Pyrrhus of Epirus

pyrrhusPyrrhus (318 BC – 272 BC) was king of the Molossians, a Greek race that lived in Epirus, as well as one of the greatest rulers of the early Hellenistic period. He is considered a top strategic mind, one of the most brilliant in world military history. He is the only one who has been compared for his strategic skill and heroism to Alexander the Great, to whom he was even related.

Pyrrhus married five women. Pyrrhus’ wife, Antigone, breathed her last in 295 BC. the same year as the birth of her son. Maybe that means she died at birth or shortly after. After her death Pyrrhus married several times, probably for diplomatic reasons. He married a daughter of Autoleon, king of the Paeons, also Virkenna, daughter of Bardyllius, ruler of the Illyrians.

Also Lanassa, daughter of the tyrant of Syracuse, Agathocles. From Antigone he had, as mentioned above, a son, Ptolemy. From Lanassa he had Alexander and from Virkenna the youngest of his sons, Helen. He brought them all up to be brave and skilled in arms and sharpened their ambition from childhood.

Pyrrhus’ youthful years were particularly difficult, as he grew up far from his ancestral home and by the age of 17 had lost his rights to the throne twice. However, he took advantage of this period by entering into relations with the Successors of Alexander, finally consolidating his authority in Epirus with the help of Ptolemy. In the following years he had gathered enough power in his hands to claim the lands of Macedonia. His ambitions initially had an inglorious end.

This was followed by his famous campaigns in the Italian peninsula against the then emerging Roman state. His name has gone down in history mainly thanks to the specific businesses. Pyrrhus and the great Carthaginian general, Hannibal, are among the most important enemies the Roman Republic ever had to face.

The Epirotian king threatened Roman aspirations for expansion and dominance in southern Italy and Sicily through a series of victorious but bloody conflicts. The deadly battles of Heraklia, Asklus and Veneventus dealt a terrible blow to the spirit potential of his people, thus depriving the haughty ruler of the possibilities for the realization of his grandiose plans.

After his return to Greece, his excessive ambition led him to a second conquest of the Macedonian lands, but also to a campaign in southern Greece culminating in the siege of Sparta in 272 BC. His attempt was crowned with failure, mainly due to the superhuman efforts made by the Lacedaemonians to defend their homeland. Pyrrhus’ life ended in the city of Argos, where he faced the troops of his greatest enemy during those last years, Antigonus II Gonatas.

Pyrrhus, a man of great education and renowned for bravery, became one of the greatest military men of his time. His military training was very valuable, as evidenced by the excerpts from his “Memoirs”, a work that refers to the art of war and was mentioned by ancient writers, including Cicero. Despite failing to consolidate his power in Italy, Pyrrhus expanded and consolidated his state in Greece, making it a force to be reckoned with in the region for some 35 years. After his death, Epirus’ brief role at the forefront of Greek history ended, and centuries passed before it showed signs of recovery.


Mythology holds that Pyrrhus was descended from the Aiakid Dynasty, a line of kings of Epirus whose ancestor is Neoptolemus, son of the Homeric hero Achilles. This particular mythological person acquires in some accounts the name “Pyrrhus”, which survived through his descendants. According to the historian Plutarch the earliest of these kings fell into barbarism, with the first notable ones appearing during the classical era, introducing Greek culture and organizing the state and legislation.[

Eventually this line led to King Aiakides, a contemporary of Alexander the Great, who maintained kinship ties with the royal house of Macedonia and who was involved in the first succession disputes for supremacy. Aiakides married Phthia from Thessaly, daughter of a hero of the Lamian War, with whom he had three children: Deidamea, Troada and Pyrrhus II.

Aiakides’ constant wars displeased his subjects, who organized a movement against him around 316 BC. The king was driven into exile, while his political allies were killed. However, a group of his supporters took his only son, Pyrrhus, at night and fled the capital amid adverse conditions.

Finally they arrived at the Court of the ruler of the Talaudine Illyrians, Glaucias, where they placed the infant in front of him asking him to protect it. At first Glaucias was cautious as he maintained good diplomatic relations with the child’s enemy, Cassandros. However, he believed that he received divine oracles to protect Pyrrhus and thus allowed his wife, Vero, to raise him along with their own children. When in fact Kassandros of Prose brought a large sum of money for Pyrrhus, refused to make the exchange, and finally, when he was eleven or twelve years old, restored him to the throne of his ancestors.

However, it turned out that his presence on the throne was not yet assured. At the age of 17 one of his childhood friends in Illyria invited him to his wedding. During the journey his political opponents organized a movement against Pyrrhus, seizing his property and placing his uncle, Neoptolemus III, on the throne.

Forced to move away from Epirus, Pyrrhus in 302 BC. he fled to the side of Demetrius the Besieger, son of Alexander’s officer, Antigonus the One-eyed. At his side he took part the following year in the Battle of Ipsos, a fierce and decisive conflict between the Successors, where he showed early signs of his military abilities.

Despite the fact that Demetrius sided with the defeated, Pyrrhus remained loyal to his obligations to him, they were related as Demetrius had married his sister Deidameia. In fact, when Demetrius made an alliance with Ptolemy, who had been declared king of Egypt, Pyrrhus went to this country as a hostage for his sake.

Recovery of Epirus

During his stay in Egypt, he won the esteem of Ptolemy, distinguished for his character and good performance in sports and hunting. Noticing that among his wives Ptolemy showed particular weakness towards Berenice, he made sure to win her favor and support. As a result, 299 BC was chosen. among many young men to marry her daughter from a previous marriage, Antigone.

Ptolemy then reinforced him with money and soldiers to retake the throne of Epirus. In honor of the royal couple of Egypt, he gave his son by Antigone the name Ptolemy and additionally, he founded a city in Epirus, which he named Veronica.

His return (296 BC) filled with optimism many of his subjects, who had found in the person of Neoptolemus a tyrannical and unworthy king. Finally the two of them came to an agreement which provided for their co-regency in the lands of Epirus. However, various political factions sowed weeds in this fragile relationship by inciting the suspicions of one and the other.

The epilogue of the co-regent period took place in Passarona, during the annual celebrations that took place there. Both kings and their retinues took part in the events, exchanging gifts and compliments. One of Neoptolemus’ allies, Gelon, offered Pyrrhus a pair of plow oxen. His servant, Myrtilos, asked the king for these oxen, but his request was not accepted.

Seizing the opportunity, Gelon took Myrtilo aside and made him an accomplice in an assassination attempt against Pyrrhus. However, Myrtilus proved loyal to his king, to whom he revealed the plan. In order to obtain more witnesses to the heinous plan, Pyrrhus saw to it that another of his trusted men, Alexicrates, also entered the trick.

For his part, Neoptolemus, unsuspecting, was so sure that everything was going according to plan that he could not hold back and told his friends everything. He did the same late one night at his sister Cadmeia’s house. He thought no one else was listening, yet at that moment a maid, Fainareti, pretending to sleep with her back to the wall, was listening carefully to everything. The next day, without anyone noticing, she conveyed what she had learned to Antigone, the wife of Pyrrhus. The latter, at first, did not react to this news, however, a little later, on a certain day when sacrifices were being made, he invited Neoptolemus to dinner and killed him, knowing that his act was approved by the other nobles.

Pyrrhus Intervention in Macedonia

Having now established himself on his throne, many ambitious plans began to revolve in Pyrrhus’s mind, however he gave priority to those concerning his neighboring states. In Macedonia, after the death of Cassander, his two sons, Alexander V and Antipater II, were fighting each other for supremacy. Alexander turned to Demetrius the Besieger and Pyrrhus for help.

The former did not go to Macedonia due to personal problems, however Pyrrhus went asking in return the regions of Tymphaea and Paraaea in Macedonia, as well as the neighboring countries of Ambracia, Acarnania and Amphilochia.

In this way he annexed them to his lands, putting guards to guard them. According to the geographer Strabo, Pyrrhus was the king who made Ambracia the center of the continental state, moving the royal palace there, abandoning the long tradition of rule from the city of Passarona. Its capital experienced remarkable prosperity which was maintained until the time of the conquest of Greece by the Romans.

He then moved against Antipater, wresting from him the rest of the lands he had in his possession, handing them over to Alexander. Then the ruler of Thrace, Lysimachus, who had allied himself with Antipater, appeared in the foreground.

Knowing the close relationship between Pyrrhus and Ptolemy, he forged a letter in which Ptolemy asked Pyrrhus to give up his campaign in exchange for money.

The king of Epirus, at once perceived the imposture, from the cold manner in which the salutations were written in the letter, Ptolemy used to call him his son, yet he approached his adversaries in order to make peace vows. The omens, however, turned out to be unfavorable, so Pyrrhus withdrew.

These events were followed by the arrival of Demetrius in Macedonia. The latter, after the disastrous result in Ipsos, had begun to regain its influence in the Greek area, now controlling Athens, Thessaly and a large part of southern Greece. His ambitions in Macedonia were self-evident and since his services were no longer necessary he was asked to leave, even in a diplomatic way. In practice, however, Alexander intended to assassinate him.

Demetrius realized the plan and finally exterminated his opponent first. Deidamea had now passed away and Demetrius had married Phila, daughter of Antipater I, regent of Alexander III the Great. Thanks to this fact and the strength of his army, he thus managed to become master of Macedonia.

Just like Demetrius the Besieger, so Pyrrhus had in his possession part of Macedonia and Epirus. After the death of Didameia the relations between the two men were not particularly friendly and it was ambition that finally led them to conflict.

Demetrius initially forced the Aetolians to defeat, and after leaving Pandaychus, the ablest of his generals, to guard them with a large army, he campaigned against Pyrrhus. The two men due to some miscalculation did not meet on the road. As a result Demetrius invaded Epirus plundering and destroying, while Pyrrhus clashed with Pandaychus in the south. The two men engaged in hand-to-hand combat displaying skill and bravery.

Pyrrhus’ victory gave such courage to his men, that they overwhelmed the Macedonians, capturing 5,000 men alive. Remarkably, thanks to this feat, Pyrrhus did not win the hatred of the Macedonian soldiers, but their admiration, as they saw in him the virtues of Alexander the Great.When he did not return to his homeland, the people of Epirot gave him the honorary nickname “the Eagle”.

A little later, learning that Demetrius had fallen seriously ill, Pyrrhus invaded Macedonia with the main aim of plundering rather than engaging in battle. However, he almost conquered it as a whole as he reached Edessa without encountering any resistance at all. In fact, many men joined his army in order to serve him. Finally, when the Macedonians had organized their resistance, Pyrrhus began to retreat. But this cost him the lives of several men.

Around the same time, the wife of Pyrrhus, Lanassa, believing that the king was neglecting her for the sake of his other wives who came from barbarian countries, left Epirus for Corfu, an island that her father had offered to Pyrrhus as a dowry . Determined to get her revenge, she invited Dimitrios to the island and convinced him to marry her. Dimitrios was willing, anyway he had already made several marriages, and thus Corfu passed into his hands. Before leaving he placed an armed guard there.

At the same time, Demetrius was planning a grandiose campaign against the Successors, with the aim of recovering the former territories of his father, Antigonus. For this reason he gathered an army of impressive numbers for the time, equipped with advanced technology machines and ships.

In fact, he personally supervised the preparations, traveling from city to city. Having prepared an expedition into Asia of such magnitude as no general before him, except Alexander, had undertaken, he saw Seleucus, Ptolemy, and Lysimachus confederate against him.

Demetrius could not risk either making war with Epirus at this time, nor letting Pyrrhus threaten his lands while he was away. For this reason he sought to come to an agreement with him. However, the Successors began sending messengers to Epirus seeking to recruit Pyrrhus to their own camp.

As an argument they presented the appropriateness of the moment – since Demetrius was busy -, the prospect of a future attack on the lands of Epirus by a powerful Demetrius after the new war, as well as the shame of losing Corfu and his wife.

Simultaneously with this exchange of correspondence, the kings attacked Demetrius before he could complete his preparations. Ptolemy sailed into Greek waters with a large fleet in order to incite the Greek cities to revolt, while Lysimachus invaded North Macedonia with a base in Thrace. Then Pyrrhus advanced in the direction of Berea, correctly predicting that Demetrius would have rushed to confront Lysimachus, leaving this region undefended.

After successfully capturing the city, he began to annex more and more areas to his territory through his generals. Dimitrios found himself in a very difficult position. He finally decided that his soldiers would rather face Pyrrhus, who was a foreigner, than Lysimachus, who was a distinguished Macedonian general.

But when he came near the camp of the Epirotes, a large part of his army, seduced by the rumors of the virtues of Pyrrhus, enthusiastically crossed over to the side of the enemy.In this way Demetrius lost his throne and was forced to escape disguised in Cassandria. There he faced a new calamity, as his wife Phila, shocked by the situation, committed suicide.

Soon Lysimachus arrived in Macedonia, claiming half the kingdom for himself. Although there was no mutual trust, Pyrrhus and Lysimachus did proceed to some kind of agreement, however it quickly became apparent that their interests and ambition would not allow for harmonious coexistence.

At the same time, Demetrius went to Southern Greece, managing for the umpteenth time in his turbulent life to get back on his feet, preparing a campaign in Asia. Pyrrhus then went to Athens, where he offered sacrifices on the Acropolis. He notably made peace with Demetrius, but when he left on his campaign, Pyrrhus followed the advice of Lysimachus to incite the cities under Demetrius’ influence in Thessaly to revolt.

When Demetrius was finally defeated in Asia, Lysimachus was now free to claim all of Macedonia. He initially cut off Pyrrhus’ camp from supplies, putting his men in a difficult situation. Then he began in letters to corrupt the prominent Macedonians who had allied themselves with Pyrrhus, emphasizing the fact that Pyrrhus was not only a foreigner, but also came from a nation that traditionally lived in the shadow of Macedonia. As a result, Pyrrhus was finally forced to retire permanently to Epirus.

Plutarch’s account implies that the co-reign of the two men in Macedonia lasted for about three years (288 – 285 BC). For his part, Eusebius explicitly mentions that the reign of Pyrrhus in Macedonia lasted seven months during second year of the 123rd Olympiad (287 BC).

Pausanias, moreover, maintains that Lysimachus carried out at some point – which cannot be precisely determined – an invasion of Epirus, taking advantage of the absence of its king. During the attack he plundered the country, reaching as far as the royal tombs.

Pyrrhus in Italy

At that time, the Romans were at war with the inhabitants of Taranto  in Lower Italy. This Greek city did not have the means to continue hostilities, however the political party that supported the war did not allow it to stop. The latter finally put pressure on the citizens to send an invitation to Epirus, asking Pyrrhus to come to Italy.

to help them, recognizing his military abilities. So they did, not only on behalf of Taranto, but also on the whole of Lower Italy, gathering soldiers from Lucania, Messapia, Samnium, and Taranto, some 20,000 cavalry and 350,000 infantry in all. This not only piqued the interest of Pyrrhus but also the willingness of the Epirotians to take part in the campaign.

In the same period (281 BC), soldiers from Taranto helped him recover Corfu, after its loss in the case with Lanassa. In this battle it is said that his eldest son, Ptolemy, distinguished himself, who, although at a very young age, captured the city with only 60 men.

It was in 280 BC. when Pyrrhus first sent to Taranto 3,000 men led by Cyneas, an able and wise orator from Thessaly, a pupil of Demosthenes, whom he often used on diplomatic missions. Before departing himself, he entrusted the supervision of Epirus to his son Ptolemy, who was only 15 years old. He chose, however, to take with him his two youngest sons, Alexander and Helen.

In addition, Pyrrhus made contact with the then ruler of Macedonia, Ptolemy Keraynos, to reinforce him with Macedonian soldiers. Indeed Ptolemy sent him 5,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry and 50 elephants, on the condition that he would let them return after two years.

Having made these arrangements, he embarked on numerous ships 20 elephants, 3,000 cavalry, 20,000 infantry, 2,000 archers, and 500 slingers, and departed. But when the fleet reached the middle of the Ionian seas, it was scattered due to sudden bad weather.

When his original forces were now able to gather in Taranto, seeing the reluctance of the natives to fight by his side, he recruited them by force, forbidding in the city celebrations, the use of public baths, and generally any form of good time while they were in season. war. This displeased many, who left the city.

Then news arrived that Poplius Valerius Laivinus, a Roman with the office of Hypatus for that year, was moving against him, plundering Lefkania at the same time.

Before engaging in battle, Pyrrhus decided to send a message to the Romans, urging them to accept him as a mediator in their dispute with the Samnites, Tarantines, and Leucanians. In return he promised his friendship and assistance in times of war, otherwise hostilities would begin after ten days had passed. In their reply the Romans expressed their contempt for his arrogance, stating that they did not fear the prospect of fighting him.

Pyrrhus established his camp on the plain between the cities of Pandosia and Heraklia, while the Romans on the banks of the river Sirius. Pyrrhus was still waiting for his allies to arrive and hesitated to take the initiative seeing his enemy well organized. However, the Romans were in a hurry to catch up with their arrival and so they began to cross the river at several points at the same time, so that the Greek guards panicked and retreated. Pyrrhus then ordered his infantry into formation and personally led the 3,000 cavalry at his disposal, weighing the situation well and making correct corrective movements in his formation whenever necessary.

When his physical integrity was seriously compromised during the battle, he gave one of his partners, Megacles, his armor and cloak, and rushed into battle with his men. The battle was inconclusive for a long time and the exchange of clothes almost cost him.

As one of the opponents dropped Megacles, word spread among the soldiers that Pyrrhus had fallen in the battle. As a result the Romans took courage and the Greeks despaired. However, when he learned what had happened.

Pyrrhus himself galloped in front of his men uncovered to show them that he was still alive. Ultimately, it was the sight of elephants, completely unknown to the Romans, that sent them fleeing, with the Molossian cavalry in hot pursuit, giving Pyrrhus his first major victory on Italian soil.

Dionysius claims that around 15,000 Romans and 13,000 allies of Pyrrhus met death, however Jerome mentions around 7,000 and less than 4,000 men respectively. Be that as it may, Pyrrhus lost good soldiers and dear friends that day, and according to one version he was also wounded.

However, he had the good fortune not only to capture the camp abandoned by the Romans but also the satisfaction of defeating the Roman army only together with his men and some Tarantinos. Subsequently, many Italian cities, including Locroi, motivated by the result of this battle, surrendered to the Epirotians

The Romans faced their defeat with determination. They rapidly raised new legions with every intention of continuing hostilities. Pyrrhus, arriving within 300 stadia (58.5 km) of Rome judging that its capture was not realistic based on the forces at his disposal, sent the orator Cineas to Rome for negotiations and spent the winter in Campania.

The embassy carried gifts and tempting proposals to the Romans: the king promised to return without ransom the captives and help Rome subdue Italy in exchange for an alliance and immunity for the Tarantines. The people and the Senate refused all the gifts, yet they desired peace, as they foresaw further defeat now that the Greeks of Lower Italy had allied themselves with the Epirotians.

The Romans faced their defeat with determination. They rapidly raised new legions with every intention of continuing hostilities. Pyrrhus, arriving within 300 stadia (58.5 km) of Romejudging that its capture was not realistic based on the forces at his disposal, sent the orator Cineas to Rome for negotiations and spent the winter in Campania.

The embassy carried gifts and tempting proposals to the Romans: the king promised to return without ransom the captives and help Rome subdue Italy in exchange for an alliance and immunity for the Tarantines. The people and the Senate refused all the gifts, yet they desired peace, as they foresaw further defeat now that the Greeks of Lower Italy had allied themselves with the Epirotians.

Gaius Fabrikius and Kointos Aemilius, high officials of the Romans, greet King Pyrrhus. It seems you are not a good judge of either your friends or your enemies. For you will see, when you have read the letter we send you, that the men with whom you are at war are honest and just, but those in whom you trust are unjust and wicked.

Although now blind, he went to the Senate where he delivered a famous speech against Cyneas declaring that the Rome was never going to surrender. It is the first recorded word in the Latin language, and is the source of the expression “everyone makes his own fortune” (quisque faber suae fortunae).

After the intervention of Appius Claudius the Romans sent Cyneas to Pyrrhus with the order to leave Italy, or else they would continue the war by any means possible. Despite the ignominious end of his mission, Cineas took the opportunity to tour the city, converse with prominent Romans, and convey his impressions of the city’s governance and customs to Pyrrhus.

A little later Pyrrhus received a Roman embassy which arrived with the aim of negotiating the fate of the captives. The leader was Gaius Fabrikius, a man who became proverbial among his countrymen for his integrity of character and morals.

Impressed by his acquaintance with Fabrikius, Pyrrhus agreed to send back to their families the two hundred captives without the payment of ransom, with the condition that they would return if negotiations broke down. Eventually this was actually done, as Rome voted to put to death any of them who remained behind.

In 278 BC, when Gaius Fabrikios was elected High, he himself revealed in a related letter to Pyrrhus an assassination plan hatched against him. The Romans did this act out of sheer pride, because they did not want to dishonor their name by winning the war by dishonorable means. Pyrrhus again offered to release his captives out of gratitude, but Rome refused to accept them as a gift. Finally she exchanged them for some of the prisoners she had captured in the previous battle and demanded again from Pyrrhus to leave.

The Pyrrhic victory

Then Pyrrhus, after reorganizing his army, advanced in the direction of a city called Ashklon (Latin: Asculum), where he again clashed with the Roman army (279 BC). However, the terrain was so unsuitable for his cavalry as well as for the use of his elephants. The Macedonians broke the lines of the first legion and the left wing of their allies, but the third and fourth legions defeated the Tarantines, Oscans and Epirotes fighting in the center of Pyrrhus’ line.

At the same time his camp was also attacked, which he decided to counter by sending reserve cavalry and some elephants. Then he unleashed the elephants against the third and fourth legions. The Romans hid in wooded highlands, but came under fire from archers and slingers and failed to return fire. Pyrrhus sent Athamanes, Acharnes and Samnite foot soldiers to drive the Romans out of the forest, who were met by the Roman cavalry. Both sides withdrew at dusk without having made any progress.

Pyrrhus sent his light cavalry to occupy the difficult terrain that had given him trouble the day before, forcing the Romans to fight in open ground. As had happened at Heraclea, a conflict took place between the phalanx and the legion, until the elephants, supported by the light infantry, broke through the Roman lines.

The Romans had provided for this time, bringing along equipment suitable for combat against these animals, with some initial success. However, they were intercepted by the skirmishers who neutralized the Roman chariots. At the same time Pyrrhus ordered the Royal Guard to charge, sealing his victory.

The Romans lost in this battle 6,000 men, according to Jerome, while on the side of Pyrrhus, according to the king’s own comments, 3,500 men were lost. For his part, Dionysius, who provides a detailed description of this conflict, does not mention two battles in Ashklon, but only one day of hostilities.

He also notes that Pyrrhus’ forces, having lost their baggage, animals, tents and slaves, camped at night in the countryside, without enough food and medical attention, resulting in many of the wounded dying of cold. As for those who distinguished themselves, Dionysius singles out the Macedonians on the side of Pyrrhus, who repulsed the First Legion and the Latin allies, and on the side of the Romans the men of the Second Legion who confronted the Molossians, Thesprotes, and Chaones.

This battle gave us the expression “Pyrrhic victory” which describes a success at an unbearably high cost. Pyrrhus had now lost a large part of his forces, as well as all his friends and generals with few exceptions. In addition he had no one else to call from home, while his allies in Italy began to show a reluctance to fight, unlike the Romans who were rising from their ashes and throwing themselves into battle with new determination. Plutarch reports that when the king was congratulated for his victory, he replied: “If we defeat the Romans in another battle, we will be completely destroyed”

Pyrrhus in Sicily

Such was the situation when two unexpected messages reached Pyrrhus. The Greek cities of Sicily Akraganta, Syracuse and Leontine invited him to their lands in order to free them from the threat of Carthage, the other great power in the Western Mediterranean.

At the same time, news arrived from Greece that the king of Macedonia, Ptolemy Keraunus, had lost his life during an invasion of the Gauls (279 BC) and that the field for the occupation of Macedonia was free. Pyrrhus found the first proposal more tempting. Before departing, he sent Cyneas to the island to pre-soil the land and installed a garrison in Taranto, much to the displeasure of the inhabitants, to keep an eye on things in his absence.

At that time, the Carthaginians were besieging Syracuse by land and sea, simultaneously plundering the surrounding area. The townspeople had pinned their hopes on Pyrrhus in part because of his family ties to their old ruler, Agathocles. After sailing from Taranto, ten days later he sailed to Locrus, where he settled his son, Alexander.

After receiving reinforcements in men from Tauromenio, he sailed to Catania, where he disembarked his men. As he advanced towards Syracuse, his fleet followed him in readiness for war. Arriving in the city, it was revealed that thirty Carthaginian ships were missing on missions and the rest avoided the battle. Thus he became bloodlessly master of the city.

There he reconciled Thoinas and Sosistratus, two prominent Greeks who were fighting for dominance on the island, gaining additional allies, soldiers, equipment and popularity among the common people. Subsequently, embassies began to arrive from many cities of the island, surrendering to him and offering their support in the war. Pyrrhus received them all with kindness, making ambitious plans for the future.

He initially conquered the city of Heraklia, where a Carthaginian garrison was encamped. Then the Azons. Later emissaries from Selinunda and other cities contacted him. Reinforced with men from the Greek cities of Sicily, he put the Phoenicians of the surrounding area to flight.

Finally he turned against a city in the west of the island, called Eryx. A considerable force of Carthaginians resided there, and by its nature the city was almost impregnable. Pyrrhus stubbornly besieged it, a bloody and long-lasting effort,[58] having at his disposal 30,000 infantry, 2,500 cavalry and 200 ships.

During his subsequent campaigns in various cities (such as Panormos), Pyrrhus turned against the Mamertines, a populous warlike tribe of barbarians who harassed the Greeks in the wider area of ​​Messina. His attempt was successful as he defeated them in battle and managed to dislodge them from many of the strategic points in which they maintained forts.

According to the Roman historian Justin, thanks to his successes on the large island, he received the title of “King of Sicily” (278 BC). Excited by the event, he reserved the kingdom of Sicily for his son, Helenus, who was the grandson of the one-time tyrant of Syracuse, Agathocles through his daughter Lanassa (Plutarch and Diodorus consider Alexander the son of Lanassa while Helenus of Virgenna). As for his Italian possessions, these were to be assigned to Alexander.

These circumstances put him in a position of power. As a result, when Carthage sought to negotiate peace with him, he flatly refused, asking her to withdraw her troops from the entire island. In fact he had his sights set on the African continent itself, planning a campaign in Libya. For this purpose, he began to recruit men and collect supplies, indeed in a way that displeased the Greeks of the region, who saw in his person a tyrant, an image that did not characterize his life until then.

Mere resentment turned to effervescence when Pyrrhus turned against Thoinonas and Sosistratus, who up to that point had been staunch allies. Eventually a strong opposition faction arose against him, which did not hesitate to turn to the Carthaginians and Mamertines for help. Thus, when the Tarantines and Samnites sent him a desperate message for help because Rome had put them in dire straits, Pyrrhus used the event as an excuse to leave the island, without admitting that he could no longer handle the situation.

The historians Dionysios and Plutarch agree on the above. Justin tells another version of things: when news arrived from Italy of Rome’s dangerous moves, Pyrrhus found himself in a great dilemma: it was as dangerous not to face the Romans as it was to withdraw troops from Sicily.

He finally decided to remain on the island, removing the Carthaginian threat once and for all, and then move to Italy, since he would have freed his hands. As a result, when he finally withdrew from Sicily, it appeared to his allies as an admission of defeat. Thus they rebelled against him, making his labours go to waste.

But as he was departing Sicily, his fleet was attacked by that of the Carthaginians,  suffering heavy losses. And when he now arrived in Italy with the rest of his men, he encountered a large army of Mamertines, who, although they did not have the confidence to engage him in open battle, succeeded in causing great confusion to his army. After these adventures, Pyrrhus was left at Taranto with 20,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry. To these he added some chosen men from the city itself, and then departed for the country of the Samnites, where the Romans were encamped. His son, Elenos, and his friend Milos remained in Taranto to supervise the situation.

Before Pyrrhus attacked (275 BC), he had made sure to send ambassadors to Asia and to the Macedonian king, Antigonus II Gonatas, asking for money and soldiers. He actually received no help (at least not from Antigonus), yet when his emissaries returned, without even reading the replies, he spread the word that reinforcements, Macedonians and Asiatics, were on the way.

The Romans, however, showed no reaction.In order to raise money, Pyrrhus allegedly attacked the Locrus, looting a temple dedicated to Persephone.

After King Pyrrhus of Epirus’s Sicilian campaign, he returned to Italy in 275 BC. His time in Sicily had been marked by initial successes against Carthaginian forces but ultimately ended in failure due to his inability to secure lasting support from the Greek cities on the island.

Upon his return to Italy, Pyrrhus faced the Romans again in the Battle of Beneventum (275 BC). This battle did not result in a decisive victory for either side, but it effectively ended Pyrrhus’s hopes of establishing a strong foothold in Italy. Pyrrhus decided to return to Epirus, having suffered considerable losses and realizing that he could not sustain his campaign against Rome.

The invation of Peloponnese

In 272 BC, Pyrrhus launched an invasion of the Peloponnesian Peninsula. His goal was to support the Spartan king, Cleonymus, who had been ousted from power, and to exert his influence over the region. Pyrrhus initially achieved some success, capturing several towns and laying siege to Sparta itself. However, the Spartans, under the leadership of their queen, Arachidamia, and King Areus I, mounted a formidable defense and managed to hold off Pyrrhus’s forces.

Undeterred, Pyrrhus shifted his focus to the city of Argos, where a political faction had invited him to intervene. He entered Argos under the cover of night, hoping to seize control quickly. However, the situation quickly deteriorated into chaos. In the narrow streets of the city, Pyrrhus’s forces became entangled with those of Antigonus II Gonatas, who had arrived to defend Argos.

Death of Pyrrhus

During the intense street fighting, Pyrrhus displayed his typical courage and tactical skill but faced fierce resistance. According to historical accounts, as the battle raged, an old woman, observing the conflict from a rooftop, threw a roof tile at Pyrrhus. The tile struck him on the head, causing him to fall from his horse. This moment of vulnerability was exploited by an enemy soldier who then killed Pyrrhus.

Pyrrhus’s death marked the end of his campaigns and ambitions. His demise had significant repercussions for Epirus and the wider Greek world. With Pyrrhus gone, Epirus struggled to maintain its power and influence. His legacy, however, lived on, and he became a symbol of the ambitious and often costly military ventures that characterized the Hellenistic period.

Pyrrhus’s campaigns, particularly his battles against Rome and his ventures in Sicily and Greece, left a lasting impression on military history, giving rise to the term “Pyrrhic victory,” denoting a victory achieved at such a devastating cost that it is tantamount to defeat.