Pyrrhus of Epirus often appears in histories of the Roman Republic, but he tends to make little more than cameo appearances, appearing in Italy to challenge the Romans and then disappearing again after his failure. It is thus rather nice to have a book that focuses on his entire life and reign, treating the clash with Rome as only one episode in a very adventurous life. During his life Pyrrhus was king of Epirus twice, king of Macedon twice and king of Sicily, as well as one of Rome's most dangerous early opponents. Only his second reign in Epirus was at all stable, lasting for over twenty years.
Pyrrhus comes across as a man with a limited attention span, prone to abandoning one fight half way through when another chance came his way. The glittering opportunity was clearly more appealing than the nitty-gritty of the current job, something that comes across most clearly when he decided to abandon the Greeks of southern Italy to try and establish himself on Sicily. However this is perhaps typical of his times - most of the successors to Alexander the Great were equally opportunistic, and aware that opportunities didn’t come around very often.
Although he was born after the death of Alexander, Pyrrhus's career overlapped with the struggle between the successors, and many of his early chances and defeats came at their hands. By the time he arrived in Italy, Pyrrhus was thus an experienced commander, and his army a major Hellenic force. The clash between Pyrrhus and Rome was thus the first of a series of clashes between Rome and the Hellenistic powers, and the one in which Rome came closest to defeat. Pyrrhus's costly victories are famous, giving his name to any victory that was too costly. However I didn’t realise just how close to Rome he actually got, advancing surprisingly close to the city (although like Hannibal choosing in the end not to risk a direct attack on Rome).
Champion does a good job of placing Pyrrhus in the context of his times, and of dealing with the often difficult or fragmentary sources, to present a rounded portrait of a figure who so often appears as a supporting character in the story of Rome.
1 – Epirus
2 – Exile
3 – Macedonia
4 – Italy
5 – Heraclea
6 – Asculum
7 – Sicily
8 – Beneventum
9 - Greece
Author: Jeff Champion
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military