The Army of Pyrrhus of Epirus, 3rd Century BC

Published on
Review Author(s)
Book Author(s)
Nicholas Sekunda
Other Publication Information
Soft Cover, 48 pages, Color Illustrations by Peter Dennis
Product / Stock #
Men-at-Arms 528
Company: Osprey Publishing - Website: Visit Site

Most of us have only heard of Pyrrhus through the phrase “Pyrrhic victory”, referring to someone who wins all the battles, but loses the war. There’s a lot more to his story than that one campaign, and he was a very successful general, right up to the end, where he was killed at the Battle of Argos in 272 BC.


  • Introduction
    • Geography of Epirus
  • Epirus in the 5th-4th Centuries BC
    • The Molossian Monarchy c 430-307 BC
    • The Early Life of Pyrrhus, c 319-397 BC
  • Pyrrhus Early Reign 297-288BC
    • The Fall of Macedon’s Antipatrid Dynasty
      • Ambracia –First Clash With Demetrius
      • Pyrrhus as a Military Writer
      • The Partition of Macedonia 288 BC
  • Pyrrhus Turns West 281 BC
    • The Battle of Heraclia, 280 BC
      • Negotiations With Rome
      • The Battle of Asculum 279 BC
    • Pyrrhus in Sicily 278 – 276 BC
    • Return to Italy
      • The Battle of Beneventum, 275 BC
  • Return to Epirus, 274 BC
    • Failure at Sparta, 272 BC
      • Death in Argos
      • Aftermath
      • Downfall of the Aeakid Dynasty
  • The Army of Pyrrhus
    • The Molossian Court
    • Command and Staff
    • Cavalry
      • Guard Cavalry
      • Line Cavalry
      • Anbraciot Cavalry
      • Thessalian Cavalry
      • Mercenary Cavalry
      • Italian Allied Cavalry
    • Infantry
      • The Macedonian Phalanx
      • The Thesprotian, Chaonian and Molossian Phalanxes
      • Epirote logades
      • The Ambraciote Phalanx
      • The Mercenary Phalanx
      • Italian Allied Infantry
    • Elephants and Missile Troops
      • Elephants
      • Slingers
      • Archers
  • Select Bibliography
  • Plate Commentaries
  • Index

Pyrrhus’ Story

Pyrrhus was a successful battle leader. He also formed alliances with neighboring kingdoms, sometimes at their request against other groups in the area. His successes allowed him to annex areas, making his kingdom even larger. Sometimes these annexations were as payment for his service to his allies, sometimes as reparations from the losers.

The armies of Pyrrhus were much larger than I thought, with 40,000 in his army. I also learned that Pyrrhus used elephants in battle, much like tanks were used in World War I, to disrupt infantry and cavalry formations. I have read histories of the Carthaginian army of Hannibal, which made his elephants sound like a new technology, although this was over 100 years after Pyrrhus.

Most of Pyrrhus’ battles were fought in the Balkans, in current Macedonia and Albania. But he also went to help a neighbor who had invaded Italy, and was losing to the Romans. Pyrrhus’ forces did defeat the Roman army he first faced, but his losses were great enough that he was worried. But he received reinforcements, and in a second battle he won again, but then perceived that the Romans still had more troops coming, and he was running out of troops. This is the source of the “Pyrrhic Victory”. He won, but couldn’t keep going.

Pyrrhus kept on fighting successfully until his death in battle.

Overall Evaluation

This isn’t a full coverage of the wars and armies of this period. The main reason is that it’s been 2300 years, and the surviving histories don’t agree on many of the facts. So a lot of the book is based on interpretation. If historians still disagree on happenings from World War II, I suspect that this book had a lot of interpolating to figure out a reasonable discussion of the history.

The best part of this book is the color illustrations. Anyone who does figures, or wants to, can have a great time doing some 300 to 250 BC era figures. And the elephant is very useful too.

This book is a look into a history not often covered by our sources.

Many thanks to Osprey Publications for this informative book, and to IPMS USA for allowing me to review it.


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