Pyrrhic war

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Pyrrhic war
The path of Pyrrhus of Epirus during his campaign in southern Italy and Sicily
The path of Pyrrhus of Epirus during his campaign in southern Italy and Sicily
date 280 BC BC to 275 BC Chr.
output Roman victory
Parties to the conflict

Carthage *
Roman Republic *

Epirus ,
Magna Graecia ,

* Note: 279 BC Carthage concluded a treaty of alliance with Rome. The most important points of this treaty were that the Carthaginians provided ships for the transport of an army there and back and came to the aid of the Romans in disputes at sea. In addition, there should not be a separate peace between one of the allies and the Greeks. It is unknown whether and how the treaty was implemented. However, individual collaborations between the two sides, for example an attempt to take Lokroi, are known.

The Pyrrhic War (also Pyrrhoskrieg or Tarentine War ) was a conflict between Pyrrhos I of Epirus and the Roman Empire that took place between 280 BC. BC to 275 BC Took place. It was an important harbinger of the Punic Wars , as Rome established itself as a major military power through its victory, and thus inevitably headed for a confrontation with the other great power in the Mediterranean, Carthage.


Lower Italy was around 280 BC. Populated with numerous Greek villages and cities ( Magna Graecia ) and thus a sphere of interest for the Greeks . After Rome had consolidated its rule in central Italy, it tried to expand its influence in southern Italy. When Rome came to the aid of the Thurii , Locri and Rhegium settlements , they violated Taranto's sphere of interest . In 282 BC There was an attack on the Roman fleet in the port of Taranto (which according to a treaty of 303 BC it was actually not allowed to enter), which triggered the war.

Taranto then called upon King Pyrrhus of Epirus, Latinized Pyrrhus, for help, who saw a way to expand his kingdom. Pyrrhus landed with 20,000 mercenaries, 3,000 Thessalian riders and 26 war elephants in southern Italy and took over the supreme command.

The war


In the same year 280 BC The Romans sent an army of around 50,000 men under the leadership of Publius Laevinius to the Lucania region (today Basilicata ), where the first battle was fought near the city of Heraclea. A wounded elephant panicked its conspecifics, ruining an otherwise complete victory for the Greeks. The casualties vary between 7,000 and 15,000 on the Roman side and 4,000 and 13,000 on the Epirean side.


279 BC At Asculum there was another battle between Publius Dentius with 40,000 men and Pyrrhus of Epirus with 25,000 and some war elephants. In this battle, which was again victorious for Pyrrhus, the Romans lost approx. 6,000 men, the Illyrians approx. 3,500. After these battles the stability of the Roman empire became apparent, because the broad support of the Italian peoples against the Romans hoped for by Pyrrhus did not materialize after this victory. Pyrrhus' offer of peace was rejected by the Roman Senate because Rome had allied itself with Carthage and a Carthaginian aid fleet landed in Ostia near Rome.


278 BC BC to 275 BC After that, Pyrrhus conquered almost all of Sicily (except for the impregnable Lilybaeum ) from the Carthaginians, but could not achieve his goal of establishing a kingdom in Sicily and southern Italy, as the Greek cities agreed with Carthage behind his back. Thereupon he returned in 275 BC. BC back to mainland Italy.


275 BC The last battle between Pyrrhus of Epirus and the Roman Empire took place under Manius Curius Dentatus . Weakened by his campaign in Sicily, Pyrrhus did not succeed in defeating the Romans. The fight ended ambiguously.

Because of his heavy losses during the war, Pyrrhus was forced to return to Epirus, whereupon the Romans defeated the Samnites allied with him . In the following three years, Roman troops also captured Taranto and the rest of Magna Graecia.


In addition to the fact that the Pyrrhic War was a significant historical event and symbolized Rome's awakening to a great power, it also coined a proverb. A " Pyrrhic victory " is a victory bought with too high losses and disadvantages, which does more harm than good to the winner. Pyrrhus, who lost so many men in the course of his victorious battles against the Romans, is said to have said: “One more victory and I am lost!”.


  • Christopher LH Barnes: Images and insults. Ancient historiography and the outbreak of the Tarentine War . Steiner, Stuttgart 2005.
  • Gary Forsythe: A Critical History of Early Rome. From Prehistory to the First Punic War . Berkeley 2005, p. 349ff.
  • Herbert Heftner : The Rise of Rome. From the Pyrrhic War to the fall of Carthage (280–146 BC) . Pustet, Regensburg 1997, ISBN 3-7917-1563-1 , here pp. 26–42.
  • Werner Huss : History of the Carthaginians . Beck, Munich 1985, here pp. 207–215.