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The Battle of Beneventum (275 BC) was the last battle fought between the forces of Pyrrhus of Epirus (without Samnite allies) and the Romans, led by consul Manius Curius Dentatus. It was fought near Beneventomarker, in southern Italymarker, and was central to subsequent Roman expansion.

Pyrrhus had been drained by his recent wars in Sicily, and by the earlier Pyrrhic victories over the Romans. Although the battle was inconclusive, he decided to end his campaign in Italy and return to Epirus; as a consequence of this, many modern sources wrongly state that Pyrrhus lost the battle. Pyrrhus' departure resulted in the Samnites finally being conquered, and the eventual fall of Magna Graecia three years later, which resulted in Roman dominance of the Italian peninsula.

A Roman army marched south to meet him and erected a fortified camp near the town of Malventum. Pyrrhus approached Malventum with an army estimated at 20,000 infantry, 3,000 cavalry and 20 elephants, but most of the infantry were Italian. The Roman army, weakened by defections of Italian allied troops to Pyrrhus, numbered about 17,000 infantry and 1,200 cavalry. Pyrrhus's scouts located the Roman encampment and he took the risky option of a surprise night attack. In the best traditions of such it went badly wrong. His troops took longer to reach the camp than planned and the Romans detected their approach. They drove off the Epirote attack and Pyrrhus lost half of his irreplaceable elephants. The next day the Romans took to the offensive. Their initial assault failed due to Pyrrhus's skillful use of his remaining elephants and the stalwart resistance of the Epirote hoplites, but a second attack succeeded in stampeding the elephants onto the Epirote phalanx, which withdrew from the battlefield in disorder. The Epirote force was scattered before the battle and the Romans were able to scare Pyrrhus's war elephants (presumably with fire arrows) and send them crashing back to the Epirote ranks. Pyrrhus was left with no choice but to retreat.

Defeated and running out of allies Pyrrhus abandoned the Italian Greeks to Rome, taking back 8,000 infantry and 500 cavalry to Epirus. His last words before leaving Italy are said to have been, 'What a battlefield I am leaving for Carthage and Rome'. In 272 BC Tarentum surrendered to Rome. In 270 BC Rome conquered the last independent Italian Greek city, Rhegium. She was now mistress of the whole of what is now called Italy, except for the part north of the river Po, known then as Cisalpine Gaul.

Although they never defeated Pyrrhus on the field, the Romans were able to win a war of attrition against what was the best general of his time, and one of the greatest in antiquity. In doing so, they established themselves as a strong power in the Mediterranean. The Roman battles with Pyrrhus also foreshadowed the superiority of the Roman legion over the Macedonian phalanx, due to the greater mobility of the legion (though many point out the weakening of the cavalry arm in the times of the diadochi). Also, the Hellenistic world would never again have a general like Pyrrhus to challenge the Romans.

External links

  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/h2g2/A3533726


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