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King Pyrrhus of Epirus (318-272)

By Bingley

Image ID: 1624788  Pyrrhus Rex.

"318? - 272 B.C." Pyrrhus was a Greek military general and King of Epirus. He was killed at the battle of Argos in 272 B.C.

NYPL Digital Library
The Epirot royal family claimed descent from Achilles.The father of Pyrrhus, Aeacides, was deposed by the Epirots and his adherents executed. Pyrrhus was only two years old at the time, and, despite hot pursuit, was taken to safety at the court of King Glaucias of Illyria. Despite his doubts, Glaucias agreed to take Pyrrhus in, and raised him with his own children. When Pyrrhus was 12, Glaucias invaded Epirus and restored him to his throne.

Five years later Pyrrhus was deposed in a coup while he was attending the wedding of a son of Glaucias (302). Pyrrhus took refuge with his sister's husband, Demetrius son of Antigonus, the king of Asia. After the defeat of Antigonus and Demetrius at the battle of Ipsus (301), in which Pyrrhus fought, Pyrrhus was sent to Ptolemy I of Egypt as a hostage for Demetrius' good behaviour. He worked his charm on Berenice, Ptolemy's wife, and married her daughter by a previous marriage, Antigone. Ptolemy supplied Pyrrhus with a fleet and army, which Pyrrhus took with him back to Epirus.

Pyrrhus' second cousin, Neoptolemus, had been reigning in Epirus since Pyrrhus was deposed. On Pyrrhus' return they ruled jointly, but Neoptolemus and one of his followers tried in vain to suborn Myrtilus, one of Pyrrhus' cupbearers, to poison him. Myrtilus informed Pyrrhus, and Pyrrhus killed Neoptolemus (295).

The two sons of Cassander of Macedon were at odds with each other, and the elder, Antipater, sent the younger, Alexander, into exile. Alexander fled to Pyrrhus. In return for helping Alexander back to his throne, Pyrrhus was given more territory in the north-western parts of Greece. Demetrius, Pyrrhus' erstwhile friend and ally, killed Alexander and took over Macedon. Pyrrhus and Demetrius were not good neighbours and were soon at war (291). Pyrrhus defeated Pantauchus, one of Demetrius' generals in Aetolia, and then invaded Macedonia in search of plunder. As it happened Demetrius was dangerously ill, and Pyrrhus came very close to taking over the whole of Macedon. However, once Demetrius had recovered enough to take to the field, Pyrrhus beat a hasty retreat back to Epirus.

Demetrius had designs on recovering his father's territories in Asia, and those opposing him tried to interest Pyrrhus in an alliance against him. Lysimachus of Thrace and Pyrrhus invaded Macedonia (287). Many Macedonians left Demetrius for Pyrrhus, and he and Lysimachus divided Macedonia between them. The alliance between Pyrrhus and Lysimachus lasted while Demetrius still posed a threat from his other territories in Asia, but once he had been finally defeated, Lysimachus won over the Macedonians and forced Pyrrhus to retire back to Epirus (286).

The citizens of Tarentum were under attack from Rome, and asked Pyrrhus for help (281). Pyrrhus first sent over 3,000 soldiers with his advisor Cineas, and then followed himself with a fleet and 20 elephants, 3,000 cavalry, 20,000 infantry, 2,000 archers, and 500 slingers. After a stormy crossing, Pyrrhus made his way to Tarentum, and once he had brought all his forces together, imposed a more disciplined way of life on the inhabitants.

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