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Pyrrhic

The Phyrric Army

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Historical Overview Section


Pyrrhus was considered one of the greatest military commanders of his time. Plutarch records that Hannibal ranked Pyrrhus as either the greatest or the second greatest commander the world had seen (after Alexander). Pyrrhus was a second cousin of Alexander the Great (via Alexander's mother, Olympias) and was only two years old when his father was dethroned in 317 BC leading his family to take refuge with one of the largest Illyrian tribes. Restored to his throne in 306 BC only four years later be was banished by his enemy Cassander initiating a career as an officer, in the Early Successor's "Wars of the Diadochi" under his brother-in-law Demetrius. In 298 BC Pyrrhus was taken hostage to Later Ptolemaic Alexandria, under the terms of a peace treaty made between Demetrius and Ptolemy I. There, he married Ptolemy I's stepdaughter and in 297 BC (with Ptolemy I's financial and military aid) restored his kingdom in Epirus. In 295 BC Pyrrhus transferred the capital of his kingdom to Ambrakia (modern Arta). Next, he went to war against his former ally and brother-in-law and one of the Early Successors Demetrius and by 286 BC he had taken control over the Early Successor Macedonian kingdom - but not for long as soon after he was driven out of by Lysimachus in 284 BC.

He was then asked to lead the Greek city of Tarentum, against the Mid Republican Romans - Pyrrhus was encouraged to aid the Tarentines by the oracle of Delphi. His goals were not, however entirely selfless as he recognized the possibility of carving out an empire for himself in Italy. The war culminated in the battle of Asculum (279 BC), where Pyrrhus won a very costly victory. The consul Publius Decius Mus was the Roman commander, and his able force, though defeated, broke the back of Pyrrhus' Hellenistic army, and guaranteed the security of the city itself. The battle foreshadowed later Roman victories over more numerous and well armed successor state military forces and inspired the term "Pyrrhic victory", meaning a victory which comes at a crippling cost.

Author (and keen wargamer) Jeff Champion has written a recent book on Pyrrhus as part of the Pen & Sword series, including detailed descriptions of Pyrrhus' major battles and the surrounding historical events all written in a factual and candid manner. It includes maps, sufficient background information and describes the accuracy and context of the historical references, so that a non-historian can easily understand this work - ideal for the wargamer. The book is primarily a narrative account of Pyrrhus' career, and handles a good range of source material from Justin's Epitome of Trogus to Plutarch's life or Pyrrhus, Diodorus, Pausanias, Livy, Appian and several other ancient authors. Champion provides good authorial analysis of the sources and uses them to provides good accounts of the key battles at Heraclea, Asculum and Beneventum as well as a chapter on Pyrrhus' time in Sicily. Champion also puts Pyrrhus in context by providing background information such as the introduction sections of his chapters on Epirus, Rome, Sicily and also on the Successors to prove an assessment of previous events. You can get it on Amazon.co.uk or on Amazon.com via those links

Painting and collecting the army

  • There is very little known about the "uniforms" of Epirote forces. Two designs attributed to Pyrrhic troops include an insignia representing his name, which is often seen on Epirote coins of the time and may possibly have been used on shields. The trident was also commonly associated with Epirote forces,as seen in "Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars" by Duncan Head. From a purely archaeological perspective there is very little, if any, evidence for colors in Pyrrhic forces, let alone insignia. Given that Pyrrhus was a huge admirer of Alexander and considered himself a spiritual (if not literal) descendent, then the Macedonian Star design would probably not be out of question.
  • The use of Red in Successor forces likely comes from Alexander as the Macedonian tunic color was red, according to most accounts. Pyrrhus, again being fairly obsessed with Alexander, would not have been immune to this possibility. That said, red wasn't the only color used for tunics. It came in a wide variety of colors. White or off-white were very common, as was light grey. The linen armor worn by Pyrrhus' phalangites would likely have been white or off-white; dyed examples weren't unknown, but they are fairly rare. So, typically, white/off-white linen armor over a colored tunic.

Using the army in FoG

  • In many ways a classic "Successor" type army, pinning an crushing the enemy with a wall of pikes, working the flanks with a mix of mounted combat and skirmish cavalry and then contesting terrain with peltasts, the USP of the Phyrric army is the option for Poor pikemen. Usually poor troops are little better than grandstand supporters, cheering from the back and adding units to the army morale and break point, however pikemen can function well as poor troops.
  • The many + factors in impact and melee enjoyed by pikemen can leave then 1 or often 2 POAs up in combat, and with advantages like that re-rolling 6's counts for little - it has less effect than being a POA up in combat, and as long as you keep winning the poor pikemen will rarely take morale tests anyway, so a core of poor pikes, flanked or interspersed by average ones means the Phyrric pikewall can end up being 25-50% wider than that of other Successor armies.
  • For a discussion of the merits of taking pikemen in 8's, 12's or 10's see the Troop Types in FoG page in the Tactical Tips Guide.

Allied Contingents

None allowed.

Tournament Results

26 / 41 Pyrrhic BHGS Challenge 2008 (open)
35 / 41 Pyrrhic BHGS Challenge 2008 (open)

15mm Manufacturers supplying figures for this army

A listing of who supplies what can also be found at my 15mm Suppliers directory
You can see some of the figures in the Ancients Photo Gallery also on this site

Image Image Image Image

Army Lists

Sample army lists for this army

Name of Army / Date

  • IC plus 3 TCs
  • 6 Light cavalry Light horse Unprotected Average Drilled Javelins Light spear
  • 6 Archers Light foot Unprotected Average Drilled Bow
  • 6 Archers Light foot Unprotected Average Drilled Bow
  • 6 Samnite javelinmen Medium foot Protected Average Drilled - Light spear, swordsmen
  • 6 Samnite javelinmen Medium foot Protected Average Drilled - Light spear, swordsmen
  • 6 Samnite javelinmen Medium foot Protected Average Drilled - Light spear, swordsmen
  • 12 Phalanx Heavy foot Protected Average Drilled - Pikemen
  • 12 Phalanx Heavy foot Protected Average Drilled - Pikemen
  • 8 Phalanx Heavy foot Protected Poor Drilled - Pikemen
  • 8 Hoplites Heavy foot Protected Average Undrilled - Offensive spearmen
  • 4 Javelin armed heavy cav Cavalry Armoured Average Drilled - Light spear, swordsmen
  • 6 Xystophoroi Cavalry Armoured Superior Drilled - Lancers, swordsmen

Used by Martin van Tol at Ascot 2008

Include any notes you want here

Remember to leave a line before you copy the above section as a template for your own list

What no Elephants?eek Simon Finney.

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