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PYRRHUS, KING OF THE EPIROTS
 ALONG the southern coast of Italy, many of the towns were
Greek, and had not yet become subject to Rome.
But as Rome became more and more powerful in the south
of Italy, many of these Greek towns, when attacked by
an enemy, appealed to her for help.
Tarentum, the chief of these towns, was jealous of
Rome, and chose to send to Greece or Sicily when help
During the second Samnite war, Rome had made a treaty
with the Tarentines, promising that no ships of war
should enter the Gulf of Tarentum.
But in the autumn of 282 B.C. ten Roman warships
suddenly appeared before the harbour, to the
indignation as well as to the dismay of the Tarentines.
Should the warships be allowed to enter the inner
harbour, their town would be in the hands of Rome. So
the Tarentines speedily manned their ships and boldly
sailed to attack the enemy.
On this occasion the Tarentines showed themselves good
fighters, and soon they had sunk four of the Roman
warships and taken one, while the other five escaped.
The admiral of the fleet was killed, and many soldiers
and sailors were made prisoners. Of these, the
Tarentines sold the sailors as slaves, the soldiers
they put to death.
Knowing that the defeat of the Roman fleet would be
avenged, the Tarentines grew reckless.
Thurii, a town not far off, had received help from Rome
 and had had a Roman garrison imposed upon it. The
Tarentines now marched to Thurii, expelled the
garrison, and prepared to defend themselves from the
consequences of their act.
But Rome was at war with the Samnites, and was not yet
ready to punish Tarentum.
She merely sent an embassy to demand that the prisoners
taken from her fleet should be given up, that the
garrison should be restored to Thurii.
The Tarentines not only refused to do as Rome demanded;
they treated the embassy with insults.
This was more than the Senate could brook. The Consul
Æmilius was at once sent with his legions into the
country of the Tarentines.
Æmilius offered the people peace on the same terms as
the embassy, but again the citizens flouted the offer.
Then knowing that the legions of Æmilius had come to
support the demands of Rome, they sent in hot haste to
Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, begging him to come to their
The Consul seeing that his terms were rejected, did
indeed begin to plunder and lay waste the country,
while the Tarentines looked but the more eagerly for
the answer of Pyrrhus.
Nor was it long in coming. In the early spring of 280
B.C. the king of Epirus reached Tarentum.
Epirus, the region over which Pyrrhus was king, lay in
the north-west of Greece, among wild mountains and
The Epirots were proud of their king, and because of
his courage on the battlefield they called him the
Pyrrhus knew the name his soldiers had given to him,
and he said to them, "It is by you that I am an eagle,
for how should I not be such, while I have your arms as
wings to sustain me."
The king had one peculiarity, which added to the terror
he at times inspired. When he opened his mouth no
 row of upper teeth was to be seen. Instead of teeth,
one single long bone was visible, with small lines to
mark where the separate teeth should have been. Such
was the king who had hastened to the aid of the
So eager had Pyrrhus been to set out, that he had
refused to wait for a fair wind, and a terrible storm
had overtaken his fleet and scattered it, while he,
with only a small part of his army, had been driven
ashore some distance from Tarentum.
With his army Pyrrhus had brought twenty elephants,
for, the king had been in Africa and had learned there
how useful these huge animals could be on the
battlefield. But he had reached Tarentum with only two
elephants and a few soldiers.
After many difficulties, however, his whole force had
succeeded in rejoining him, bringing with it the other
eighteen elephants. To the Tarentines, as to the
Romans on the battlefield, these elephants were a new
and awe-inspiring sight.
The king had been but a short time in Tarentum before
he found that the people he had come to help were lazy,
and more fond of pleasure than of war.
They would be well pleased to stay at home to feast, to
talk of the great battles they would fight, while their
new ally was in the field, enduring hardships and
struggling with the Roman legions.
The king of the Epirots was used to having real
soldiers around him, and he determined, if it was
possible, to turn the foolish, indolent Tarentines into
an army of trained, resolute men.
So he ordered the theatres, the baths, and the other
places of amusement to be closed, and then he called
upon all who were old enough, to enrol their names for
Then began a strange state of affairs in Tarentum. The
city was turned into a military camp. Discipline was
strict, and the recruits grumbled that they were under
 arms all day, guarding the walls, or watching in the
The most indolent actually made up their minds to
escape, forgetting that Pyrrhus was training them that
they might be able to defend their own homes. There
seemed no trace in these indifferent citizens of the
spirit that had made them sail against the Roman fleet
and turn the Roman garrison out of Thurii.
"Not understanding what it was to be commanded, these
called it mere slavery not to do as they pleased."