Saturday, November 2, 2013

The Ancient Republic of Rome Part 2: The Pyrrhic War Against Rome

My other blogs are:
The Pyrrhic War Against Rome
The Ancient Republic of Rome Part 2:
PYRRHUS OF EPIRUS- 319/318-272 B.C.: Who doesn't like the vast army of a frustrated Greek mercenary underdog attempting to wrest control from an upstarting empire? That literally summarizes the war Pyrrhus of Epirus waged against early Rome not long after Alexander the Great died, and the Greek Empire collapsing to its knees immediately after. However, Pyrrhus was a highly trained mercenary, and while the Romans were mostly untrained, they had strength in numbers. All-in-all, Pyrrhus was generally successful in his military campaigns against Macedonia, Sicily, and Rome, but he bit off far more than he could chew (especially with Rome), and the phrase "Pyrrhic Victory" was coined, meaning a person could have a victory but not without basically losing as well (win at heavy cost). He simply fought too much. Perhaps if he sat down for a decade or so to enjoy his victory then he may have actually been able to take Rome on successfully, but who knows.
Pyrrhus of Epirus
CAMPAIGNS OF A WANNABE: Pyrrhus was no Alexander, but he seemed to think he was destined to win his battles since he fought virtually nonstop until he was killed. It was in 281 B.C. that Tarentum (in southern Italy) asked Pyrrhus for assistance against Rome. With around 25,000 men, Pyrrhus crossed over into Italy for battle against the early Republic of Rome, and only one year later won at the battle at Heraclea, but suffered tremendous casualties for his efforts. Unlike Rome, Pyrrhus could not easily (if at all) replenish his mercenary army, and two years later in 279 B.C. Pyrrhus won against the Romans at Ausculum in Apulia, but suffered massive losses again. Only one year from that in 278 B.C., he crossed into Sicily and conquered the Punic provinces there becoming "king," but was quickly kicked out in 275 B.C. by the people there for being a poopy pants. With his tail between his legs, he bee-lined for Rome again but this time simply could not win, and at the battle of Beneventum, he suffered heavy losses. The Romans at this time, while untrained, were learning and becoming stronger because of  people like Pyrrhus, and because the Roman Republic was fairly large even at this early point, it had plenty of enemies who wanted to bite a chunk out of 'em.
BEFORE HIS DEATH: Pyrrhus was best known by the Romans for bringing over war elephants, since the Romans had never seen an elephant before, they were terrified. I couldn't imagine going to war with a ruthless enemy, only to see him show up with dozens of 23,000 lbs. monsters simply squashing my comrades with a single step. But the Romans, while mostly untrained, had such large numbers of people at this point that they could simply die in the thousands, learn from their mistakes, shore up some more men for whatever battle was to come next and then eventually get things right. It's not the best strategy. but they felt that they could either fight or be conquered, and since all the people of the Roman Republic kept volunteering for these wars, well they must have been pretty dead set against being conquered by some poopy pants!
BATTLE OF BENEVENTUM IN MORE DETAIL: At the battle of Beneventum (Benevento on left side of map), Pyrrhus took gargantuan casualties, but this time he did not win the battle against the stubborn Romans led by consul Manius Curius Dentatus. It seemed to be a stalemate, although some sources seem to indicate he lost and retreated. Either way, the Romans succeeded in defending their home, so I'd count that as a Roman victory! In 275 B.C., Pyrrhus planned a surprise night time attack on a fortified Roman camp at Beneventum, however the distance from his camp to the Roman camp took much longer to traverse with his army than he realized, and the Romans detected them before they arrived. The battle heated up and with Pyrrhus on the defensive, he lost half of his 20 war elephants and thousands of men died. The Roman army consisted primarily of 17,000 infantry and 1,500 cavalry, and stood against Pyrrhus' 20,000 infantry, 3,000 cavalry and 20 war elephants. The odds weren't really in Roman favor, but Pyrrhus' failure to catch the Roman with their pants down cost him 10 elephants.
The next day, the Romans army took offensive action against the Epirote army, and while initially failing because of the remaining elephants being used defensively on Pyrrhus' side, they launched a second attack that caused the elephants to stampede into Pyrrhus' own phalanx. His entire army went into chaos as the elephants stomped and crushed many of the soldiers in their compact phalanx, causing complete disarray of Pyrrhus' forces. This cost them dearly, as all the elephants were said to be lost from the attack and Pyrrhus fled back to Epirus after losing about 12,000 of his 20,000 infantry and lost 2,500 of his 3,000 cavalry. (dude got pwned!) In 272 B.C., Tarentum surrendered to Rome (even though they asked Pyrrhus to destroy the Romans in the first place), and two years later in 272 B.C. Rome conquered the last independent Italian Greek city Rhegium, giving Rome total control of nearly all of Italy.
PATHETIC DEATH OF PYRRHUS: While his actual death stands in question, some accounts actually say that it was after several more campaigns against Macedonia and Sparta, that at Argos Pyrrhus was trapped between the armies of the Macedonians and the Spartans somehow was killed by a tile thrown from a rooftop in 272 BC. Apparently the tile was thrown by an old woman seeing Pyrrhus fight her son sword to sword in the street below. Other sources read that he was assassinated by a servant, but how knows? He's dead. But it would be kinda funny that he would fight against legions of warriors for years but then dies by some old woman throwing roof tiles on his head. How pathetic! But that's how it goes sometimes. If the giant, Goliath , could die from a young boy's slingshot to the face then I guess anything is possible.


  1. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.