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Ancient texts

Liv. (11)
Plut. Pyrrhus (14-26)
Cassius Dio (9;10)

War against Pyrrhus
and Tarentum


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    1st Punic war

282-276 bc

Dictator Hortensius

Again the plebeians tried and enlarged their power in the city. As usual this didn't happen without a struggle. Livius reports a third secession, which would have led to lex Hortensia or Hortensius' law. Q. Hortensius was a plebeian dictator and would bring back the plebeians. But he also made this law, that determined a plebiscite, a law approved by the people (and not by the senate and patricians in the comitia centuriata) was valid for everybody in Rome and not just the plebeians.

Tarentum asks king Pyrhus of Epirus for help

Once the Samnites were defeated, the conquest of Calabria and Apulia by the Romans seemed a matter of time. Tarentum a Greek colony already had participated in several wars against the Romans, started stirring up a number of cities to make war against Rome while it self didn't take part. When the Romans sent admiral L. Valerius to Tarentum but his ship(s) were attacked by the Tarentines and destroyed. A Roman envoy sent to Tarentum was maltreated and Rome declared war. When Rome closed in on Tarentum they remembered their Greek roots and invited the Greek king Pyrrhus of Epirus to come and help them.

  King Pyrrhus of Epirus

King Pyrrhus of Epirus
Museo archeologico Napoli

King Pyrrhus of Epirus

King Pyrrhus who had conquered large parts of Greece and dreamed of conquering an empire, saw this invitation as an opportunity to realize his plans, accepted the invitation against the advice of Cineas his counselor. He crossed over to Tarentum with 23,000 foot 3000 horse, 2000 archers,500 slingers. Oh and 20 elephants, animals the Romans had never laid eyes on before.

Consul P. Valerius Laevinus

Valerius Laevinus, the Roman consul approached Tarentum with a consular army. King Pyrrhus of Epirus sent word and offered to mediate between Tarentum and the Romans an offer Valerius declined. When the two armies met, Pyrrhus was shocked by the discipline the "barbaric" Romans showed and how they operated. In the next battle (Heracleia) Pyrrhus got wounded but won the battle. Pyrrhus won the battle, but with great losses on his own side. Cassius Dio let him speak the famous words:"If I should ever conquer again in this fashion, it would be my ruin"; Plutarchus saves this excalmation for the second battle.

Roman intransigence

Pyrrhus marched to Rome, meanwhile trying to conquer Capua or Neapolis. Both attempts failed. He must have thought he had won the war, but the opposite was true. Valerius' army was reenforced and the other consul, Ti. Coruncanius, was recalled from Etruria to defend Rome. Roman envoys were sent to Pyrrhus to negotiate about prisoner exchange or buy back, but not about peace. Pyrrhus tried to persuade them to make peace by offering numerous expensive gifts. The Romans of course declined. They would fight on until Rome was conquered.

Appius Claudius

Now Pyrrhus sent Cineas to Rome in an attempt to make peace. He was seemingly free in his movements in Rome and could visit all kinds of important persons and offer them gifts. When in the end he showed up in the senate, the senators were inclined to make peace. Now Appius, old and blind, had himself moved to the senate building, where he gave a thundering speech and Cineas left empty handed

Victoria or Nike

Victoria goddess of victory
Altes Museum Berlin

Battle of Asculum

This led to the battle of Asculum. This time the Romans were better prepared for the elephants and one of the consuls was called P. Decius Mus. Cassius Dio suggests he prepared for a third Decius to seek death on the battlefield, but he doesn't say he actually did. He even states Pyrrhus had him warned, his men were forbidden to kill him. The outcome of this battle is unclear, but Pyrrhus decided to leave for Sicily. The procession of this battle is so much similar to the battle of Heracleia that one can doubt if there were two battles.

King Pyrrhus to Sicily and back

Initially Pyrrhus operated successfully in Sicily, but when he started to behave like a tyrant, his Sicilian allies left him and he had to return to Italy. This time the Romans were really ready for him and he was forced to return home.

Carthaginian fleet nears Tarentum

With the departure of Pyrrhus the war with Tarentum was far from over. But in the end a Carthaginian fleet showed up at the coast of Tarentum. When they learned the Romans already had conquered the city, they left. A couple of years later the Romans would use this as an excuse for the start of the fist Punic war. They stated this were a violence of the three friendships treaties where is was not allowed to Carthaginians to near the Romans coast. Carthago said there were a fourth treaty that obliged them to offer help to the Romans and that was exactly what they were doing. Polybius denies the existence of this treaty. Modern scientists now have reason to believe it did exist.

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    1st Punic war

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