Greek War of Independence 1821 in Art 

- Art Gallery -



The Battle of Asculum took place in 279 BC between the Romans under the command of consul Publius Decius Mus and the combined Tarantine, Oscan, Samnites, and Epiriotic forces, under the command of king Pyrrhus of Epirus. This battle is set within the Rome-Taranto conflict, to control the Magna Graecia. For further informations on this conflict, see the history of Taranto.

The armies

This battle was the second encounter between an Alexandrian, phalanx-based army and the Roman legion. The two armies were equal numbered.

The Romans had more infantry (four legions, 20,000 Romans, plus Dauni allies) and 300 anti-elephant devices. After the battle of Heraclea, in which the Epiriotic war elephants had a heavy impact on the Romans, the legions were provided with inflammable weapons and anti-elephant devices: these were ox-led chariots, equipped with long spikes to wound the elephants, pots of fire to scare them, and with screend troops who would hurl javelins at the elephants to drive them back.

Pyrrhus deployed Macedonian infantry and horses, his own troops, Greek mercenary infantry, allied Italian Greeks, including a Tarantine militia, 20 elephants, and Samnite infantry and horse. The Epiriotic army had an advantage in horses and the 20 elephants. In order to counter the more flexible Roman legion, Pyrrhus had mixed some light Italic troops to his phalanx.

The battle

The battle was fought over two days.

Both armies deployed with their cavalry on the wings and infantry in the centre. Pyrrhus held his Guard cavalry in reserve behind the centre under his personal command. The Elephants were also kept initially in reserve.

The first day, Pyrrhus cavalry and elephants were blocked by the woods and hills where the battle was fought; however, the Italic units he mixed to his phalanx fought well. The Macedonians broke the Roman first legion and Latin allies, on their left wing, but the Roman third and fourth legions beat the Tarantines, Oscans and Epirots of Pyrrhos' centre. Meanwhile a force of Dauni attacked his camp. He sent reserve cavalry to deal with the breakthrough, more cavalry and elephants to drive off the Dauni. When they withdrew to an inaccessible steep hill he switched the elephants against the third and fourth legions; these too took refuge on wooded heights, only to be shot at by the archers and slingers escorting the elephants, to whom they could not reply. Pyrrhos then sent some Athamanian, Akarnanian and Samnite infantry to winkle the Romans out of the woods, but they were intercepted by Roman cavalry. Both sides withdrew at dusk, neither having gained much advantage.

Next dawn Pyrrhus sent light infantry to occupy the difficult ground which had given him trouble the previous day, and thus obliged the Romans to fight a set battle in the open. As at Heraclea, an even fight between legions and phalanx followed, until the elephants, supported by light infantry, broke through the Roman line. It was probably now that the anti-elephant wagons were driven against them; after a brief success, they were overwhelmed by psiloi who negated the anti-elephant chariots of the Romans. The elephants then hit the Roman infantry who buckled under the pressure. Simultaneously, Pyrrhus launched a charge by the Royal Guard, which completed the victory. The Romans then retreated to their camp.

Romans lost 6,000 men; Pyrrhus had 3,500 casualties, among which were many of his officers. A narrow Greek victory.

Battle of Asculum

Most important places in the Pyrrhic War
Conflict: Pyrrhic War
Date: 279 BC
Place: Asculum, mod. Ascoli Satriano, Apulia, Italy
Outcome: narrow Epiriotic victory
Roman Republic Italian Greeks
Publius Decius Mus Pyrrhus of Epirus
about 40,000 soldiers (legions, auxilia, horses)
300 anti-elephant devices
40,000 soldiers (phalanx and horses)
20 elephants
About 6,000 Perhaps 3,500
Pyrrhic War
Heraclea - Asculum - Beneventum


Information about this war can be found in Plutarch's Lives (Pyrrus 2 1), Polybius, Dionysius of Halicarnassus (XX 1--3), and Livy.

Pyrrhus, King of Epirus- by Petros E. Garoufalias ISBN 090574313X

Peter Connolly , Greece and Rome at War- , Greenhill Books, ISBN: 185367303X

Ancient Greece, Battles

Ancient Greece
Medieval Greece / Byzantine Empire
Science, Technology, Arts, , Warfare , Literature, Biographies, Icons, History
Modern Greece

Retrieved from ""
All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License





Hellenica World