The Battle Of Asculum In 279 BC



For the upcoming battle both armies were practically equal in forces with the Romans numbering 38,000 Republican infantry and 2,000 cavalry under the command of Consol Publius Decius. King Pyrrhus and his Macedonian – Greek army numbered 37,000 infantry, 3000 cavalry and 25 War Elephants.Both armies deployed their cavalry on the wings and infantry in the center. King Pyrrhus held his personal guard cavalry in reserve behind the center along with the War Elephants.

On the first day, the Macedonians broke the Roman 1st legion and there allies on the left wing but Decius quickly ordered the Roman 3rd legion to counter attack which re – stabilized the Roman flank

Pyrrhus then deployed the war elephants against the third legion which proceeded to take refuge in and around the heavily wooded areas on the high ground. Pyrrhus then sent Samnite infantry to drive the Romans out of the woods but they were intercepted by Roman cavalry and cut to pieces.

Both sides now withdrew to their respective camps as dusk approached with neither having gained a significant advantage.

At dawn Pyrrhus sent his infantry forward to occupy the high ground. A massive Phalanx vs Legion engagement occurred, the fighting was fierce and became deadlocked. It wasn’t until the Greek war elephants supported by light infantry arrived which finally broke through the Roman shield wall.

The elephants then charged through the breach scattering the Roman infantry, which quickley broke ranks. Pyrrhus then ordered his cavalry wings to charge, turning the Roman withdrawal into a complete rout.

Pyrrhus had achieved victory but at a high cost. Although the Roman casualties totaled 8,000 compared to the Greek – Macedonian losses of 3,500. Pyrrhus had lost nearly 65% of his irreplaceable veteran officer corps. Pyrrhus later commented on his victory stating, “One more such victory, and we shall be undone.

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  • Stanley OUL's profile photo

    A Pyrrhic victory is a victory which is only achieved with heavy losses on one’s own side. This alludes to the Battle of Ausculum (Ascoli Satriano, in Apulia). in 279 BC.

    After the battle, Pyrrhus is recorded to have commented: “If we win another such battle against the Romans, we will be completely lost” (Plutarch, Pyrrhus 21,14).

    The best example of a pyrrhic victory is in the anglo-zulu war, in which Ntshingwayo Khoza set 22,000 zulu warriors, about 55% of the male population of zululands to attack 1,400 British soldiers in a surprise attack at the Battle of Isandlwana.

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