), king of Epeirus, born about the year B. C. 318, was the son of Aeacides and Phthia, the daughter of Menon of Pharsalus, a distinguished leader in the struggle between Macedonia and Greece after the death of Alexander
, usually called the Lamian war.
The ancestors of Pyrrhus claimed descent from Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles, who was said to have settled in Epeirus after the Trojan war, and to have become the founder of the race of Molossian kings. His father had succeeded to the throne on the death of his cousin Alexander, who was slain in Italy in B. C. 326. Alexander was the brother of Olympias, the wife of Philip and the mother of Alexander the Great; and it was this connection with the royal family of Macedonia, which brought misfortune upon the early years of Pyrrhus. His father Aeacides had taken part with his relative Olympias, and had marched into Macedonia to support her against Cassander; but when the latter proved victorious, and Aeacides and Olympias were obliged to take to flight, the Epeirots, who disliked their king and were unwilling to be any longer involved in war with Cassander, met in a general assembly, and deprived Aeacides of the throne. Aeacides himself was out of the way; but many of his friends were put to death, and Pyrrhus, who was then a child of only two years old, was with difficulty saved from destruction by the faithful adherents of the king. They escaped with the child to Glaucias, the king of the Taulantians, an Illyrian people, who afforded him protection, and nobly refused to surrender him to Cassander. Aeacides died soon afterwards in battle, and Pyrrhus was brought up by Glaucias along with his own children. About ten years afterwards, when Demetrius had shaken the power of Cassander in Greece, Glaucias restored Pyrrhus to the throne; but as he was then only twelve years old, the kingdom was governed by guardians. But Pyrrhus did not long remain in possession of his hereditary dominions. Demetrius was obliged to abandon Greece, in order to cross over to Asia to the assistance of his father, Antigonus, who was menaced by the united forces of Cassander, Ptolemy, Seleucus, and Lysimachus; and as Cassander had now regained his supremacy in Greece, he prevailed upon the Epeirots to expel their young king a second time. Pyrrhus, who was still only seventeen years of age, joined Demetrius, who had married his sister Deidameia, accompanied him to Asia, and was present at the battle of Ipsus, B. C. 301, in which he gained great renown for his valour. Though so young, he bore down for a time every thing before him with that impetuous courage, which always distinguished him in his subsequent engagements.
But his efforts could not restore the day, and he was obliged to fly from the field. 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, when Demetrius concluded a peace with Ptolemy. Here Pyrrhus was fortunate enough to win the favour of Berenice, the wife of Ptolemy, and received in marriage Antigone, her daughter by her first husband. Ptolemy now supplied him with a fleet and men, and he was thus once more able to return to Epeirus. Neoptolemus, probably the son of Alexander who died in Italy, had reigned from the time that Pyrrhus had been driven from the kingdom; but as he had made himself unpopular by his harsh and tyrannical rule, Pyrrhus found many partisans.
The two rivals consented to a compromise and agreed to share the sovereignty between them.
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 B. C. 295, in which year Pyrrhus is said to have begun to reign (Vell. 1.14.6
); and as Cassander did not die till the end of B. C. 297, the joint sovereignty of Pyrrhus and Neoptolemus could have lasted only a short time, as it is improbable that Pyrrhus ventured to return to his native country during the life-time of his great enemy Cassander.
Pyrrhus was twenty-three years of age when he was firmly established on the throne of Epeirus (B. C. 295). and he soon became one of the most popular princes of his age. His daring courage made him a favourite with his troops, and his affability and generosity secured the love of his people. His character resembled in many respects that of his great kinsman, the conqueror of Persia; and he seems at an early age to have made Alexander
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. Master of that country, he might hope to obtain the sovereignty of Greece; and with the whole of Greece under his sway, there was a boundless prospect for his ambition, terminating on the one side with the conquest of Italy, Sicily, and Carthage, and on the other with the dominions of the Greek monarchs in the East.
The unsettled state of Macedonia after the death of Cassander soon placed the first object of his ambition within his grasp. Antipater and Alexander, the sons of Cassander, quarrelled for the inheritance of their father; and Alexander, unable to maintain his ground, applied to Pyrrhus for assistance.
This was granted on condition of Alexander's ceding to Pyrrhus the whole of the Macedonian dominions on the western side of Greece.
These were Acarnania, Amphilochia, and Ambracia, and likewise the districts of Tymphaea and Parauaea, which formed part of Macedonia itself. (Plut. Pyrrh. 6,
with the emendation of Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome
vol. iii. note 811, Παραναίαν
instead of Παραλίαν
.) Pyrrhus fulfilled his engagements to Alexander and drove his brother Antipater out of Macedonia, B. C. 294, though it appears that the latter was subsequently allowed to retain a small portion of the country. (Thirlwall's Greece,
vol. viii. p. 16.)
Pyrrhus had greatly increased his power by the large accession of territory which he had thus gained, and he still further strengthened himself by forming an alliance with the Aetolians; but the rest of Macedonia unexpectedly fell into the hands of a powerful neighbour. Alexander had applied to Demetrius for assistance at the same time as he sent to Pyrrhus for the same purpose; but as the latter was the nearest at hand, he had restored Alexander to his kingdom before Demetrius could arrive at the scene of action. Demetrius, however, was unwilling to lose such an opportunity of aggrandizement ; he accordingly left Athens, and reached Macedonia towards the end of the year B. C. 294.
He had not been there many days before he put Alexander to death, and thus became king of Macedonia. Between two such powerful neighbours and such restless spirits, as Demetrius and Pyrrhus, jealousies and contentions were sure to arise. Each was anxious for the dominions of the other, and the two former friends soon became the most deadly enemies. Deidameia, who might have acted as a mediator between her husband and her brother, was now dead.
The jealousies between the two rivals at length broke out into open war in B. C. 291.
It was during this year that Thebes revolted a second time against Demetrius, probably at the instigation of Pyrrhus; and while the Macedonian monarch proceeded in person to chastise the rebellious inhabitants, Pyrrhus effected a diversion in their favour by invading Thessaly, but was compelled to retire into Epeirus before the superior forces of Demetrius. In B. C. 290 Thebes surrendered, and Demetrius was thus at liberty to take vengeance on Pyrrhus and his Aetolian allies. Accordingly, he invaded Aetolia in the spring of B. C. 289, and after overrunning and ravaging the country almost without opposition, he marched into Epeirus, leaving Pantauchus with a strong body of his troops to keep the Aetolians in subjection. Pyrrhus advanced to meet him; but as the two armies took different roads, Demetrius entered Epeirus and Pyrrhus Aetolia almost at the same time. Pantauchus immediately offered him battle, in the midst of which he challenged the king to single combat.
This was immediately accepted by the youthful monarch ; and in the conflict which ensued, Pyrrhus bore his enemy to the ground, and would have killed him on the spot, had he not been rescued by his friends. The Macedonians, dismayed by the fall of their leader, took to flight and left Pyrrhus master of the field.
This victory, however, was attended with more important advantages than its immediate fruits.
The impetuous movements and daring valour of the Epeirot king reminded the veterans in the Macedonian army of the great Alexander
, and thus paved for Pyrrhus his accession to the Macedonian throne. Demetrius meantime had found no one to resist him in Epeirus, and during his expedition into this country he also obtained possession of Corcyra.
After the death of Antigone, Pyrrhus, in accordance with the custom of the monarchs of his age, had married three wives, in order to strengthen his power by a close connection with foreign princes. Of these wives one was a Paeonian princess, another an Illyrian, and a third Lanassa, the daughter of Agathocles of Syracuse, who brought him the island of Corcyra as a dowry But Lanassa, offended with the attention which Pyrrhus paid to his barbarian wives, had withdrawn to her principality of Corcyra, which she now bestowed upon Demetrius together with her hand. Pyrrhus accordingly returned to Epeirus more incensed than ever against Demetrius.
The latter had previously withdrawn into Macedonia.
At the beginning of the following year, B. C. 288, Pyrrhus took advantage of a dangerous illness of Demetrius to invade Macedonia.
He advanced as far as Edessa without meeting with any opposition ; but when Demetrius was able to put himself at the head of his troops, he drove his rival out of the country without difficulty.
But as he had now formed the vast design of recovering tire whole of his father's dominions in Asia, he hastened to conclude a peace with Pyrrhus, in order to continue his preparations undisturbed. His old enemies, Seleucus, Ptolemy, and Lysimachus, once more entered into a league against him, and resolved to crush him in Europe before he had time to cross over into Asia. They easily persuaded Pyrrhus to break his recent treaty with Demetrius, and join the coalition against him. Accordingly, in the spring of B. C. 287, while Ptolemy appeared with a powerful fleet off the coasts of Greece, Lysimachus invaded the upper and Pyrrhus the lower provinces of Macedonia at the same time. Demetrius first marched against Lysimachus, but alarmed at the growing disaffection of his troops, and fearing that they might go over to Lysimachus, who had been one of the veteran generals and companions of Alexander
, he suddenly retraced his steps and proceeded against Pyrrhus, who had already advanced as far as Beroea and had taken up his quarters in that city. But Pyrrhus proved a rival as formidable as Lysimachus.
The kindness with which he had treated his prisoners, and his condescension and affability to the inhabitants of Beroea, had won all hearts ; and accordingly, when Demetrius drew near, his troops deserted him in a body and transferred their allegiance to Pyrrhus. Demetrius was obliged to fly in disguise, and leave the kingdom to his rival. Pyrrhus, however, was unable to obtain possession of the whole of Macedonia : Lysimachus claimed his share of the spoil, and the kingdom was divided between them. But Pyrrhus did not long retain his portion; the Macedonians preferred the rule of their old general Lysimachus ; and Pyrrhus was accordingly driven out of his newly acquired kingdom; thus leaving Lysimachus master of the entire country.
It is doubtful how long Pyrrhus reigned in Macedonia. Dexippus and Porphyry (apud Euseb. Arm.
p. 329, ed. Aucher; apud Syncell.
p. 266a.) state that it was only seven months, which would place the expulsion of Pyrrhus at the end of B. C. 287, or the beginning of 286; but as other writers relate (Plut. Pyrr.
12; Paus. 1.10.2
) that this happened after the defeat of Demetrius in Syria, which did not take place till the middle of 286, the reign of Pyrrhus in Macedonia was probably somewhat longer. (Comp. Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome,
vol. iii. note 813.)
For the next few years Pyrrhus appears to have reigned quietly in Epeirus without embarking in any new enterprize.
But a life of inactivity was insupportable to him, and he pined for fresh scenes of action in which he might gain glory and acquire dominion.
At length, in B. C. 281, the long wished for opportunity presented itself. The Tarentines, against whom the Romans had declared war, sent an embassy to Pyrrhus in the summer of this year, begging him in the name of all the Italian Greeks to cross over to Italy in order to conduct the war against the Romans. They told him that they only wanted a general, and that they would supply him with an army of 350,000 foot, and 20,000 horse, as all the nations of southern Italy would flock to his standard.
This was too tempting an offer to be resisted.
It realized one of the earliest dreams of his ambition.
The conquest of Rome would naturally lead to the sovereignty of Sicily and Africa; and he would then be able to return to Greece with the united forces of Italy, Sicily, and Carthage, to overcome his rivals in Greece, and reign as master of the world.
He therefore eagerly promised the Tarentines to come to their assistance, notwithstanding the remonstrances of his wise and faithful counsellor Cineas; but as he would not trust the success of his enterprize to the valour and fidelity of Italian troops, he began to make preparations to carry over a powerful army with him.
These preparations occupied him during the remainder of this year and the beginning of the next. The Greek princes did every thing to favour his views, as they were glad to get rid of so powerful and dangerous a neighbour. Antigonus supplied him with ships, Antiochus with money, and Ptolemy Ceraunus with troops.
He left as guardian of his kingdom his son Ptolemy by his first wife Antigone, who was then only a youth of fifteen years of age. (Just. 17.2
Pyrrhus crossed over to Italy early in B. C. 280, in the thirty-eighth year of his age.
He took with him 20,000 foot, 3000 horse, 2000 archers, 500 slingers, and either 50 or 20 elephants, having previouslysent Milo, one of his generals, with a detachment of 3000 men. (Plut. Pyrrh. 15
; Just. 17.2
.) Such was his impatience to arrive at Tarentum in time to enter upon military operations early in the spring, that he set sail before the stormy season of the year had passed; and he had scarcely put out to sea before a violent tempest arose, which dispersed his fleet.
He himself hardly escaped with his life, and arrived at Tarentum with only a small part of his army.
After a time the scattered ships gradually made their appearance; and after collecting his troops, he began to make preparations to carry on the war with activity.
The inhabitants of Tarentum were a giddy and licentious people, unaccustomed to the toils of war, and unwilling to endure its hardships. They accordingly attempted to evade entering the ranks of the army, and began to make complaints in the public assemblies respecting the demands of Pyrrhus and the conduct of his troops; but Pyrrhus 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. Notwithstanding all the activity of Pyrrhus the Romans were the first in the field.
The consul M. Valerius Laevinus marched into Lucania; but as the army of Pyrrhus was inferior to that of the Romans, he attempted to gain time by negotiation, in order that he might be joined by his Italian allies.
He accordingly wrote to the consul, offering to arbitrate between Rome and his Italian allies; but Laevinus bluntly told him to mind his own business and retire to Epeirus. Fearing to remain inactive any longer, although he was not yet joined by his allies, Pyrrhus marched out against the Romans with his own troops and the Tarentines.
He took up his position between the towns of Pandosia and Heracleia, on the left or northern bank of the river Siris. The Romans were encamped on the southern bank of the river, and they were the first to begin the battle. They crossed the river and were immediately attacked by the cavalry of Pyrrhus. who led them to the charge in person, and distinguished himself as usual by the most daring acts of valour. The Romans, however, bravely sustained the attack; and Pyrrhus, finding that his cavalry could not decide the day, ordered his infantry to advance.
The battle was still contested most furiously; seven times did both armies advance and retreat; and it was not till Pyrrhus brought forward his elephants, which bore down every thing before them, that the Romans took to flight. The Thessalian cavalry completed the rout. The Romans fled in the utmost confusion across the river Siris, leaving their camp to the conqueror.
The battle had lasted all day, and it was probably the fall of night alone which saved the Roman army from complete destruction.
Those who escaped took refuge in an Apulian town, which Niebuhr conjectures to have been Venusia.
The number of the slain in either army is differently stated; but the loss of Pyrrhus, though inferior to that of the Romans, was still very considerable, and a large proportion of his officers and best troops had fallen.
He is reported to have said, as he viewed the field of battle, "Another such victory, and I must return to Epeirus alone."
He acted with generosity after the battle, burying the dead bodies of the Romans like those of his own troops, and treating his prisoners with kindness.
This victory was followed by important results.
The allies of Pyrrhus, who had hitherto kept aloof, joined him now; and even many of the subjects of Rome espoused his cause. But Pyrrhus had bought his victory dearly, and must have learnt by the experience of the late battle the difficulty he would have to encounter in conquering Rome.
He therefore sent his minister Cineas to Rome with proposals of peace, while he himself collected the forces of the allies and marched slowly towards Central Italy.
The terms which he offered were those of a conqueror.
He proposed that the Romans should recognise the independence of the Greeks in Italy, should restore to the Samnites, Lucanians, Apulians, and Bruttians, all the possessions which they had lost in war, and should make peace with himself and the Tarentines.
As soon as peace was concluded on these terms, he promised to return all the Roman prisoners without ransom. Cineas, whose persuasive eloquence was said to have won more towns for Pyrrhus than his arms, neglected no means to secure the favour of the Romans for his master, and to induce them to accept the peace.
The prospects of the republic seemed so dark and threatening that many members of the senate thought that it would be more prudent to comply with his demands; and this party would probably have carried the day, had it not been for the patriotic speech of the aged Ap. Claudius Caecus, who denounced the idea of a peace with a victorious foe with such effect, that the senate resolved to decline the proposals of Pyrrhus, and commanded Cineas to quit Rome on the same day.
Cineas returned to Pyrrhus, and told him he must hope for nothing from negotiation.
The king accordingly resolved to prosecute the war with vigour.
He advanced by rapid marches towards Rome, plundering the country of the Roman allies as he went along.
He was followed by the consul Laevinus, whose army had been reinforced by two legions, which had been levied in the city while the senate was considering the king's proposals of peace. Laevinus, however, did not venture to attack the superior forces of the enemy, but contented himself with harassing their march and delaying their advance by petty skirmishes. Pyrrhus, therefore, continued to advance steadily without meeting with any serious opposition, and at length arrived at Praeneste, which fell into his hands.
He was now only twenty-four miles from Rome, and his outposts advanced six miles further. Another march would have brought him under the walls of the city; but here his progress was stopped.
At this moment he was informed that peace was concluded with the Etruscans, and that the other consul, Ti. Coruncanius, had returned with his army to Rome. All hope was now gone of compelling the Romans to accept the peace, and he therefore resolved to retreat.
He retired slowly into Campania, and from thence withdrew into winter-quarters to Tarentum. No other battle was fought this year.
As soon as the armies were quartered for the winter, the Romans sent an embassy to Pyrrhus, to andeavour to obtain the ransom of the Roman prisoners or their exchange for an equal number of the Tarentines or their allies.
The ambassadors were received by Pyrrhus in the most distinguished manner; and his interviews with C. Fabricius Luscinus, who was at the head of the embassy, form one of the most celebrated stories in Roman history, and have been briefly related elsewhere. [Vol. II. p. 842a.] He refused, however, to comply with the request of the Romans; but at the same time to show them his trust in their honour, and his admiration of their character, he allowed them to go to Rome in order to celebrate the Saturnalia, stipulating that they were to return to Tarentum if the senate would not accept the terms which he had previously offered them through Cineas.
The senate remained firm in their resolve, and all the prisoners returned to Pyrrhus, the punishment of death having been denounced against those who should remain in the city.
This is the account in Appian (Samn.
10.4, 5), and Plutarch (Plut. Pyrrh. 20
); but other writers state with less probability that the prisoners were set free by Pyrrhus unconditionally and without ransom. (Liv. Epit. 13
; Zonar. 8.4
; Flor. 1.18
; Eutrop. 2.7
; Aurel. Vict. de Vir. Ill.
Of the campaign of the following year, B. C. 279, we know but little.
The consuls were P. Decius Mus and P. Sulpicius Saverrio. Apulia was the field of operations, and the great battle of the campaign was fought near Asculum.
The first encounter took place near the banks of a river, where the uneven nature of the ground was ill adapted for the movements of the phalanx, and the Romans accordingly gained the advantage. But Pyrrhus manoeuvred so as to bring the enemy into the open plain, where the Romans were defeated, and fled to their camp.
This was so near to the field of battle, that not more than 6000 of the Romans fell, while Pyrrhus, according to his own statement in his commentaries, lost 3505 men.
This was the account of Hieronymus, which is preserved by Plutarch, and is doubtless correct in the main. The Roman annalists, on the contrary, either represented it as a drawn battle, or claimed the victory for their own nation (Liv. Epit. 13
; Zonar. 8.5
; Eutrop. 2.13
; Ores. 4.1 Flor. 1.18.9
; comp. MUS, [DECIUS, No. 3].)
The victory however yielded Pyrrhus no advantage, and he was obliged to retire to Tarentum for the winter without effecting any thing more during the campaign.
In the last battle, as well as in the first, the brunt of the action had fallen alnost exclusively on the Greek troops of the king; and the state of Greece, which was overrun by the Gauls in this year, made it hopeless for him to obtain any reinforcements from Epeirus.
He was therefore unwilling to hazard his surviving Greeks by another campaign with the Romans, and accordingly lent a ready ear to the invitations of the Greeks in Sicily, who begged him to come to their assistance against the Carthaginians.
This seemed an easier enterprise than the one he was already engaged in, and it had moreover the charm of novelty, which always had great attractions for Pyrrhus.
It was necessary, however, first to suspend hostilities with the Romans, who 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, B. C. 278, 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 appear to have granted him a truce, though not a formal peace, as he had not consented to evacuate Italy.
Pyrrhus was now at liberty to cross over into Sicily, which he did immediately afterwards, leaving Milo with part of his troops in possession of Tarentum, and his son Alexander with another garrison at Locri (Justin, 18.2
; Zonar. 8.5
.) The Tarentines had demanded that his troops should be withdrawn, if he would not assist them in the field; but Pyrrhus paid no heed to their remonstrances, and retained possession of their town, as well as of Locri, in hopes of being soon able to return to Italy at the head of the Greeks of Sicily, of which island his warm imagination had already pictured him as the sovereign.
Pyrrhus remained in Sicily upwards of two ears, namely from the middle of B. C. 478, to the latter end of B. C. 476.
At first he met with brilliant success in Sicily.
He drove the Carthaginians before him, and took the strongly fortified city of Eryx, in the assault of which he was the first to mount the scaling ladders, and distinguished himself as usual by his daring and impetuous valour. The Carthaginians became so alarmed at his success, that they offered him both ships and money on condition of his forming an alliance with them, although they had only a short time before made a treaty with the Romans. Pyrrhus was foolish enough to reject this offer, which would have afforded him immense advantages for the prosecution of the war with Rome ; and at the instigation of the Sicilian Greeks he refused to come to any terms with the Carthaginians unless they would evacuate Sicily altogether. Shortly after Pyrrhus received a severe repulse in an attempt which he made upon the impregnable town of Lilybaeum.
The prestige of success was now gone. The Greeks, who had invited him to the island, were desirous to see him depart, and 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.
He was involved in plots and insurrections of all kinds, and soon became as anxious to abandon the island as he had been before to leave Italy. Accordingly, when his Italian allies again begged him to come to their assistance, he readily complied with their request.
Pyrrhus returned to Italy in the autumn of B. C. 276.
He was attacked by a Carthaginian fleet on his passage, and lost seventy of his ships of war, which he had obtained in Sicily; and when he landed, he had to fight his way through the Mamertines, who had crossed over from Sicily to dispute his passage.
He defeated them after a sharp struggle, and eventually reached Tarentum in safety. His troops were now almost the same in number as when he first landed in Italy, but very different in quality. His faithful Epeirots had for the most part fallen, and his present soldiers consisted chiefly of mercenaries, whom he had levied in Italy, and on whose fidelity he could only rely so long as he led them to victory, and supplied them with pay and plunder. Pyrrhus did not remain inactive at Tarentum, but forthwith commenced operations, although the season seems to have been far advanced.
He recovered Locri, which had revolted to the Romans; and as he here found himself in great difficulties for want of money to pay his troops, and could obtain none from his allies, he was induced at the advice of some Epicureans to take possession of the treasures of the temple of Proserpine in that town.
The ships in which the money was to be embarked to be carried to Tarentum, were driven back by a storm to Locri.
This circumstance deeply affected the mind of Pyrrhus; he ordered the treasures to be restored to the temple, and put to death the unfortunate men who had advised him to commit the sacrilegious act; and from this time he became haunted by the idea, as he himself related in his memoirs, that the wrath of Proserpine was pursuing him and dragging him down to ruin. (Dionys. A. R. 19.9
; Appian, Samn.
The following year, B. C. 274, closed the career of Pyrrhus in Italy.
The consuls were Curius Dentatus and Servilius Merenda; of whom the former marched into Samnium and the latter into Lucania. Pyrrhus advanced against Curius, who was encamped in the neighbourhood of Beneventum, and resolved to attack him before he was joined by his colleague. As Curius, however, did not wish to risk a battle with his own army alone, Pyrrhus planned an attack upon his camp by night.
But he miscalculated the time and the distance; the torches burnt out, the men missed their way, and it was already broad day-light when he reached the heights above the Roman camp. Still their arrival was quite unexpected ; but as a battle was now inevitable, Curius led out his men.
The troops of Pyrrhus, exhausted by fatigue, were easily put to the rout; two elephants were killed and eight more taken. Encouraged by this success, Curius no longer hesitated to meet the king in the open plain. One wing of the Romans was victorious.
The other was driven back by the phalanx and the elephants to their camp, but their retreat was covered by a shower of missiles from the ramparts of the camp, which so annoved the elephants that they turned round and trod down all before them. The Romans now returned to the charge, and easily drove back the enemy which had been thus thrown into disorder.
The rout was complete, and Pyrrhus arrived at Tarentum with only a few horsemen.
It was now impossible to continue the war any longer without a fresh supply of troops, and he therefore applied to the kings of Macedonia and Syria for assistance ; but as they turned a deaf ear to his request, he had no alternative but to quit Italy.
He crossed over to Greece towards the end of the year, leaving Milo with a garrison at Tarentum, as if he still clung to the idea of returning to Italy at some future time.
Pyrrhus arrived in Epeirus at the end of B. C. 274, after an absence of six years.
He brought back with him only 8000 foot and 500 horse, and had not money to maintain even these without undertaking new wars. Accordingly, at the beginning of the following year, B. C. 273, he invaded Macedonia, of which Antigonus Gonatas, the son of Demetrius, was at that time king. His army had been reinforced by a body of Gallic mercenaries, and his only object at first seems to have been plunder.
But his success far exceeded his expectations.
He obtained possession of several towns without resistance ; and when at length Antigonus advanced to meet him, the Macedonian monarch was deserted by his own troops, who welcomed Pyrrhus as their king. Pyrrhus thus became king of Macedonia a second time, but had scarcely obtained possession of the kingdom before his restless spirit drove him into new enterprises. Cleonymus had many years before been excluded from the Spartan throne; and he had recently received a new insult from the family which was reigning in his place. Acrotatus, the son of the Spartan king Areus, had seduced Chelidonis, the young wife of Cleonymus, and the latter, now burning for revenge, repaired to the court of Pyrrhus, and persuaded him to make war upon Sparta.
This invitation was readily complied with : and Pyrrhus accordingly marched into Laconia in the following year, B. C. 272, with an army of 25,000 foot, 2000 horse, and 24 elephants. Such a force seemed irresistible; no preparations had been made for defence, and king Areus himself was absent in Crete.
As soon as Pyrrhus arrived, Cleonymus urged him to attack the city forthwith.
But as the day was far spent, Pyrrhus resolved to defer the attack the next day, fearing that his soldiers would pillage the city, if it were taken in the night.
But during the night the Spartans were not idle. All the inhabitants, old and young, men and women, laboured incessantly in digging a deep ditch opposite the enemy's camp, and at the end of each ditch formed a strong barricade of waggons.
The next day Pyrrhus advanced to the assault, but was repulsed by the Spartans, who fought under their youthful leader Acrotatus in a manner worthy of their ancient courage.
The assault was again renewed on the next day, but with no better success ; and the arrival of Areus with 2000 Cretans, as well as of other auxiliary forces, at length compelled Pyrrhus to abandon all hopes of taking the city.
He did not, however, relinquish his enterprise altogether, but resolved to winter in Peloponnesus, that he might be ready to renew operations at the commencement of the spring.
But while making preparations for this object, he received an invitation from Aristeas, one of the leading citizens at Argos, to assist him against his rival Aristippus, whose cause was espoused by Antigonus. Pyrrhus forthwith commenced his march from the neighbourhood of Sparta, but did not reach Argos without some sharp fighting, as the Spartans under Areus both molested his march and occupied some of the passes through which his road lay.
In one of these encounters his eldest son Ptolemy fell, greatly to the grief of his father, who avenged his death by killing with his own hand the leader of the Lacedaemonian detachment which had destroyed his son. On arriving in the neighbourhood of Argos, he found Antigonus encamped on one of the heights near the city, but he could not induce him to risk a battle.
There was a party at Argos, which did not belong to either of the contending factions, and which was anxious to get rid both of Pyrrhus and Antigonus. They accordingly sent an embassy to the two kings, begging them to withdraw from the city. Antigonus promised compliance, and sent his son as a hostage; but though Pyrrhus did not refuse, he would not give any hostage.
In the night-time Aristeas admitted Pyrrhus into the city, who marched into the market-place with part of his troops, leaving his son Helenus with the main body of his army on the outside.
But the alarm having been given, the citadel was seized by the Argives of the opposite faction. Areus with his Spartans, who had followed close upon Pyrrhus, was admitted within the walls, and Antigonus also sent a portion of his troops into the city, under the command of his son Halcyoneus, while he himself remained without with the bulk of his forces. On the dawn of day Pyrrhus saw that all the strong places were in the possession of the enemy, and that it would be necessary for him to retreat.
He accordingly sent orders to his son Helenus to break down part of the walls, in order that his troops might retire with more ease; but in consequence of some mistake in the delivery of the message, Helenus attempted to enter the city by the same gateway through which Pyrrhus was retreating.
The two tides encountered one another, and to add to the confusion one of the elephants fell down in the narrow gateway, while another becoming wild and ungovernable, trod down every one before him. Pyrrhus was in the rear, in a more open part of the city, attempting to keep off the enemy. While thus engaged, he was slightly wounded through the breast-plate with a javelin and, as he turned to take vengeance on the Argive who had attacked him, the mother of the man, seeing the danger of her son, hurled down from the houseroof where she was standing a ponderous the, which struck Pyrrhus on the back of his neck.
He fell from his horse stunned with the blow, and being recognised by some of the soldiers of Antigonus, was quickly despatched. His head was cut off and given to Halcyoneus, who carried the bloody trophy with exultation to his father Antigonus.
But the latter turned away from the sight, and ordered the body to be interred with becoming honours. His remains were deposited by the Argives in the temple of Demeter. (Paus. 1.13.8
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. If judged by a righteous standard of public morality, he will appear as a monarch intent only upon his personal aggrandisement, and ready to sacrifice the rights of other nations to the advancement of his glory and the gratification of his ambition.
But if judged by the morality of the profligate times in which he lived, when every Greek prince thought he had a right to whatever dominions his sword could win, we shall see more to admire than to censure in his conduct. His government of his native dominions seems to have been just and lenient, for his Epeirots always remained faithful to him even during his long absence in Italy.and Sicily. His foreign wars were carried on with no unnecessary cruelty and oppression, and he is accused of fewer crimes than any of his contemporaries.
The greatest testimony to the excellence of his private life is, that in an age of treachery and corruption he ever retained the affection of his personal attendants ; and hence, with the solitary exception of the physician who offered to poison him, we read of no instance in which he was deserted or betrayed by any of his officers or friends.
With his daring courage, his military skill, his affable deportment, and his kingly bearing, he might have become the most powerful monarch of his day, if he had steadily and perseveringly 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. Procles, the Carthaginian, thought him superior even to Alexander
in the military art (Paus. 4.35.4
); and Hannibal said that of all generals Pyrrhus was the first, Scipio the second, and himself the third (Plut. Pyrrh. 8
), or, according to another version of the story, Alexander
was the first, Pyrrhus the second, and himself the third (Plut. Flam. 21
). Pyrrhus wrote a work on the art of war, which was read in the time of Cicero (Cic. Fam. 9.25
, comp. Fabric. Bibl. Graec.
vol. iv. p. 343); and his commentaries are quoted both by Dionysins and Plutarch.
Pyrrhus married four wives. 1. Antigone, the daughter of Berenice. 2.
A daughter of Audoleon, king of the Paeonians. 3. Bircenna, a daughter of Bardylis, king of the Illyrians. 4. Lanassa, a daughter of Agathocles of Syracuse. His children were:--1. Ptolemy, born B. C. 295; killed in battle, B. C. 272. [Vol. III. p. 566, No. 9.] 2. Alexander, who succeeded his father as king of Epeirus. [Vol. I. p. 116.] 3. Helenus. [HELENUS, No. 1.] 4. Nereis, who married Gelon of Syracuse. [NEREIS.] 5. Olympias, who married her own brother Alexander, [OLYMPIAS, No. 2.] 6. Deidameia or Laodameia.
(Plutarch's biography is the principal ancient authority for the Life of Pyrrhus; and the subject has been ably treated by the following modern writers : -- Droysen, Geschichte des Helienismus,
vol. i. pp. 249, 496, 535, 554-626, vol. ii. pp. 89, 110-163, 183-200; Thirlwall, Hist. of Greece,
vol. vii. pp. 288, 353, 362-364, vol. viii. pp. 4, 5, 15, 16, 26-40, 67-76; Niebuhr, Hist. of Rome,
pp. 450-465, 474-522; Arnold, Hist. of Rome,
vol. iii. pp. 439-445, 481-520.)