PYRRHUS (c. 318-272 B.C.), king of Epirus, son of Aeacides, and a member of the royal family of the Molossians. He claimed descent from Pyrrhus, the son of Achilles, and was also connected with the royal family of Macedonia through Olympias, the mother of Alexander the Great. He became king when still a boy, and fought for Demetrius Poliorcetes at Ipsus in 305. He was sent to the court of Ptolemy as a hostage by Demetrius, married Ptolemy's step-daughter Antigone, and became in his turn a thorn in Demetrius' side. For some time he occupied most of Macedonia under the terms of a truce, but in 286 Lysimachus defeated him at Edessa and drove him back into Epirus.
In 281 Tarentum, in southern Italy, asked his assistance against Rome. Pyrrhus went with some 25,000 men, and might, with more whole-hearted assistance from the Greek cities, have been a fatal obstacle to the growth of Rome, faced with Etruscans and Gauls in the north as well as this reinforced opposition in the south. Greeks and Romans met at Heraclea, and Pyrrhus, with the advantage gained by his cavalry and elephants, com pletely defeated the consul M. Valerius Laevinus, but at the cost of very heavy losses. This battle is the origin of the phrase "a Pyrrhic victory." He advanced on Rome through Latium, but the towns were all garrisoned, and though the senate were inclined to agree to terms, the speech of Appius Claudius the censor decided them against it. Cineas, Pyrrhus' minister, was sent back with a refusal to negotiate as long as Pyrrhus' troops were in Italy.
In 279 Pyrrhus won another victory at Asculum in Apulia. He then went to Sicily with the idea of driving the Carthaginians out; his military operations were successful, and Rome and Carthage united in an alliance against him, while his despotic methods alienated the Sicilian cities. He stayed three years in Sicily, and then returned to Italy, but the Greek cities now entirely failed to support him, and he was completely defeated at Beneventum in 275. He left Italy, saying "what a battlefield I am leaving to Rome and Carthage"—a remark of some insight. The rest of his life was passed in wars at home, including a victory over Antigonus Gonatas, and an unsuccessful expedition into Sparta at the invita tion of Cleonymus in 273. He was killed in 272 in a night skirmish in a street in Argos. Pyrrhus wrote a history of the art of war which is praised by Cicero, and quoted by Dionysius of Halicar-: nassus and Plutarch.
The chief ancient authority for the life of Pyrrhus is Plutarch; see also Polybius xviii. I I , and elsewhere ; Dion. Halic. xviii. 1, xix. 6-9; Pausanias i. 13 ; Justin xviii. 1, 2, xxiii. 3, xxv. 4, 5. Modern mono graphs by G. F. Hertzberg, "Rom and Konig Pyrrhus" (popular: in 0. Jager's Darstellungen aus der romischen Geschichte, 1870) ; R. von Scala, Der Pyrrhische Krieg (1884) , with map of Roman garrison sys tem in 281; R. Schubert, Geschichte des Pyrrhus (5894), with full list of authorities; also ROME: History.