previous next

Pyrrhus

Πύρρος).


1.

I. A king of Epirus, son of Aeacides and Phthia, born B.C. 318. His ancestors claimed descent from Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles, who was said to have settled in Epirus after the Trojan War, and to have become the founder of the race of Molossian kings. On the deposition of his father by the Epirots (see Aeacides), Pyrrhus, who was then a child only two years old, was saved from destruction by the faithful adherents of the king, who carried him to Glaucias, the king of the Taulantians, an Illyrian people. Glaucias took the child under his care and brought him up with his own children. He not only refused to surrender Pyrrhus to Cassander, but about ten years afterwards he marched into Epirus at the head of an army, and placed Pyrrhus on the throne, leaving him, however, under the care of guardians, as he was then only twelve years of age. In the course of four or five years, however, Cassander, who had gained his supremacy in Greece, prevailed upon the Epirots to expel their young king. Pyrrhus, who was then only seventeen years of age, joined Demetrius, who had married his sister Deïdamia, accompanied him to Asia, and was present at the battle of Ipsus (B.C. 301), in which he gained great renown for his valour. Antigonus fell in the battle, and Demetrius became a fugitive; but Pyrrhus did not desert his brother-in-law in his misfortunes, and shortly afterwards went for him as a hostage into Egypt. Here he was fortunate enough to win the favour of Berenicé, the wife of Ptolemy, and received in marriage Antigoné, her daughter by her first husband. Ptolemy now supplied him with a fleet and forces, with which he returned to Epirus. Neoptolemus, who had reigned from the time that Pyrrhus had been driven from the kingdom, agreed to share the sovereignty with Pyrrhus. But such an arrangement could not last long, and Pyrrhus anticipated his own destruction by putting his rival to death. This appears to have happened in 295, in which year Pyrrhus is said to have begun to reign.

He was now twenty-three years old, and he soon became one of the most popular princes of his time. His daring courage made him a favourite with his troops, and his affability and generosity secured the love of his people. He seems at an early age to have taken Alexander as his model, and to have been fired with the ambition of imitating his exploits and treading in his footsteps. His eyes were first directed to the conquest of Macedonia. By assisting Alexander, the son of Cassander, against his brother Antipater, he obtained possession of the whole of the Macedonian dominions on the western side of Greece. But the Macedonian throne itself fell into the hands of Demetrius, greatly to the disappointment of Pyrrhus. The two former friends now became the most deadly enemies, and open war broke out between them in 291. After the war had been carried on with great vigour and various vicissitudes for four years, Pyrrhus joined the coalition formed in 287 by Seleucus, Ptolemy, and Lysimachus against Demetrius. Lysimachus and Pyrrhus invaded Macedonia; Demetrius was deserted by his troops and obliged to fly in disguise, and the kingdom was divided between Lysimachus and Pyrrhus. But the latter did not long retain his portion; the Macedonians preferred the rule of their old general Lysimachus, and Pyrrhus was accordingly driven out of the country after a reign of seven months (286 B.C.).

For the next few years Pyrrhus reigned quietly in Epirus without embarking in any new enterprise. But a life of inactivity was insupportable to him, and accordingly he readily accepted the invitation of the Tarentines to assist them in their war against the Romans. He crossed over to Italy early in 280, in the thirty-eighth year of his age. He took with him 20,000 foot, 3000 horse, 2000 archers, 500 slingers, and either fifty or twenty elephants, having previously sent Milo, one of his generals, with a detachment of 3000 men. As soon as he arrived at Tarentum he began to make vigourous preparations for carrying on the war; and as the giddy and licentious inhabitants of Tarentum complained of the severity of his discipline, he forthwith treated them as their master rather than as their ally, shut up the theatre and all other public places, and compelled their young men to serve in his ranks. In the first campaign (280 B.C.) the Roman consul M. Valerius Laevinus was defeated by Pyrrhus near Heraclea, on the bank of the river Siris. The battle was long and bravely contested, and it was not till Pyrrhus brought forward his elephants, which bore down everything before them, that the Romans took to flight. The loss of Pyrrhus, though inferior to that of the Romans, was still very considerable. A large proportion of his officers and best troops had fallen, and he said, as he viewed the field of battle, “Another such victory, and I must return to Epirus alone.” He therefore availed himself of his success to send his minister Cineas to Rome with proposals of peace, while he himself marched slowly towards the city. His proposals, however, were rejected by the Senate. He accordingly continued his march, ravaging the Roman territory as he went along. He advanced within twenty-four miles of Rome; but as he found it impossible to compel the Romans to accept the peace, he retraced his steps and withdrew into winter-quarters at Tarentum. As soon as the armies were quartered for the winter, the Romans sent an embassy to Pyrrhus to endeavour to obtain the ransom of the Roman prisoners. The ambassadors were received by Pyrrhus in the most distinguished manner, and his interviews with C. Fabricius, who was at the head of the embassy, form one of the most celebrated stories in Roman history. See Fabricius.

In the second campaign (279 B.C.) Pyrrhus gained another victory near Asculum over the Romans, who were commanded by the consuls P. Decius Mus and P. Sulpicius Saverrio. The battle, however, was followed by no decisive results, and the brunt of it had again fallen, as in the previous year, almost exclusively on the Greek troops of the king. He was therefore unwilling to hazard his surviving Greeks by another campaign with the Romans, and accordingly he lent a ready ear to the invitations of the Greeks in Sicily, who begged him to come to their assistance against the Carthaginians. The Romans were likewise anxious to get rid of so formidable an opponent, that they might complete the subjugation of Southern Italy without further interruption. When both parties had the same wishes, it was not difficult to find a fair pretext for bringing the war to a conclusion. This was afforded at the beginning of the following year (278 B.C.) by one of the servants of Pyrrhus deserting to the Romans and proposing to the consuls to poison his master. The consuls Fabricius and Aemilius sent back the deserter to the king, stating that they abhorred a victory gained by treason. Thereupon Pyrrhus, to show his gratitude, sent Cineas to Rome with all the Roman prisoners without ransom and without conditions; and the Romans granted him a truce, though not a formal peace, as he had not consented to evacuate Italy.

Pyrrhus now crossed over into Sicily, where he remained upwards of two years, from the middle of 278 to the latter end of 276. At first he met with brilliant success, defeated the Carthaginians and took Eryx; but having failed in an attempt upon Lilybaeum, he lost his popularity with the Greeks, who began to form cabals and plots against him. This led to retaliation on the part of Pyrrhus, and to acts which were deemed both cruel and tyrannical by the Greeks. His position in Sicily at length became so uncomfortable and dangerous that he soon became anxious to abandon the island. Accordingly, when his Italian allies again begged him to come to their assistance, he gladly complied with their request. Pyrrhus returned to Italy in the autumn of 276. In the following year (275 B.C.) the war was brought to a close. Pyrrhus was defeated with great loss near Beneventum by the Roman consul Curius Dentatus, and was obliged to leave Italy. He brought back with him to Epirus only 8000 foot and 500 horse, and had not money to maintain even these without undertaking new wars. Accordingly, in 273, he invaded Macedonia, of which Antigonus Gonatas, the son of Demetrius, was then king. His only object at first seems to have been plunder, but his success far exceeded his expectations. Antigonus was deserted by his own troops, and Pyrrhus thus became king of Macedonia a second time. But scarcely had he obtained possession of the kingdom before his restless spirit drove him into new enterprises. On the invitation of Cleonymus he turned his arms against Sparta, but was repulsed in an attack upon this city. From Sparta he marched towards Argos in order to support Aristeas, one of the leading citizens at Argos, against his rival Aristippus, whose cause was espoused by Antigonus. In the nighttime Aristeas admitted Pyrrhus into the city, but the alarm having been given, the citadel and all the strong places were seized by the Argives of the opposite faction. On the dawn of day Pyrrhus saw that it would be necessary for him to retreat; and as he was fighting his way out of the city, an Argive woman hurled down from the housetop a ponderous tile, which struck Pyrrhus on the back of his neck. He fell from his horse stunned with the blow, and being recognized by some of the soldiers of Antigonus, was quickly despatched.

His head was cut off and carried to Antigonus, who turned away from the sight, and ordered the body to be interred with becoming honours. Pyrrhus perished in B.C. 272, in the forty-sixth year of his age and in the twenty-third of his reign.

He was the greatest warrior and one of the best princes of his time. With his daring courage, his military skill, and his kingly bearing, he might have become the most powerful monarch of his day if he had steadily pursued the immediate object before him. But he never rested satisfied with any acquisition, and was ever grasping at some fresh object: hence Antigonus compared him to a gambler, who made many good throws with the dice, but was unable to make the proper use of the game. Pyrrhus was regarded in subsequent times as one of the greatest generals that had ever lived. Hannibal said that of all generals Pyrrhus was the first, Scipio the second, and himself the third; or, according to another version of the story, Alexander was the first, Pyrrhus the second, and himself the third. Pyrrhus wrote a work on the art of war, which was read in the time of Cicero; and his commentaries are quoted both by Dionysius and Plutarch. Pyrrhus married four wives: (a) Antigoné, the daughter of Berenicé; (b) a daughter of Audoleon, king of the Paeonians; (c) Bircenna, a daughter of Bardylis, king of the Illyrians; (d) Lanassa, a daughter of Agathocles of Syracuse. His children were: (a) Ptolemy, born 295; killed in battle, 272; (b) Alexander, who succeeded his father as king of Epirus; (c) Helenus; (d) Nereis, who married Gelon of Syracuse; (e) Olympias, who married her own brother Alexander; (f) Deidamia or Laodamia. See the Life by Plutarch.


2.

II. A king of Epirus, son of Alexander II. and Olympias, and grandson of Pyrrhus I., was a child at the time of his father's death (between B.C. 262 and 258). During his minority the kingdom was governed by his mother, Olympias. According to one account Olympias survived Pyrrhus, who died soon after he had grown up to manhood; according to another account Olympias had poisoned a maiden to whom Pyrrhus was attached, and was herself poisoned by him in revenge.


3.

Πύρρος). Mythological. See Neoptolemus.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: