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A Pyrrhic victory (pronounced pirric) is a victory which is won at too great a cost for the victor. The phrase is a reference to King Pyrrhus of Epirus, who defeated the Romans at Heraclea and Asculum in 279 BC, but suffered severe and irreplaceable casualties in the process, going on to eventually lose the Pyrrhic War. After the battle of Asculum, Plutarch relates a report by Dionysius that:

"The armies separated; and, it is said, Pyrrhus replied to one that gave him joy of his victory that one other such would utterly undo him. For he had lost a great part of the forces he brought with him, and almost all his particular friends and principal commanders; there were no others there to make recruits, and he found the confederates in Italy backward. On the other hand, as from a fountain continually flowing out of the city, the Roman camp was quickly and plentifully filled up with fresh men, not at all abating in courage for the loss they sustained, but even from their very anger gaining new force and resolution to go on with the war." [1]

The phrase is more often reported as "Another such victory over the Romans and we are undone". While it is most closely associated with a military battle, the term is used by analogy in fields such as business, politics, law or sport to describe any similar struggle which is ruinous for the victor. E.g., "The football team gained a pyrrhic victory; they won the game but their best player broke his leg."

See also

  • Battle of attrition
  • winner's curse
  • heroic failure
  • no-win situation
  • Win-win situation
  • Mexican standoff

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A detailed description of the Pyrrhic War

Der sechste Abschnitt der frühen römischen Republik (German)

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