In the 3rd century BC. Rome actively expanded its possessions in Italy. After the victory over the Samnite tribes, the entire center of the peninsula became Roman. After that, the time came for the southern policies, where mainly the Greek population lived. In 282 BC. the inhabitants of the Furies, who had a conflict with the large city of Tarentum, turned to Rome. The Romans had a peace treaty with Tarentum, but they decided not to miss the opportunity to gain land in southern Italy. Therefore, they sent an army that helped the Furies defeat the army of Tarentum. The Tarentans accused Rome of violating the treaty, attacked Roman ships in the local harbor, and turned to Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, for help.
Pyrrhus seized on this offer. In the spring of 280 BC. his army landed in Italy. It consisted of 22 thousand infantrymen, 3 thousand horsemen and twenty war elephants. The first battle of Pyrrhus with the Romans took place near the city of Heraclea. With the help of the elephants, which the Romans faced for the first time, Pyrrhus won a decisive victory. The Romans had to leave the entire region of Lucania, and many local tribes – Bruttii, Samnites, Lucans – went over to the side of Pyrrhus. More important was the support of Pyrrhus by the Greek city-states of the southern coast of Italy.
As a result, a year later, Pyrrhus had an army of 40 thousand people, it included both Greek troops and the Samnite allies. The Romans sent an army of the same size against them. In addition, the Romans took into account the experience of the previous battle and prepared various measures to combat the war elephants: boards studded with nails (they were planned to be put in the path of the advancing elephants), as well as pots with an incendiary composition that was supposed to scare the attacking giants. In 279 BC. near Ausculus, the second major battle in the war between Pyrrhus and Rome took place.
The battle lasted two days and ended with Pyrrhus’s victory. The Romans lost 6,000, and Pyrrhus only 3,500. But a significant part of these losses were his veterans, as well as the officer corps. It was then that Pyrrhus exclaimed: “One more such victory, and I will be left without an army!” He tried to conclude a truce with the Romans, but was met with firm refusal. Realizing that a further offensive did not promise him any prospects, he decided to continue the war elsewhere. At this time, the inhabitants of Syracuse in Sicily turned to him, asking him to help resist Carthage. Pyrrhus decided that this was his chance and went with his army to Sicily.
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In 276 BC. Pyrrhus became the sovereign ruler of all Sicily, had a fleet of 200 battle galleys, and at the same time he still had a large port of Tarentum in Italy. But he lost the fruits of all previous victories over Rome, since the Romans, taking advantage of the absence of Pyrrhus, not only regained their positions, but also captured the Greek cities of Croton and Locra in southern Italy. Most importantly, the Romans formed an alliance with Carthage against a common enemy. Now two powerful powers were fighting together against the dangerous adventurer, which in their eyes was King Pyrrhus.
Pyrrhus landed again in Italy, but in doing so he lost Sicily. After his departure, the Sicilians revolted and announced the overthrow of the Pyrrhus monarchy on this island. Pyrrhus desperately needed new victories over Rome, because in this case he could still gain a foothold in the south of the Italian peninsula. In 275 BC. near the town of Benevent, a battle took place between his army and the Romans. Pyrrhus won as always, but as a result he had practically no troops left. The Romans, who had to retreat, but retained a significant part of their forces, were not going to surrender.
Pyrrhus could not count on receiving reinforcements, the local allies proved to be extremely unreliable, and he practically lost his army. In such a situation, Pyrrhus thought it good to be evacuated to his homeland, to Epirus. The Romans eventually gained complete dominance over all of southern Italy, although they did not win a single battle with Pyrrhus. However, they managed to inflict damage on Pyrrhus and his allies, which proved to be decisive and determined the outcome of this war.
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