Pyrrhus (319-272 B.C.), king of Epirus, a kingdom in northern Greece, engaged the Romans in a bloody battle at Asculum in 279 B.C. Pyrrhus’s troops defeated the Roman legions, but at a tragic cost. So many of his soldiers were lost — all his best officers and many men, the flower of his army — that Pyrrhus exclaimed, according to Plutarch, «One more such victory and I am undone». By the time Pyrrhus and his soldiers limped back to Epirus, the decimated Grecian army had been reduced from twenty-five thousand troops to eight thousand.
Pyrrhus was a great warrior, a second cousin of Alexander the Great, but he never succeeded in his hope of reestablishing the empire once ruled by his cousin. How Pyrrhus died is a matter of dispute among word detectives. Some say he was killed in a skirmish with the Romans at Argos; others say that he was killed by an angry mob at Argos after his attempts to capture the city failed; and still others maintain that he died a quite ignoble death from a tile that might have accidentally fallen from a roof.
A Pyrrhic victory, made at a staggering cost, is no joyous victory.