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Pyrrhus of Epirus: the Greek king was best noted as a fearless military commander

Ian Harvey

Even though his treasury was reeling from the expense of his last western campaign, Pyrrhus of Epirus chose to go to war again.

He attacked King Antigonus II Gonatas and easily won the battle at the Auos, taking the Macedonian throne for his own.

Pyrrhus and his elephants.

Pyrrhus and his elephants.

 

The Siege of Sparta, by François Topino-Lebrun.

The Siege of Sparta, by François Topino-Lebrun.

In 272 BC, he was approached by Cleonymus, who was a Spartan of royal blood and one that was not popular among his peers. He asked for Pyrrhus’ help in taking Sparta and placing himself on the throne. Pyrrhus agreed, hoping to take Sparta for himself, but resistance was strong and it stopped his assault. Tragically, while in retreat, he lost his first-born son, who had been in charge of the rear guard.

With no time for mourning, he moved onto his next objective, which was intervening in a civil dispute in Argos. He had to race to the city because his old foe, Antigonus Gonatas was approaching. Unfortunately, when he tried to enter the city by stealth, he found it was already full of hostile troops. Having to battle street by street, he became trapped. He was soon fighting an Argive soldier and, unknown to either of them, the mother of the soldier was watching her son from a nearby rooftop. To help protect her son, she threw down a roof tile that knocked Pyrrhus from his horse – he broke his back and became paralyzed. It is unknown whether or not the fall would have killed him, but a Macedonian soldier called Zopyrus made sure once and for all by beheading him. Antigonus had his body cremated with all military honors. Soon after Pyrrhus’ death, the Tarentinians surrendered to Rome.

Pyrrhus of Epirus. Museo in National Archaeological Museum of Naples.

Pyrrhus of Epirus. Museo in National Archaeological Museum of Naples.

 

Tribes of Epirus in antiquity. Photo Credit

Tribes of Epirus in antiquity. Photo Credit

Pyrrhus is not considered a wise King, but he is considered one of the greatest military commanders of his era. He was mercurial and restless when he wasn’t fighting or planning battles. His fiscal knowledge was lacking, and his treasury was not very strong, in large part because he liked using mercenaries in his battle ranks.

He was a benevolent ruler and General. He is known to have written many memoirs and books on battles and the art of war. Sadly, none of these have survived to modern days, but it is thought that Hannibal was heavily influenced by them.

A statue of Pyrrhus in Ioannina, Greece. Photo Credit

A statue of Pyrrhus in Ioannina, Greece. Photo Credit

Pyrrhus was married five times to daughters of Kings and he had a handful of children, both sons and daughters.

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It is thought that the many portraits of him that exist do not reflect his likeness at all.