Kingdom of Epiros

Bust depicting Pyrrhos of Epiros

Epiros was a small kingdom in the extreme north-west of Greece, on the coast of the Ionian sea. Today the area belongs in part to modern Greece, and in part to Albania. At the beginning of the third century B.C.E. Epiros suddenly appeared on the political Landscape of the Hellenistic world. The king Pyrrhos of Epiros took his army on multiple expeditions into the territory of neighbouring states, and was able to greatly extend his territory, thanks to his impressive military genius. His most famous campaign led him to Italy, where he came to the aid of the Greek city of Tarent over a dispute with the emerging republic of Rome. He fought and won multiple battles against the Romans, including the battle of Asculum, where he is rumored to have said: “One other such victory will utterly undo us.” Despite his victories, he could not stop the Roman expansion in southern Italy.

After his campaign against the Romans, he shifted his attention to Sicily. The Greek cities there had called upon him for help, because they were under duress by the Carthaginians. As soon as he arrive, he was celebrated as a liberator and named king of Sicily. However, the public opinion of him would soon turn against him, after he started to demand tributes for his campaign from the Sicilian cities. Consequently Pyrrhos decided to abandon his plans in Italy, and moved his army back home to Greece. His unsuccessful campaign in Italy did not stop him from further endeavours. He defeated the Macedonian king Antigonus II Gonatas, and was himself named king of Macedonia. Shortly afterwards he seized an opportunity to strengthen his position on the Peloponnes by intervening in a civil dispute in Sparta. His assault on the city failed however, and Pyrrhos lost his son Ptolemy, who was fighting in the rearguard, on the retreat. He died after being hit by a roof-tile while attempting to conquer the city of Argos

In his short reign, Pyrrhos the eagle controlled large part of southern Italy, Sicily, Macedonia, and parts of southern Greece. However, he failed to conquer any permanent territories for Epiros. With him the kingdom of Epiros vanished from the political landscape as well.

Epirote Cavalry Officer

290 to 270 B.C.E.

As in every Hellenistic army since Alexander the great, the cavalry played a special role in the army of Pyrrhos. It was usually their task to decide the battle with their charge. Consequently Hellenistic kings oftentimes rode to battle together with their cavalry.

This impression is based on the finds from the village Prodromi in Thesprotia, which is located on the area of ancient Epiros. At the end of the 1970s a farmer discovered a cist-grave. The grave contained an iron breastplate, two iron helmet, one of which was covered in silver, an iron sword, and a matching iron sheath. The length of the sword, and the details of the breastplate lead to the conclusion that this was the equipment of a cavalry soldier.