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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. I hope you find it helpful and entertaining.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Pyrrhus of Epirus

Just finished Jeff Champion's book on Pyrrhus of Epirus. His claim to fame is that he defeated the Romans in two major battles and was rated by Hannibal as the second greatest general after Alexander. His name lives on with the phrase 'Pyrrhic victory'.

The author starts with an overview of the Eastern Mediterranean in the 3rd Century BC and of Epirus itself. At this time the state was a loose combination of tribes with the King's role primarily that of war leader. Epirus covered large parts of modern North Western Greece and Southern Albania.

Pyrrhus spent much of his youth in exile. This was the period of the Successors and war between them was the norm, dragging in other states. He developed into an brave and capable commander before returning to Epirus as King. He probably inherited a modern Macedonian style of army based on the pike armed phalanx supported by cavalry and elephants.

The rest of the book takes us through his main campaigns. Firstly his conflicts with neighbouring Macedonia and then, at the invitation of the Southern Italian states, with Rome. His famous 'Pyrrhic victories' at Heraclea and Asculum are covered in detail. He then campaigned in Sicily against Carthage before returning to Italy, this time to lose against the Romans at Beneventum. His final campaigns were in Greece, culminating in his death in battle against Argos and the Spartans. 

A fitting end for a King who was almost continually at war. Whilst he was undoubtedly a great battlefield commander his strategic outcomes were poor. Too many campaigns were not seen through to the end and his diplomatic skills in maintaining allies were weak, even allowing for the shifting alliances of the period.

This is a book I would highly recommend. The author has a good writing style and effectively deals with the limited sources in way that retains readability for the general reader. I have spent some time in the Epirus region and it is well worth a visit with plenty of sites of interest for the historian.

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