What is "Pyrrhic Victory"

When people talk about something achieved at too great a cost, they sometimes use the phrase "Pyrrhic victory". But why is such a victory called Pyrrhic? The roots of this catch phrase go back to antiquity.

The warlike king of Epirus (other Greece) Pyrrhus fought with the Romans near the city of Auscule (279 BC). There were many war elephants in his army. Between the elephants, he placed javelin throwers, archers and moved on the legionnaires. The Romans fought fiercely, trying to drive back the enemy's heavy infantry before the terrible animals approached. But they were powerless against elephants at that time, "as if in front of rising water or a devastating earthquake, " as the historian Plutarch writes. The Romans had to retreat to their camp.

Pyrrhus did not pursue the enemy. His army, like the Roman, lost 15 thousand people in a day. "Another such victory, " said Pyrrhus, "and we are lost."

In fact, soon the army of Pyrrhus was defeated and he himself died. This time the king attacked the Greek seaside city of Argos. At night, his warriors penetrated the city walls unnoticed. The townspeople felt the trouble only when the elephants began to be escorted into the low gate. We had to remove the towers from the animals, then put them back up. This caused the noise.

All night long there were battles in the streets and squares of the city. The many canals that crossed Argos separated the attackers.

In the narrow streets, in the darkness, everything was confused; the soldiers did not hear the orders of the chiefs, the chiefs did not know what was happening where.

At dawn, Pyrrhus decided to leave the city. He sent a messenger to his son, who with part of the troops remained behind the wall. His soldiers had to make a wide passage in the wall so that the army could quickly retreat from Argos. But the messenger confused the order. The son of Pyrrhus led the soldiers into the city. Two streams collided at the gate. The crush began. On top of that, an elephant lay down in the middle of the aisle and did not want to get up. Another elephant, the largest, named Nikon, in search of the wounded leader, rushed through the gate. Nikon trampled on both his own and his enemies until he found a dead friend. Lifting the warrior with his trunk and laying him on his tusks, he rushed out of the city, killing everyone he met.

In this dump Pyrrhus himself perished. He lunged at the young warrior, who wounded him with a spear. The warrior's mother, like all the Argvians, stood at that time on the roof of the house. Seeing the danger threatening her son, she tore off the tiles from the roof and threw them at Pyrrhus. The blow fell on the unprotected neck. Pyrrhus fell and was finished off on the ground.

Contemporaries called Pyrrhus a dice player who knows how to make a deft throw, but does not know how to take advantage of his luck. A pyrrhic victory is now called a dubious success, for the achievement of which too many sacrifices were made.

However, Pyrrhus inscribed in the military alphabet and a successful "letter": he was the first to surround the military camp with a defensive ditch and rampart. Before him, the Romans and other tribes set up huts or tents in the camp, surrounded them with carts and set up posts - that was the end of the camp arrangement.

Source: "Book of Future Commanders" ed. 1976