhus, also became involved in Macedonian strife. Among them was Demetrius I Polyorket, a former ally of Pyrrhus, who was now a dangerous rival. Demetrius was well aware of his former associate, his greed, his desire for conquest, and longed to be rid of him. The death of Pyrrhus' sister Deidamia in 300 B.C., to whom Demetrius had been married, cut off their family ties. The tensions between the former relatives soon developed into a war in which the military talent of Pyrrhus unfolded.

After Pyrrhus withdrew from Macedonia, Demetrius seized a large part of it in 294 BC, killing Alexander, and was proclaimed king by the Macedonians. Antipater at the same time fled to his father-in-law Lysimachus, but found no support from him and was later killed on his order.

In 294 or 293 B.C., Lanassa gave birth to a son, Alexander, to Pyrrhus.

Around this time, after Antigone's death, Pyrrhus married several more times for political reasons, wishing to expand his holdings: to the daughter of Abdoleon, king of the Peonians, and to Birkenne, daughter of Bardillus, king of the Illyrians. By Birkenna he had a son, Helen, the youngest. The Roman historian of the III century A.D. Justin calls Helen the son of Pyrrhus from Lanassa, but not from Birkenna. But modern anti-collectors stick to Plutarch's opinion.

In 291 B.C., during a rebellion in Boeotia, when Demetrius was busy besieging Thebes, Pyrrhus occupied Thessaly and approached Thermopylae. Demetrius left his son at Thebes and hurried with most of his army to Thermopylae; Pyrrhus retreated to avoid meeting him; Demetrius left 10,000 infantry and 1,000 horsemen to cover Thessaly and returned to Boeotia to continue the siege of Thebes.

In the following year 290 B.C. Agathocles of Syracuse sent to Demetrius his son by his first wife Agathocles to establish peace and friendship with him; Demetrius received him with the greatest honor, clothed him in royal robes and lavished him with rich gifts; He sent with him one of his friends Oxyphemides to take a reciprocal oath of alliance, and gave him a secret commission to investigate the situation in Sicily, to see if anything could be done there, and to use all measures to consolidate the Macedonian influence there. At the same time Lanassa, daughter of Agathocles and wife of Pyrrhus, sent to tell Demetrius that she considered herself unworthy to share the king's bed with the barbarian women of the king of Epirus; if she could still bear to have Ptolemy's daughter placed beside her, she does not wish to be neglected because of her concubines, because of Birkenna, daughter of the brigand Bardilius, or the Peonite Abdoleon; she has left the court of Pyrrhus and is on the island of Kerkyra, which she received in dowry; let Demetrius, her father's friend, come there to celebrate his marriage with her.

Full of high hopes, Demetrius went to war with Pyrrhus in 289 BC. Having devastated the lands of the Aetolians, allies of Pyrrhus, and leaving the strategist Pantauchus to complete their subjugation, Demetrius moved toward the forces of Pyrrhus and invaded Epirus. But on the way they parted company. Looting and devastating everything in his path, Demetrius marches through Epirus and then crosses to Kerkyra and celebrates his marriage to Lanassa. Pyrrhus, meanwhile, invades Aetolia. He meets Panthauchus' outpost and they both line up their troops in battle order. Pantaphas seeks out the king and challenges him to a duel. They fight each other valiantly, but a wound to the neck plunges Pantauchus to the ground and his friends carry him off the battlefield. The Epirotes rush upon the Macedonian phalanxes, break through them and gain a complete victory; the Macedonians flee in utter disorder, and 5,000 Macedonians alone were taken prisoner. Having liberated Aetolia, "the eagle", as Pyrrhus now calls his troops, heads his army back to Epirus to meet the army of Demetrius. Demetrius, on receiving news of this defeat, hastily ordered to march and returned to Macedonia.

On the occasion of this victory, the Aetolians erected a statue of Pyrrhus in the city of Callipola (Callione).

When he returned to Macedonia, Demetrius further increased the luxury and expense of his court and never showed himself except in the most sumptuous attire, wearing a double diadem, purple shoes, and a purple robe embroidered with gold. He gave daily feasts whose luxury surpassed anything imaginable. He was inaccessible to all who did not belong to his court staff, and even these latter approached him only in the forms of the strictest court ceremonial; petitioners rarely gained access to him, and when he finally received them he was stern, haughty, and despotic; one Athenian embassy spent two years at his court before it was admitted to him, and Athenians were still given preference to other Hellenes. It was as if he deliberately mocked the already deeply hostile sentiment which had become ingrained in him; the dissatisfied recalled King Philip, who readily listened to every petitioner, and all envied the happiness of the Epirotes, who had a true hero as king; even the time of Cassander now seemed happy in comparison with the shameful reign of Demetrius; the feeling became more and more general, that it could not go on like this, that the Asian despot could not be tolerated on the throne of the fatherland, and that only a favorable occasion was needed to overthrow the reign of Demetrius.

And to the Macedonians the name of the eagle at this time begins to have its charming effect; Pyrrhus, they say now, is the only king in whom the courage of Alexander can be recognized, he is equal to him in intelligence and courage; others are only vain imitators of the great king, who expect to resemble him when they bow their heads to the side like him, wear porphyry and have bodyguards behind them; Demetrius is like a comedian, who today plays the part of Alexander, and tomorrow may represent Oedipus, wandering in exile.

At this time Demetrius fell ill; he lay in Pella, confined to his bed of sickness. The news of this prompted Pyrrhus to make an invasion of Macedonia, his sole object being plunder; but when the Macedonians began to come to him in droves and enlist for his service, he moved on and approached Edessa. Demetrius, as soon as he felt some relief, hastened to replenish the ranks of his army, considerably thinned by desertion, and set out against Pyrrhus, who, not being prepared for a decisive battle, led his army back; Demetrius succeeded in overtaking him in the mountains and destroyed part of the enemy's militia. He made peace with Pyrrhus, as he not only wished to secure his rear for new ventures, but also sought to acquire in this warrior and general an assistant and comrade. He formally ceded both the Macedonian provinces occupied earlier by Pyrrhus, and perhaps also agreed with him that while he himself would conquer the east, Pyrrhus would conquer the west, where at the Syracuse court everything was already prepared by Oxiphemis, Agathocles was killed and where such great turmoil prevailed that a bold attack promises the surest success.

Demetrius himself consumed the winter 289

Seeing that Asia would soon be opposed by a force as great as any since Alexander, three kings, Seleucus, Ptolemy, and Lysimachus, united to fight against Demetrius. The allies invited Pyrrhus to join their alliance, pointing out to him that Demetrius' armaments were not yet ready, and that his whole country was full of unrest, and that they could not imagine that Pyrrhus would not take this opportunity to seize Macedonia; if he let him pass, Demetrius would soon force him to fight in the very land of Molos for the temples of the gods and for the tombs of his grandfathers; had not his wife already been ripped from his hands, and with it the island of Kerkyra? This gives him every right to turn against him. Pyrrhus promised his participation.

Demetrius was still busy with his preparations for the invasion of Asia when the news came that a large Egyptian fleet appeared in Greek waters, everywhere calling on the Greeks to rebel; at the same time he was informed that Lysimachus was approaching from Thrace into the upper regions of Macedonia. Demetrius, entrusting the defense of Greece to his son Antigonus Gaonatus, moved hastily to meet the Thracian army. At this time a spirit of discontent became apparent in his army: barely had he had time to march, when the news came that Pyrrhus had also rebelled against him, invaded Macedonia, penetrated to Beroea, took that city and encamped under its walls, while his strategists were ravaging the regions as far as the sea and threatening Pella.

The disorder of the troops grew worse; the reluctance to fight against Lysimachus, who was one of Alexander's closest associates and a celebrated hero, became general; many pointed to the fact that Cassander's son, the rightful heir to the kingdom, was with him; this mood of the troops and the danger threatening the capital prompted Demetrius to turn against Pyrrhus; leaving Andragathus to defend the frontier at Amphipolis, he hurried back with his army through Axius to Beroea and encamped against Pyrrhus.

Many people came here from the city, which was in the hands of the Epirotes, to visit their friends and relatives; Pyrrhus, they said, is as kind and friendly as he is brave, they cannot praise enough his conduct toward citizens and prisoners; They were also joined by the men sent by Pyrrhus, who said that now was the time to shake off the heavy yoke of Demetrius, and that Pyrrhus deserved to rule over the noblest people of the world, for he was a true soldier, full of condescension and kindness, and the only man still in kinship with the glorious house of Alexander. They met with a favorable audience, and soon the number of those who wished to see Pyrrhus greatly increased. He put on his helmet, distinguished from the others by his tall sultan and horns, to show himself to the Macedonians. When they saw the regal hero surrounded by the same Macedonians and Epirotes with oak branches on their helmets, they too stuck oak branches into their helmets and began to march over to Pyrrhus in droves, hailing him as their king and demanding a slogan from him.

In vain Demetrius showed himself in the streets of his camp; they shouted to him that he would do well to think of saving himself, for the Macedonians were fed up with these constant campaigns for his pleasure. Amidst the general shouts and taunts Demetrius hurried to his tent, changed his dress, and fled almost without any retinue to Cassandria, on the shore of the Gulf of Thermea, and hastily boarded a ship to reach Greece. Phila, the so often neglected consort of the fleeing king, lost all hope of salvation; she did not want to endure the shame of her consort and took her own life by means of poison. The mutiny grew stronger and stronger in the camp, everybody searched for the king and did not find him, they began to rob his tent, fought over the jewelry in it and beat each other, so that a real battle ensued, with the whole tent being torn to pieces; finally Pyrrhus came and seized control of the camp and quickly restored order. These events took place in the seventh year after Demetrius became king of Macedonia, about the summer or early autumn of 288 B.C.

Meanwhile Pyrrhus had been proclaimed king in Macedonia; but then, having taken Amphipolis through the treachery of Andragath, Lysimachus hastened up and demanded that the country should be divided between them, as the victory over Demetrius was their common cause; a quarrel ensued, and it was close to being settled by arms. Pyrrhus, far from being sure of the Macedonians and seeing their sympathy for Alexander's old commander, preferred to offer him a treaty by which he granted Lysimachus the lands along the river Nestus (Ness) and perhaps the regions which were commonly called newly acquired Macedonia. But when Antipater, Lysimachus' son-in-law, who now hoped at last to be restored to his father's throne, together with his wife Eurydice, began complaining bitterly that Lysimachus himself had taken Macedonia from him, he ordered him to be put to death and his daughter condemned to a life sentence.

Among the Greeks the fall of Demetrius aroused a variety of movements, which would have taken on a more determined character from the beginning had the Egyptian fleet, as it seems, not confined itself to the occupation of some of the harbors of the Archipelago. Elsewhere more serious protests were prevented by the Macedonian garrisons and the proximity of the young Antigonus, and the strong garrison he seems to have left at Corinth maintained order in the Peloponnese. Antigonus himself seems to have moved on the road to Thessaly, to render possible assistance to the kingdom threatened on both sides, but he arrived too late; at Beothia his father, accompanied by a few companions, appeared at his camp as a fugitive unrecognized by anyone. The son's army, the garrisons of the individual cities and the adventurers who had joined him gave him some strength again, and soon it looked as though his former happiness wanted to return to him; he tried to win public opinion to his side and declared Thebes free, hoping to secure the possession of Boeotia for himself by it.

Only in Athens did serious and important changes take place. Immediately on receiving the news of Demetrius' fall, the Athenians rose up to restore their freedom. At the head of this movement was Olympiodorus, whose glory lies in the fact that while the best men, after fruitless attempts, no longer dared to hope for anything, he stepped forward with bold determination and at the risk of his own life. He called even old men and young men to arms and led them into battle against the strong Macedonian garrison, defeated it, and, when it retreated to Musei, resolved to storm that position; the brave Leocritus was first on the wall, and his heroic death had an inflammatory effect on everyone; after a short battle Musei was taken. And when then the Macedonians, who were probably in Corinth, made an immediate invasion of Attica, Olympiodorus opposed them, called to freedom also the inhabitants of Eleusinus, and defeated their opponents at their head.

But then the news came that Demetrius had united with his son, had again gathered an army of more than 10,000 men and was marching on Athens; it seemed impossible to resist such a force. They appealed to all parties for help; the inscriptions that have come down to us prove that they even appealed to Spartocus, king of Bosporus, and to Avdoleon, king of the peons, who both gave them the best promises, the former sending 15,000 medminnes, and the latter 7,500 medminnes of bread. But chiefly Pyrrhus, to whom they appealed, promised his help; it was resolved to defend themselves to the last possible opportunity. Demetrius approached the city and proceeded to besiege it in the most energetic manner. Then, as we are told, the Athenians sent to him Crates, then highly respected, a man who, partly by his intercession for the Athenians, partly by pointing out what was now most advantageous to Demetrius, induced him to lift the siege and depart with all his assembled ships, 11,000 infantrymen and some number of horsemen to Asia. Demetrius, of course, not unnecessarily abandoned the siege of the city, the capture of which ensured his supremacy in Greece; it is more accurate to suppose that Pyrrhus was already approaching and that this news gave weight to Crates' words; perhaps Demetrius retreated to Piraeus, or perhaps to Corinth.

At last Pyrrhus arrived, and the Athenians greeted him with cheers and opened the citadel for him to offer sacrifice to Athena; coming down from there he said that he thanked them for their trust, but thought that if they had been clever they would not have opened their gates to any sovereign.

Later on, presumably at the end of the summer of 287 B.C., he concluded an agreement with Demetrius, the contents of which were kept secret even from the Athenians themselves. The terms of this treaty could only be that Demetrius renounced his claims to Macedonia, and Pyrrhus recognized him as lord of Thessaly and the Greek states now under his rule, including the possession of Salamis, Munichia and Piraeus, while Athens itself was declared free and independent by both.

In spite of the peace concluded with Demetrius, Pyrrhus, when he went to fight in Asia, following the suggestions of Lysimachus and wishing to gain the sympathy of the Macedonians by his conquests, induced (presumably in 286 BC) Thessaly to fall away and attacked many cities in which Demetrius and Antigones still had garrisons, so that Antigonus could keep in his hands only the fortified Demetriad. By the treaty, which the king of Molossus now broke so brazenly, he deeply disappointed the Athenians, who had firmly expected to acquire not only Musea, but also Munichia and Piraeus, and who now the more closely adhered to Lysimachus, who promised them all sorts of favors.

No less did Lysimachus work to turn the minds of the Macedonians away from Pyrrhus; the king of the Peons, Abdoleonte, held his side, his son's wars strengthened his courage in Asia Minor, and he ordered the fleeing Demetrius to be pursued even outside his kingdom. When Demetrius was trapped in Cilicia and rendered almost completely harmless, Lysimachus turned against Macedonia with the direct intention of taking the crown of that region from Pyrrhus. Pyrrhus was encamped in the mountainous surroundings of Edessa; Lysimachus surrounded him, cut off all supplies to him, and drove him into great need.

At the same time Lysimachus tried to win over to his side the first representatives of the Macedonian nobility, partly in writing, partly verbally, proving to them how humiliating the fact that an alien king of Molossus, whose ancestors had always been in submission to the Macedonians, now owned the kingdom of Philip and Alexander and the Macedonians themselves had chosen him to do so, turning away from the friend and battle comrade of their great king; Now it is time for the Macedonians, in memory of their ancient glory, to return to those who have gained it with them in the fields of battle.

The fame of Lysimachus and even more his money everywhere found its way, everywhere among the nobility and the people a movement in favor of the Thracian king was discovered, Pyrrhus saw the impossibility to hold on to the position near Edessa and retreated to the border of Epirus, negotiations were begun with Antigonus, who, taking advantage of favorable circumstances, was already to be in Thessaly. Lysimachus marched towards the combined armies of both of them and won the battle. According to Pausanias, Lysimachus also devastated the whole of Epirus, probably soon after he had driven Pyrrhus out of Macedonia, and reached the tombs of the kings. As a consequence, Pyrrhus finally gave up the Macedonian throne, and Thessaly, with the exception of Demetriades, and the Macedonian kingdom (in 285 B.C.) passed into the hands of Lysimachus.

The Invitation of Pyrrhus to Italy

At the beginning of 281 B.C.. The Tarentines, strongly pressed by the Romans, referring to their previous relations and to the service they had previously rendered to Pyrrhus (when he was at war with Kerkyra, they sent him a fleet to his aid), persuaded Pyrrhus through their ambassadors to engage in war with them and pointed out to him mainly that Italy was equal in wealth to all Greece and that, in addition, it would be against divine law on his part if he refused his friends who had come at this moment as beggars for protection.

Pyrrhus, who at this time was following with increasing attention the struggle begun by Seleucus against Lysimachus, who had snatched the crown of Macedonia from him, waiting probably only for an opportune moment to decide in his favour in Europe this struggle in Asia, which was leaning now and then on one side, rejected this offer of Tarentus. But after the victory won by the mighty Seleucus at the battle of Kurupedion in March 281 B.C., in which Lysimachus was killed, and the intention expressed by Seleucus to go to Macedonia, had ended his hopes, and the Tarentines renewed their petition even more emphatically in the summer of 281 B.C., he agreed.

The assassination of Seleucus by Ptolemy Kerabonus and his appearance on the throne of Thrace at the end of 281 B.C. produced a complete change in the position of Pyrrhus: Macedonia was now deprived of its head, the Molossian army was nearest and most ready for war, but the treaty concluded with Tarentus and an even more forward-sent unit made a campaign to Italy inevitable.

Pyrrhus, therefore, could no longer hope to conquer Macedonia again and, with respect to the east, occupy a position that suited his thirst for activity and glory; he had to look for a new field for his troops. The war in Italy came at the right time. There the memory of Alexander Molossus drew him; there he, a descendant of Achilles, was the defender of Hellenism against the barbarians, against the descendants of Ilion. All the inception would respond sympathetically to this war. There he would meet the Romans, whose courage and military glory were so well known that they were worth a challenge. When he defeated Italy, he would have the bounty of Sicily, and with Sicily at his side the famous Punic plan of Agathocles - an easy victory over Carthage, dominion in distant Libya. These great hopes, this domination in the west seemed to him a rich reward for unfulfilled expectations in the east.

So he agreed to the call of the Tarentines; however, the king did not want to go there only as a general without his troops, as the first embassy had suggested. The Tarentines willingly agreed to the terms which Pyrrhus had laid down to ensure his success, he being allowed to bring with him as many troops as he thought necessary; Tarentus on his part undertook to send ships for the crossing, appointed him strategist with unlimited power and was to have the Epirus garrison in the city. Finally, it was stipulated that the king should remain in Italy only as long as it proved necessary; this condition was attached in order to remove all fear of the autonomy of the republic.

With this tidings Pyrrhus to conclude a treaty with Tarentus the Thessalian Cyneus together with some of the ambassadors who arrived to him, keeping the others with him, as if to use their assistance in further equipments, in fact for the purpose of securing them as hostages in view of the execution of the conditions given by the Tarentines. Chinea followed as early as the fall of 281 BC the first transport with troops numbering 3 thousand men, led by Milon (they were entrusted with the citadel, they occupied the walls of the city). The Tarentines were glad to be rid of the burdensome guard service and willingly supplied the foreign troops with supplies.

As soon as the Epirus warlord Milon and part of the king's army landed in Italy, he went up against the consul Lucius Aemilius Barbula and attacked his army, which was moving along a narrow road along the sea shore. On one side of the road were mountains, and on the other was a Tarentine fleet anchored and firing scorpions at the Romans. Then Lucius Aemilius covered the flank of his army with captured Tarentine men and by this forced the enemy to cease fire, after which he led the army out of harm's way. The onset of winter put the Romans' hostilities with Tarentum on hold.

During the winter 281

Relations were highly strained; everything depended on what Pyrrhus would do. The opportunity to possess Macedonia favored him now, of course, more than ever; he by no means thought himself bound by the obligations given to Tarentus and prepared to fight against Ptolemy Kerabonus. But what advantage would Antigonus derive if Ptolemy were defeated by Pyrrhus? It was also desirable for Antiochus, if possible, to remove the courageous, warlike king from eastern conditions; Ptolemy, finally, had to get rid of this extremely dangerous adversary at all costs. The most disparate interests came together to facilitate Pyrrhus' march into Italy. The king himself was at last convinced that his hopes of success in the neighboring country were slim; he had already had to experience the proud disgust of the Macedonians some years before; and what was the capture of Macedonia, exhausted by so many wars and internal upheavals, compared with those hopes in the west, in comparison with the rich Greek cities in Italy, with Sicily, Sardinia, Carthage, in comparison with the glory of the victory gained over Rome. And therefore Pyrrhus concluded treaties with the powers concerned on the most favorable terms: Antiochus paid him a monetary subsidy for the conduct of the war, Antigonus supplied him with ships for the crossing to Italy, and Keravnus undertook to give the king for two years to march to Italy, even though he himself was now in great need of an army, 5000 infantrymen, 4000 horsemen, and 50 elephants, and, besides marrying him his daughter (although, some scholars reject the very fact of this marriage), undertook to guarantee the Kingdom of Epirus for the duration of Pyrrhus' absence.

These negotiations and all preparations were completed before the spring of 280. He entrusted his young son, Ptolemy, with the administration of the kingdom. Without waiting out the season of spring storms, he set out to sea with his army; with him were 20,000 men of infantry, 2,000 archers, 500 slingshotters, 3,000 horsemen, and 20 fighting elephants. A northern hurricane overtook the fleet in the middle of the Ionian Sea and scattered it; most of the ships were wrecked on the submarine rocks and on the shoals, only the king's ship with great difficulty managed to approach the Italian coast; but there was no way to disembark; the wind changed and threatened to carry the ship away entirely; then night still came; it was extremely dangerous to be exposed again to the rough waves and hurricane. Pyrrhus threw himself into the sea and began to swim ashore; it was an extremely desperate act; by the terrible force of the storm he was beaten back from the shore time and again; at last at dawn in the morning the wind and the sea died down, and the weary king was tossed by the waves to the shore of Messapia. Here he was welcomed with hospitality. Slowly some of the surviving ships began to assemble and landed 2,000 men of infantry, a few horsemen, and two elephants. Pyrrhus hastened with them to Tarentus; Quineas came out to meet him with 3,000 Epirians sent forward; the king entered the city with the rapturous cries of the people. He wanted only to wait for the arrival of the ships carried away by the storm, and then zealously take up the cause.

The appearance of Pyrrhus in Italy made an extraordinary impression there, and gave the allies confidence in success. In addition to Tarentus, Pyrrhus was supported by Metapontus and Heraclea.

Pyrrhus' War with Rome

Having learned about the appearance of Pyrrhus, the Romans first took care to declare war on Pyrrhus according to all the formalities of the Roman statute: they found some Epirotic defector and forced him to buy himself a piece of land, which was recognized as the Epirus region; and to this "enemy country", the phecyal threw a blood-stained spear. War was now declared, and Consul Publius Valerius Levinus hastened to Lucania. The king had not yet set out on the march; Levinus had ravaged Lucania without hindrance, ravaging the local population and thus warning all others about the fate awaiting them. It was also important that Regius, fearing both Pyrrhus and Carthage, asked for a Roman garrison; the consul sent there the military tribune Decius Vibellius with 4000 men of the Campanian legion; thanks to this communication with Sicily was in Roman power. Through Regius and the neighboring Locras, also occupied by a Roman detachment, the Bruttii in the rear were kept in fear. The consul moved along the road to Tarentus.

As soon as the ships with the surviving remnants of the Epirotic army arrived at Tarentus, scattered by the storm, King Pyrrhus began his military orders. The citizens were extremely dissatisfied with the fact that the king's troops were already stationed there; there were many complaints about the violence to which women and boys were subjected. Then the recruitment of Tarentine citizens followed, in order to fill the gaps caused by the shipwreck and at the same time to pledge the loyalty of the other citizens. When the non-military youths began to flee, the gates were locked; moreover, merry sittings and festivities were forbidden, gymnasiums were closed, all citizens were called to arms and trained, recruitment continued with all strictness, and with the closure of the theater the popular assemblies were also terminated. This is when all the horrors long predicted were justified; the free people became slaves of him whom they had contracted for war at their own expense; after this they began to repent greatly for having called him, for not having agreed to a profitable peace with Aemilius. Pyrrhus partly eliminated the most influential citizens who might have been at the head of the discontented, and partly sent them off on various pretexts to Epirus. Aristarchus alone, who had the greatest influence on the inhabitants, was distinguished by the king in every way; but when he nevertheless continued to enjoy the confidence of the citizens, the king sent him also to Epirus; Aristarchus fled and hastened to Rome.

This was the position of Pyrrhus in Tarenta. He looked with contempt on these citizens, on these republicans; their mistrust, their cowardly timidity, the insidious, suspicious hustle of these rich fabricators and peddlers hindered him at every step. The Roman army was already approaching Siris by forced marches, and none of the Italian allies, who had promised to deliver a considerable militia, had yet appeared. Pyrrhus considered it disgraceful to remain longer in Tarentus, it would be a stain on his glory; at home the king was reputed as an eagle; so bravely he had once raided the enemy; but here the foe, who inspired fear on everyone, was coming at him himself; this Tarentus as if made him change his own right, put him in a false position from the beginning. He led the troops to Heraclea, but endeavored to procrastinate until the allies approached. The king sent the following proposal to Levinus: he was willing as an umpire to hear the complaints of the Romans against Tarentus, and to settle the case justly. The consul objected to this: Pyrrhus himself must still first of all answer for having come to Italy; there is no time for negotiation now; the god Mars alone will decide their case. The Romans, meanwhile, approached Syris and encamped there. The consul ordered the captured enemy spies to be escorted to the camp through the ranks of his soldiers: if any of the Epirotes still wished to look at his troops, let them come; then he let them go.

Pyrrhus positioned himself on the left side of the river; he rode up the bank; he looked in amazement at the Roman camp; they were by no means barbarians. In view of such an enemy it was necessary to take precautions. The king was still waiting for the allies to approach, and in the meantime the enemy in the enemy's country would probably soon be subjected to hardship; Pyrrhus therefore avoided battle. But the consul himself wished to make him fight; in order to quell the fear the name of Pyrrhus, the phalanxes, and the elephants inspired in the men, it seemed best to attack the enemy himself. The river separated the two armies. The proximity of one of the enemy's detachments prevented the infantry from crossing, and so the consul ordered his cavalry to cross the river further upstream and attack the rear of said detachment. Baffled, the latter retreated and the Roman infantry immediately began to ford across the unprotected part of the river. The king hurried to move his army in fighting order with elephants in front; at the head of his 3000 riders he rushed to the ford - the enemy on this side had already seized it. Pyrrhus rushed on the Roman cavalry, which was advancing in close ranks; he himself rode forward and began a bloody battle, now and then breaking into the most fervent skirmish, directing at the same time with the greatest care the movement of his troops. One of the enemy riders on a raven horse, long ago rushing towards the king, reached him at last, pierced his horse, and when with it Pyrrhus fell to the ground, the rider himself was also downed and pierced. However, having seen the fallen king, a part of the cavalry half-guarded him. Pyrrhus, on the advice of his friends, hastily exchanged his shining armor for that of Megakles, and while the latter, rushing through the ranks like a king, stirred up terror there again, and here courage, he himself became the head of the phalanx. They struck at the enemy with all the gigantic power; but the Romans withstood the pressure, and then they themselves went into attack, but were repulsed by the closed phalanx. While in this way the belligerents alternately attacked and retreated seven times, Megacles was the target of repeated shots, and at last he was struck to death and stripped of his royal armor; they were jubilantly carried through the Roman ranks - Pyrrhus had fallen! Opening his face, riding through the ranks, speaking to the soldiers, the king had barely had time to encourage his horror-stricken warriors as the Roman cavalry moved on to support a new attack by the legions. Now at last Pyrrhus ordered the elephants to be put into action; in view of the ferocity and roar of the monsters which first appeared, men and horses turned to flight with frantic terror; the Thessalian horsemen rushed after them, avenging the shame of the first skirmish. The Roman cavalry in their flight also drew the legions behind them; a terrible massacre began; no one probably would have survived if one of the wounded animals had not turned back and with its roar upset the others, so that to pursue further proved inconvenient. Levin suffered a decisive defeat; he was forced to abandon his camp; the remnants of his scattered army fled to Apulia. There the vast Roman Venusia served as a refuge for the defeated detachments of dal

Pyrrhus won a hard victory, but with great losses: his best soldiers, about 3000 men, and the most capable of his commanders fell. It was not without reason that he said to those who congratulated him, "One more victory like that and I will have to go back to Epirus alone. The Italians were already afraid of the name of the Romans, and in this battle the king comprehended all the iron strength of their battle system and their discipline. Visiting the field of battle the next day and surveying the ranks of the fallen, he found not a single Roman lying with his back to the enemy. "With such soldiers," he exclaimed, "the world would be mine, and it would belong to the Romans if I were their commander. Truly, it was a very different people from those in the east; such courage was not found in the Greek mercenaries, nor in the haughty Macedonians. When, according to the custom of the Macedonian commanders, he invited the captives to enter his service, not one of them agreed; he respected them and left them unshackled. The king ordered the fallen Romans to be buried with all honors; there were as many as 7000 of them.

With this decisive victory Pyrrhus opened his campaign; he justified the great expectations excited by his name; the hitherto timid enemies of Rome now readily rose up, in order to lead the fight under the command of the victorious commander. The king rebuked them for not appearing earlier and helping themselves to reclaim the spoils, some of which he had given them, but in such terms that it drew the hearts of the Italians to him. The cities of southern Italy surrendered to him. The Locrians gave Pyrrhus the Roman garrison. The Greek city of Croton and several Italian tribes also became allies of Pyrrhus. The chief of the Campanian legion attributed the same intention to Regius: he produced letters in which the inhabitants offered to open the gates if Pyrrhus would send 5,000 soldiers to them; - the city was delivered to the soldiers to plunder, men were slaughtered, women and children were sold into slavery. Regius was seized as if it were a conquered city; the villains were incited by the example of their Campanian countrymen, the Mamertians at Messana. After this violent act, the Romans lost their last fortified place in the south. Pyrrhus could move on without hindrance, and wherever he passed, everywhere the country and the people submitted to him. He was marching north and had in mind to approach Rome as soon as possible, partly to induce the other allies and subjects of Rome to fall away as well, at the same time to reduce his means of fighting and to increase his own in the same measure; partly to enter into direct communication with Etruria. There they were still struggling, and the appearance of Pyrrhus would probably have the effect of a general revolt by the others, who had made peace only a year before; in which case the Romans would have no more choice but to ask for peace on any terms they wished.

But nothing came of it, and he wintered in Campania. Realizing that the war was becoming protracted, Pyrrhus sent his parliamentarian Cyneus to the senate. But one of the senators, Appius Claudius Cecus, suggested that there should be no negotiations with the enemy still on Italian soil, and the war continued.

In the spring of 279 BC, Pyrrhus attacked the Roman colonies in Luceria and Venusia and tried to attract the Samnites to his side. Rome also began to prepare for war, began minting silver coinage for potential alliance treaties with the South-Italian Greeks and sent two consular armies to the east under Publius Sulpicius Saverrion and Publius Decius Musa. Between Luceria and Venusium, near Auscule, they encountered Pyrrhus, who drove them back, though he failed to take the Roman camp. In view of the heavy losses in this battle, Pyrrhus remarked, "One more victory like this and I shall be without an army.

The Greek allies were too late. Pyrrhus' army began to ferment, and his physician even suggested that the Romans kill the king. But the consuls of 278 BC, Gaius Fabricius Luscinus and Quintus Aemilius Papus, reported this to Pyrrhus, mockingly adding that Pyrrhus was "apparently incapable of judging both friends and enemies at the same time".

When the Romans announced their temporary withdrawal from Tarentus, Pyrrhus in turn announced a truce and stationed a garrison there. However, this displeased the locals, who demanded that Pyrrhus either continue the war or withdraw and restore the status quo. At the same time Pyrrhus received requests to send reinforcements to Syracuse, besieged by Carthage, and to Macedonia and Greece, which had been invaded by Celtic tribes.

War with Carthage

Pyrrhus decided to leave Italy and wage war in Sicily, which gave the Romans an opportunity to subdue the Samnites and turn them into Roman allies, and to subdue the Lucanians and Bruttians. In 279 BC, the Syracuseans offered Pyrrhus power over Syracuse in exchange for military aid against Carthage. Syracuse hoped with the help of Pyrrhus to become the main center of the Western Hellenes.

Having ignored the demands of the Tarentians, Pyrrhus appeared in Sicily, where he began to assemble a new army from Syracuse and Akrahant, supported by a fleet of 200 galleys and supposedly numbering 30,000 infantrymen and 2,500 horsemen. After that, he advanced to the east and took the Carthaginian fortress on Mount Erix, with the first to climb the wall of the fortress. The Carthaginians had to enter into negotiations, while Pyrrhus found new allies among the Mamerites.

By the end of 277 B.C. the Carthaginians had only one bridgehead in Sicily - Lilibey. In 276 BC, Pyrrhus was the sovereign lord of Sicily, had his own fleet and a strong foothold in Tarenta, Italy. Pyrrhus already had a fleet of 200 galleys in Sicily and still intended to build a fleet in Italy. Meanwhile, in southern Italy the Romans had retaken possession of the Greek cities of Croton and Locra; only Regius and Tarentus retained their independence.

Already after Pyrrhus' death, his possessions in southern Italy were lost, so in 270 BC Syracuse was taken by the former servant Pyrrhus - Gueron, who established a tyranny there.

End of War

After inflicting several defeats on the Carthaginians in Sicily, who had not received serious reinforcements and funds since their earlier victories over Rome, Pyrrhus' troops were seriously exhausted. In this difficult situation, in the spring of 275 BC Pyrrhus decided to return to Italy, where the Romans seized several cities and subjugated the Samnite and Lucan tribes allied to Pyrrhus. At Benevente the last battle took place between Pyrrhus' troops (without the Samnite allies) and the Romans, led by Consul Manius Curius Dentatus.

Although the Romans never managed to defeat Pyrrhus on the battlefield, they won what might be called a "war of attrition" against the best general of his time and one of the greatest in antiquity. Having accomplished this, the Romans emerged as a powerful force on the Mediterranean. The Roman battles with Pyrrhus first marked the superiority of the Roman legion over the Macedonian phalanx because of the legion's greater mobility (although many have pointed to the weakening role of cavalry during the Diadochos). It might seem to some that after the battle of Beneventa the Hellenistic world could never again field such a commander as Pyrrhus against Rome, but this is not so. The Greco-Macedonian, Hellenistic world would resist Rome in the person of Mithridates Eupator, king of Pontus.

Returning to his homeland, Pyrrhus began a struggle with his main adversary, Antigonus Gonatus, who dominated all of Macedonia and several Greek cities, including Corinth and Argos. Success again accompanied Pyrrhus. After several battles he succeeded in driving Antigonus Gonatus out of Macedonia. The victory was overshadowed by the outrages of Pyrrhus's mercenaries, who plundered and desecrated the tombs of the Macedonian kings, which displeased the population.

Seeking to assert his influence in Greece, Pyrrhus engaged in a struggle with Sparta. Without declaring war, he invaded its territory. But Pyrrhus underestimated the toughness and courage of his new adversaries. He neglected the proud message he received from the Spartans.

"If you are a god," the Spartans wrote, "nothing will happen to us, for we have done nothing against you; but if you are a man, there will be someone stronger than you!"

Pyrrhus laid siege to Sparta. A detachment sent by Antigonus Gonatus came to the Spartans' aid. Then Pyrrhus, not having finished the bloody dispute with Sparta, made the fatal decision to march on Argos, where there was strife between the various population groups.

Pyrrhus marched quickly toward Argos. He did not slow down his march either when the Spartans attacked his rearguard and killed his eldest son in a fight.

In deep darkness Pyrrhus' army approached the walls of Argos. Stealthily, trying not to make noise, the soldiers entered the gate, which had been opened in advance by Pyrrhus' supporters. Suddenly the movement slowed down. The low gate was impossible for the fighting elephants to pass through. They had to take the towers off their backs which housed the gunners, then put them back on the giants' backs just outside the gate. This delay and noise drew the attention of the Argosians, and they took fortified places, convenient to repel the attack. At the same time the Argosians sent a messenger to Antigonus asking him to send reinforcements.

A night battle ensued. Confined to the narrow streets and the many canals that cut through the city, the infantry and horse riders struggled to advance. The groups of men fought for themselves in cramped, dark conditions, without receiving orders from their commander.

When it dawned, Pyrrhus saw all this mess and was discouraged. He decided, before it was too late, to retreat. However, in this environment, some of the warriors continued to fight. The case was complicated by the fact that the leader of Pyrrhus elephants, the largest elephant, was mortally wounded by the enemies and fell down at the very gate, trumpeting pitifully, thus blocking the way to retreat. Pyrrhus successfully repelled the onslaught of the enemies, but then he was pushed back into a narrow street. Many men crowded there, who, pressed against each other, could hardly fight. During the fight in the city, Pyrrhus attacked the young warrior. The warrior's mother, like all the townspeople unable to hold a weapon, was sitting on the roof of a house. When she saw that her son was in danger and unable to defeat his enemy, she tore a tile from the roof and threw it at him. By a fateful coincidence, the tile struck the joint in the armor around Pyrrhus' neck. Pyrrhus fell and was finished off on the ground.


  1. Pyrrhus of Epirus
  2. Пирр
  3. 1 2 Любкер Ф. Pyrrhus // Реальный словарь классических древностей по Любкеру / под ред. Ф. Ф. Зелинский, А. И. Георгиевский, М. С. Куторга, Ф. Гельбке, П. В. Никитин, В. А. Канский, пер. А. Д. Вейсман, Ф. Гельбке, Л. А. Георгиевский, А. И. Давиденков, В. А. Канский, П. В. Никитин, И. А. Смирнов, Э. А. Верт, О. Ю. Клеменчич, Н. В. Рубинский — СПб.: Общество классической филологии и педагогики, 1885. — С. 1133—1135.
  4. Плутарх. Пирр и Гай Марий // Сравнительные жизнеописания = Βίοι Παράλληλοι / пер. с греч. В. А. Алексеева. — М.: Альфа-книга, 2014. — С. 448. — 1263 с. — (Полное издание в одном томе). — 3000 экз. — ISBN 978-5-9922-0235-9.
  5. Эакид, отец Пирра, родился от брака Арриба и его племянницы Трои (дочери Неоптолема I и сестры Олимпиады).
  6. Plutarch, Pyrrhus 4.4
  7. Pausanias, 1.11.5
  8. Carcopino 1961, p. 27.
  9. Will 2003, p. 125.
  10. a b c d e f g h et i Will 2003, p. 91.
  11. Pierre Cabanes, Les Illyriens de Bardylis à Genthios IV - IIe siècle av. J.-C., Sedes, 1988, p. 138.
  12. Carcopino 1961, p. 21-22.
  13. pirruszi. Magyar etimológiai szótár. Arcanum. (Hozzáférés: 2020. október 26.)
  14. Pyrrhos’ Geburtsjahr und Alter wird aus Plutarch, Pyrrhos 3,3 erschlossen, wonach er bei seiner Rückführung nach Epiros 306 v. Chr. zwölf Jahre alt war.
  15. Justins Bericht (17, 2,14–15) suggeriert, dass Ptolemaios Keraunos für die Bereitstellung der 5.000 Infanteristen, 4.000 Kavalleristen und 50 Kriegselefanten verantwortlich war. Dies wird in der Forschungsliteratur allerdings stark bezweifelt, sondern eher Ptolemaios II. von Ägypten zugerechnet. Siehe Lit. Hammond (1988).
  16. Siehe Hammond (1988), S. 413.

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