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Mary Macgregor

Pyrrhus Is Defeated

Pyrrhus found it no easy task to return to Italy, for the Romans had made a league with the Carthaginians, whose fleet was now watching the shore, to prevent him from landing.

But the soldier-king was not easily daunted, and although in a battle with the Carthaginian fleet he lost a number of his ships, he succeeded in reaching Italy.

When the king now marched for the second time into Tarentum, it was at the head of as large an army as he had brought with him from Epirus.

But although in numbers his army was as strong as before, in real strength it had lost much. For the king's own faithful veterans had perished on the battlefields of Heraclea and Asculum, and their place was taken by hired soldiers. And of true courage and devotion to their leader, what did these hired fighters know?

The king himself, too, had lost hope of achieving great things in Italy, and Cineas was no longer living to cheer him with his outbursts of eloquence. Yet his name alone, had he but known it, still awoke terror among the legions of Rome, and made them shrink from meeting him again in battle.

Meanwhile the Consul Dentatus, with his army, had already left Rome, and was marching along the Appian Way toward Maleventum. Here he took up a strong position on the hills, hoping to fight as soon as his colleague joined him.

Pyrrhus knew that his cavalry and elephants could be of little use on the hilly ground on which the Romans had taken up their position, yet, rather than wait until Dentatus was strengthened by the arrival of his colleague, he at once offered battle.

All might have gone well for the king had not one of his young elephants been wounded. In its pain and fright it rushed wildly hither and thither among the other elephants, seeking its mother.

The beasts were soon thrown into utter confusion, while the hired soldiers were seized with panic, and proved useless in quelling the disorder.

Two of the elephants were at length killed by the Romans, while four were captured and led in the triumph of Dentatus, when he returned victorious to Rome.

For the king was utterly defeated and forced to escape, with only a few followers, to Tarentum. In 274 b.c. he sailed back to Epirus, having lost all hope of gaining a kingdom in Italy. But he left a garrison in Tarentum, under one of his officers.

The town, however, was blockaded by the Carthaginian fleet and besieged by the Consul Papirius, and soon, being in a sorry strait for want of food, it was forced to surrender.

Latin colonies were then sent to settle in many towns that had until now been held by the Greeks, and soon Rome was mistress from the river Rubicon to the extreme south of Italy.