list cover armies of the wars of Pyrrhus of Epirus—from his return to
the throne of Epirus in 297BC to his death in Argos in 272BC.
kingdom of Epirus lay in the most north western part of Greece, south of
Illyria and immediately west of Thessaly. The larger kingdom of Macedon
lay to the north-west. It is therefore roughly equivalent to the modern
Greek periphery (region) of Epirus and the southern part of Albania.
Macedonian and Epirote royal houses were closely related and in the time
of Philip of Macedon Epirus effectively became a satellite of Macedonia
with Philip installing and supporting the Epirote King Alexander I.
Alexander I was the brother of Phillip’s wife the Epirote Princess
Olympias. To cement the alliance Phillip arranged for Alexander to marry
his daughter Cleopatra (Alexander’s own niece and Alexander the Great’s
sister). It was at the ensuing marriage celebrations that Phillip was
assassinated. Pyrrhus, who became King of Epirus as an infant following
his father’s death on campaign in 313BC, was Alexander the Great’s
second cousin—so it might be said that conquest was in his blood!
the wars of the diadochi (the ‘successors’ of Alexander the Great) the
seventeen year old Pyrrhus sided with Antigonus Monophthalmus (One-Eye)
and his son Demetrius against a coalition of Cassander of Macedon,
Lysimachus and Seleucus. Following defeat at Ipsus in 301BC Pyrrhus
found himself a hostage of Ptolemy—a pawn in the wars of succession that
were to rage over Alexander’s empire for years to come. Ptolemy provided
Pyrrhus with the means to regain his throne in 297BC.
lost no time in putting his mercurial talents to work—fighting a war
against his former ally Demetrius King of Macedonia and ousting him from
his throne. However, his conquests were to prove short-lived as he was
ejected only 2 years alter, in 284BC by Lysimachus.
the Epirote army marched into Italy in support of the Tarentines, where
Pyrrhus fought a series of successful, if costly, battles against the
Romans. He was then courted by the Sicilians who sought his aid against
the Carthaginians—and once again the Epirote army proved successful in
battle, driving out the Carthaginians and establishing control over
Sicily. At this point the King of Epirus seemed ideally poised to
consolidate his conquests into a western empire—but it was not to be.
His despotic behaviour in Sicily turned the Greeks against him and he
abandoned his position there, returning to Italy to face a newly formed
and reinvigorated Roman army. Although undefeated, once again he was
obliged to retreat. Thwarted in the west—he turned his attentions to
Macedonia once more where he successfully defeated the army of Antigonus
II Gonatas (‘knock-knees’) and installed himself as King. He spent his
final year fighting in Greece—and was killed during street-fighting in
Argos—supposedly felled by a roof tile thrown by one of the populace.
was masterfully talented general—but a poor politician and terrible
ruler. He always managed to achieve his military aims—but usually
succeeded in losing the confidence of the very people he was fighting
for by behaving in an arrogant or thoughtless way. He seemed
pathologically incapable of consolidating any of his conquests in his
eagerness to engage fresh enemies, with the result that his wars in
Italy, Sicily and Greece achieved very little in the long run. Upon his
death his entire army deserted to his enemy Antigonus.