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War against Pyrrhus

Date: 280 bc
Consul: P. Valerius Laevinus
Inf.: 2 legions + alae
Cav.: 600 + alae
Casualties: 15,000/7000
Leader: Pyrrhus
Inf.: 20,000; 1000archers
500 slingers
Cav.: 3000;20 elephants
Casualties: 13.000 /4000

Battle of Heracleia

Pyrrheian victory
The ancient authors tell slightly different stories about this battle and the battle of Asculum. In each battle the Romans have to cross a river right in front of the enemy. For both battles a pyrrhean victory is claimed by Plutarchus where Cassius Dio reports a victory for the Romans in the second battle. Consequently Cassius Dio puts the famous sentence: "One more victory like this one and I am ruined" in Pyrrhus mouth after the first battle where Plutarchus reserves this for the second. There are more peculiarities.

     Phase I  

Phase 1 More discipline than expected
When the Romans neared Tarentum Pyrrhus moved his army to stop them plundering and ravaging the land. In the same time he tried to stall, because he was waiting for the promised reinforcements of his allies. Between the two armies ran the river Siris. Both armies camped for the night and when Pyrrhus rode out to observe the Romans he was unpleasantly surprised by their discipline.

Phase II Crossing blocked
In the morning the reinforcement still hadn't arrived, but the Romans moved to the river. The river will not have been fordable on the full length, so the Romans could only cross the river at a couple of places. These were easily checked by the Greek cavalry, that Pyrrhus had sent when he noticed his outpost couldn't cope with the Romans. It was obvious to consul Valerius, that he was to think up a plan if he wished to cross the river and have a combat ready army.


Phase II


Phase III


Phase III Up scaling to a full battle
Valerius sent his cavalry to cross the river unseen by Pyrrhus men. When they returned on the other bank of the river they attacked Pyrrhus' cavalry, who now had to defend themselves. Now there was room for the Roman foot to reach the other side of the Siris alive. Hereupon Pyrrhus marched his army to the Romans and formed his phalanx.

Phase 4 Pyrrheian victory
Now a formal battle was fought. For a long time the two armies were equals, but in the end the Romans had to give in. This was the first time they laid eyes on an elephant and they were terrified, as were their horses (living animals with their own fears). But the Romans were to find out that even these terrifying animals were living creatures that could be beaten, but not in this battle though. But also Pyrrhus had lost an important part of his army.


Phase IV


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