Pyrrhus, (318?-272 B.C.), a king of Epirus, an ancient country that adjoined Macedonia to the west. A relative of Alexander the Great, Pyrrhus came to manhood during the period of rivalry and warfare between Alexander's heirs. He gained renown as a general by subduing his own rebellious subjects, and by a short-lived conquest of Macedonia. In 282 the Greek city of Tarentum (Taranto) in Italy asked his help in defending itself against the Romans.

Pyrrhus arrived in Italy the next year with a body of troops and some elephants. He won brilliant victories over the Romans at Heraclea in 280 and at Ausculum (Ascoli Satriano) in 279, but with terrible losses to himself. His reported exclamation, “Another such victory and we are lost!” gave rise to the expression “Pyrrhic victory,” for too costly a success.

Having made himself master of much of southern Italy, Pyrrhus next tried to wrest Sicily from the Carthaginians, but failed. He returned to Italy and, after being defeated by the Romans at Beneventum in 275, led his troops back to Epirus.

After another invasion of Macedonia, Pyrrhus was called to the Peloponnesus for an attack against Sparta. When the attack failed, he turned against Argos, where he was killed.

Historians generally consider Pyrrhus an ambitious adventurer who failed to take advantage of his victories. The Romans, however, admired him intensely, and the Carthaginian general Hannibal considered him second only to Alexander as a military genius.