Pyrrhus of Epirus


He has been in history as one of the «big losers», which is unfair to the extremely capable soldier Pyrrhus, but he responds to the image of the stormy, violent and alien political leader.

The father of Pyrrhus was the king of the Molosses (Greek tribe) of Epirus, Aiakides, the son of the house of Aiakides. His mother was Thessalian, Fthia, daughter of Menon.

Pyrrhus grew up as the successor to the throne of the Molossians, but in the turbulent period following the death of Alexander the Great, no throne and no kingdom were safe.

Before his two years ended, a revolution in Epirus forced his father to flee him to Illyria, in the court of the king of the Tavlantes (Illyrian tribe), Claudia. At that time, the Greek world was shaken by the wars of Alexander’s successors. Epirus was essentially a protectorate of the Macedonian throne, for which Alexander’s descendants fought. Alexandros’s mother, Olympus, was the fiancé of the royal house of Epirus and, as he was next, the father of Pyrrhuss, who had fled to the Aitolians, allied with her and the Polyperchon against Kassandros.

Illyrian Hoplites

Illyrian Hoplites

For a decade, controversy and revolutionary movements were waving in Epirus. However, Glacios, who was very ambitious, fought against Epirus and, after he managed to control the country, installed Pyrrhus on the throne, believing that he would be able to influence the 12-year-old king in his own interest.

But Pyrrhus himself had the impression that he could keep his throne, even with the protection of Claudia. At that time, as a «strong man» of Greece, Demetrius, the so-called «Beseiger», was the son of Antigonus of Monophthalmos. Extremely capable, Dimitrios had ambitions comparable only to those of his father, on whose behalf he acted at that time.

Demetrius’ wheeled siege tower named «Helepolis» (or «Taker of Cities») which stood 125 feet (38 m) tall and 60 feet (18 m) wide, weighing 360,000  pounds.

Pyrrhuss rushed to ally with Demetrius and to give him as his wife his sister, Dyedameia. Pyrrhuss, however, was counting without Kassandros, who, though he had lost enough of his influence, managed to exploit the absence of the king of Epirus when he had visited Glaucias and instigated a revolution that overthrew him.

Exiled for a second time from his kingdom, Pyrrhus didn’t give up. He resorted to the hands of Antigonus and Demetrius, and even fought with them side by side in


the great battle of Ipsus, the last of the «Wars of the Successors», who finalized the split of the vast empire of Alexander.

Antigonus was killed during the battle and his army was defeated, while Dimitrios was in a bad position, as did Pyrrhuss. Dimitrios’ diplomatic capacity has enabled him to negotiate an alliance treaty with Ptolemy I Soter (also known as Ptolemy of Lagus), the new king of Egypt,to whose court was sent (in 299 BC) Pyrrhuss as a «royal hostage» to secure the good faith of the unpredictable Dimitrios.

Pyrrhuss quickly succeeded in winning the favor of Ptolemy, especially Queen Berenice, and became their son-in-law after marrying their daughter, Antigone.

Taking advantage of the wealth and strength of his father-in-law, he decided to regain his kingdom. The 296 made his move and the ruler of Epirus, his cousin Neoptolemos, preferred not to confront him with the weapons but to share the throne with him.

But Pyrrhus kneaded the rigors, the difficulties and the intrigues already from his teens , motivated by excessive ambition,murdered his cousin after a few months and remained, in 295, the sole ruler of his kingdom.

The ambition was the life-giving force that prompted Pyrrhus in frivolous and unreasonable acts, such as the attempt to promote a small kingdom, which was always on the sidelines of the developments in Greece and never before Pyrrr had managed to play an active role.

But Pyrrhuss was determined to walk in the footsteps of his ancestor, Achilles, and his relative, Alexander the Great, and conquer a seat in the Pantheon with Alexander the Great.

Valuable assistants in this effort were his natural prowess and bravery, the experience in the diplomacy he had acquired during the years of his hostage in Illyria and Egypt, and his undisputed military capabilities.

Pyrrhuss put forward his plans for the acquisition of hegemony in Greece, concluding an alliance with the son of his old enemy, Kassandros, Alexander, with whom he campaigned in Macedonia and restored him to the throne in the throne of Antipater.

In gratitude for his help Alexander gave him areas in the west of Macedonia, which he incorporated into his kingdom, as well as areas in Amvrakia and Amfilochia, as well as Acarnania and Corfu Island from the marriage with the daughter of the tyrant of Syracuse, Aqatocles. With a few movements, Pyrrhuss had managed to double the territory he controlled.

But the problems for Pyrrhus were not over. This time her own wife, Lannasse, daughter of Ajatocles, was the one who caused them. After abandoning him (as a result of his violent character), he offered his hand to the old ally of Pyrrhus, Dimitrios, who (294 BC) had succeeded in consolidating the (short-lived, as it turned out) his domination in Macedonia. Dimitrios, who saw the opportunity to make reality in the West (Greece and Lower Italy) the empire that refused him in the East, fought against his former ally.

The army of Epirus, reorganized into Macedonian standards, defeated the forces of Demetrius and advanced to Macedonia, with the ultimate goal of Pyrrhuss to dethrone his old ally and, taking advantage of the dissatisfaction of the Macedonians, to climb to the throne of the mighty kingdom.

But Pyrrhuss overestimated his powers, something he did many times during his life. The forces of Demetrius proved to be superior and Pyrrhuss had to capitulate with him, although he kept the areas he held before the hostilities began. However, the King of Moloss did not intend to keep his word this time. He allied with Lysimachos and the other competitors of Dimitrios and re-invaded Macedonia as soon as he felt his forces were adequate. This time he had calculated correctly. His army arrived victorious until Pella, where the Macedonians left Demetrius massively to unite with the king of Epirus. Pyrrhuss and Lysimachos shared Macedonia, while the former resumed Demetrius and his remaining forces, led by the son of Dimitrios, Anthony Gonatas, outside Athens.

Pyrrhuss continued his expansive policy and managed to occupy the greater part of Thessaly, as well as a part of Illyria. But when Lysimachos returned to Macedonia from M. Asia and decided to take it all, Pyrrhuss could not resist, as most of his Macedonian warriors resisted and went on the side of his opponent.

The few years of calm that followed were just a break in the stormy career of the «Eagle of Epirus,» who thought his fate owed him great achievements.


Pyrrhus By Plutarch

Jeff Jonas, The Initial Clash:

Republican Rome vs. Pyrrhus of Epirus

Great Battles of the Hellenistic World
 by Joseph Pietrykowski

Pictures ;

Pyrrhus of Epirus

Illyrian Hoplites

heliopolis siege tower


© Konstantinos Manolakos in collaboration with HistoryMarche, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s authors and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the relevant author and HistoryMarche with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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