Pyrrhus of Epirus Biography

(King of Epirus from 297 BC to 272 BC)

Born: 319 BC

Born In: Epirus

Pyrrhus of Epirus was a Greek general and statesman, whose military victories against Rome gave rise to the phrase ‘Pyrrhic victory’. Indeed, some of his wins turned out to be as much costly for him as for the Romans, referring to which, he is believed to have said "If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined". Born in Epirus, a historical region now shared between Greece and Albania and located between the Pindus Mountains and the Ionian Sea, he belonged to the Molossian tribe, which inhabited the region since the Mycenaean era. Although born as the only son of King Aeacides, he was raised in the household of Glaucias, the ruler of Taulantii, since the age of two. At the age of twelve, he was restored to the throne of Epirus, losing it again at fifteen, finally recouping his kingdom around the age of twenty-one. He spent the next years of life constantly fighting wars and winning most of them. He died at the age of forty-six while trying to capture Argos.
Quick Facts

Died At Age: 47


Spouse/Ex-: Antigone of Epirus (m. 300 BC–295 BC), Bircenna (m. 292 BC–272 BC), Lanassa (m. 295 BC–291 BC)

father: Aeacides of Epirus

mother: Phthia of Epirus

siblings: Deidamia I of Epirus

children: Alexander II of Epirus, Helenus, Olympias II of Epirus, Ptolemy

Born Country: Greece

Emperors & Kings Greek Men

Died on: 272 BC

place of death: Argos, Greece

Cause of Death: Killed In Battle

Childhood & Early Life
Pyrrhus was born in around 319 BCE in Epirus. His father, Aeacides, was the King of Epirus from 331 to 313 BC while his mother, Phthia, was the daughter of Menon of Pharsalus and second cousin to Alexander the Great. He had two sisters; Deidamia and Troias.
In 317 BCE, as Aeacides was temporarily driven away from his kingdom, his servants ran away with Pyrrhus. Eventually, they reached Taulantii in Illyria (modern Albania) and placed the baby between the feet of its ruler, Glaucias. Immediately, the baby stood up, holding on to Glaucias’ knees, making him laugh.
For the next ten years, Pyrrhus lived under the protection of Glaucias and his wife, Beroea of Epirus. Finally, in 306 BC, Glaucias invaded Epirus, at that time ruled by Cassander of Macedon, and put twelve-year-old Pyrrhus on the throne, appointing regent to rule in his name.
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From 302 BC to 284 BC
In 302 BC, Pyrrhus was once again banished from his kingdom by Cassander, who replaced him with his cousin Neoptolemus II. Thereafter, Pyrrhus found shelter with his sister, Deidamia’s husband, Demetrius I of Macedon. He serving under him during the Fourth War of the Diadochi and also participated in the Battle of Ipsos.
In 299-298 BC, he was sent to Alexandria as a hostage under the terms of a peace treaty signed between Demetrius I and Ptolemy I Soter, the ruler of Egypt. There he married Ptolemy’s stepdaughter, upon which Ptolemy restored him the Kingdom of Epirus, then ruled by Neoptolemus II.
Initially, the two cousins decided to rule the state as co-kings. But very soon, Pyrrhus had Neoptolemus II murdered and became the sole ruler of the Kingdom of Epirus.
In 294 BC, Alexander V, son of Cassander of Macedon, invited Pyrrhus and Demetrius I to help him in his fight against his brother, Antipater. Eventually, Antipater was forced to flee to the court of Lysimachus and Pyrrhus was awarded western Macedon. Shortly thereafter, Pyrrhus transferred his capital to Ambracia.
In 292 BC, Pyrrhus decided to go against his brother-in-law, who had by then declared himself the King of Macedon and invaded Thessaly while Demetrius I was besieging Thebes; but was repulsed. Eventually in 288, Pyrrhus drove Demetrius out of the kingdom and seized the throne.
Possibly in 287 BC, Lysimachus invaded Macedon and Pyrrhus was forced to share the kingship with him. Eventually in 284 BC, Pyrrhus was driven out of the kingdom by Lysimachus and had to return to Epirus.
Conflict With Rome
In 281 BC, on being invited by Italian kingdom of Tarentum to lead their war against Rome, Pyrrhus crossed over to Italy with a large army. It consisted of 20,000 infantry, 3,000 cavalry, 2,000 archers, 500 slingers, and 20 war elephants.
In his fight against Rome, Pyrrhus was joined by other Greek kingdoms such as Tarentum, Thurii, Metapontum, and Heraclea. Eventually in 280 BC, they won complete victory over the Roman army in the Battle of Heraclea. However, Pyrrhus too lost many men, making the victory equally costly for him.
In 279 BC, he attacked Apulia, eventually defeating the Romans in another costly battle at Asculum. In the following year, he crossed over to Sicily on invitation of Sicilian cities. In the same year, he lifted the Carthaginian siege of Syracuse and was proclaimed King of Sicily.
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In 277 BC, he captured the strongest Carthaginian fortress, Eryx. Its fall encouraged other cities to defect and very soon, he captured most of the Punic province, except Lilybaeum (modern-day Marsala), which remained a Carthaginian stronghold.
Pyrrhus soon realized that if he wanted to capture Lilybaeum, he would also have to blockade it from the sea and therefore requested money and manpower from the Sicilian states, eventually making such contributions compulsory. Such dictatorial attitude made the Sicilian unhappy, provoking a revolt against him.
In 276 BC, after facing revolt in Sicily, Pyrrhus decided to return to Italy. On the way, he had to face the Carthaginian troops, who inflicted heavy damage on him at the Battle of the Strait of Messina.
By then, the Romans had also rebuilt their army and when the two armies met at the Battle of Beneventum in 275 BC, Pyrrhus had to concede defeat. Thereafter, he decided to leave Italy and return to Epirus.
In 274 BC, he again set out on an expedition, defeating Macedonian ruler, Antigonus II Gonatas at the Battle of Aous. In the same year, he was hailed the King of Macedonia.
Last War & Death
In 272 BC, Pyrrhus was approached by a Spartan prince, Cleonymus, to restore the throne for him. Accordingly, he launched an attack on Sparta; but was thwarted in his attempt. Defeated, he now attempted to seize Argos, but found it full of hostile troops.
While fighting at night in the narrow street of Argos, Pyrrhus was hit by a tile thrown from a roof top. It knocked him off his horse, breaking part of his spine. As he lay paralyzed on the street, a Macedonian soldier named Zopyrus beheaded him. He was then forty-six years old.
Family & Personal Life
Pyrrhus is believed to have married five times and led a polygamous life. But among his wives, only Antigone, Lanassa and Bircenna have been mentioned in the history books.
In 299-298 BC, while living in Alexandria, he married Antigone, the stepdaughter of Ptolemy I Soter. They had two children, a daughter called Olympias and a son called Ptolemy. It is possible that Antigone died while giving birth to Ptolemy because both the incidents took place in 295 BC.
In 295 BC, he married Lanassa, the daughter of king Agathocles of Syracuse, Sicily, having two sons called Alexander and Helenus with her. However, she left him in 291 BC because of his polygamous lifestyle.
In 292 BC, he married Bircenna, the daughter of Bardylis II of the Dardanian Kingdom, in order to strengthen his hold in southern Illyria. She too bore him son named Helenus. It is not known when, but she too left him, claiming that he took better care of his ‘barbarian wives’.

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