Pyrrhic War

The Pyrrhic War (280–275 BC) was largely fought between the Roman Republic and Pyrrhus, the king of Epirus, who had been asked by the people of the Greek city of Tarentum in southern Italy to help them in their war against the Romans.

Pyrrhic War

The route of Pyrrhus of Epirus during his campaigns in southern Italy and Sicily.
Date280–275 BC
Location
Southern Italy, Sicily
Result Italy:
Roman victory
Sicily:
Indecisive; Pyrrhus retreats
Territorial
changes
Greek cities of Southern Italy submit to Rome
Belligerents
Italy
Roman Republic
Marsi
Marrucini
Paeligni
Frentani
Dauni
Umbrians
Sicily
Carthage
Italy
Greeks
Epirots
Aetolians
Acarnanians
Athamanians
Thessalians
Greeks in Italy
Terentum
Italic peoples
Samnites
Lucanians
Bruttii
Sicily
Messapians
Same Greek forces
Greek cities in Sicily
Commanders and leaders
Rome
Publius Valerius Laevinus
Publius Decius Mus
Publius Sulpicius Saverrio
Manius Curius Dentatus
Carthage
Unknown
Pyrrhus of Epirus
Casualties and losses

Battle of Heraclea
7,000–15,000 killed and 1,800 captured
Battle of Asculum
6,000 killed
Battle of Beneventum
9,000 killed

Total: 23,800-31,800

Battle of Heraclea
4,000–13,000 killed
Battle of Asculum 3,505 killed
Battle of Beneventum
11,000 killed, 2 elephants killed, 8 elephants captured
Battle of the Strait of Messina: 70 warships

Total: 18,585-27,585

A skilled commander, with a strong army fortified by war elephants (which the Romans were not experienced in facing), Pyrrhus enjoyed initial success against the Roman legions, but suffered heavy losses even in these victories. Plutarch wrote that Pyrrhus said after the second battle of the war, "If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined." He could not call up more men from home and his allies in Italy were becoming indifferent. The Romans, by contrast, had a very large pool of military manpower and could replenish their legions even if their forces were depleted in many battles.[1] This has led to the expression Pyrrhic victory, a term for a victory that inflicts losses the victor cannot afford in the long term.

Worn down by the battles against Rome, Pyrrhus moved his army to Sicily to war against the Carthaginians instead. After several years of campaigning there (278–275 BC), he returned to Italy in 275 BC, where the last battle of the war was fought, ending in Roman victory. Following this, Pyrrhus returned to Epirus, ending the war. Three years later, in 272 BC, the Romans captured Tarentum.

The Pyrrhic War was the first time that Rome confronted the professional mercenary armies of the Hellenistic states of the eastern Mediterranean. Rome's victory drew the attention of these states to the emerging power of Rome. Ptolemy II, the king of Egypt, established diplomatic relations with Rome.[2] After the war, Rome asserted its hegemony over southern Italy.