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A Pyrrhic victory (pronounced /ˈpɪrɪk/) is a victory with such devastating cost to the victor, it carries the implication that another such will ultimately cause defeat.



The phrase is named after King Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose army suffered irreplaceable casualties in defeating the Romans at Heraclea in 280 BC and Asculum in 279 BC during the Pyrrhic War. After the latter battle, Plutarch relates in a report by Dionysius:

The armies separated; and, it is said, Pyrrhus replied to one that gave him joy of his victory that one more such victory 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]

In both of Pyrrhus's victories, the Romans had more casualties than Pyrrhus did. However, the Romans had a much larger supply of men from which to draw soldiers, so their casualties did less damage to their war effort than Pyrrhus's casualties did to his.

The report is often quoted as "Another such victory and I come back to Epirus alone,"[2] or "If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined."[3]

Although it is most closely associated with a military battle, the term is used by analogy in fields such as business, politics, law, literature, and sports to describe any similar struggle which is ruinous for the victor. For example, the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, writing of the need for coercion in the cause of justice, warned that: "Moral reason must learn how to make a coercion its ally without running the risk of a Pyrrhic victory in which the ally exploits and negates the triumph."[4] Further, in Beauharnais v. Illinois, a Supreme Court case involving a charge under an Illinois statute proscribing group libel, Justice Black, in his dissent, warned that "[i]f minority groups who hail this holding as their victory, they might consider the possible relevancy of this ancient remark: 'Another such victory and I am undone.'"


See also


  1. ^ Plutarch (trans. John Dryden) Pyrrhus, hosted on the The Internet Classics Archive
  2. ^ "Ne ego si iterum eodem modo uicero, sine ullo milite Epirum reuertar": Orosius, Historiarum Adversum Paganos Libri, IV, 1.15.
  3. ^ Plutarch, Life of Pyrrhus, 21:8.
  4. ^ Niebuhr, Reinhold Moral man and Immoral Society, published by Scribner, 1932 and 1960, reprinted by Westminster John Knox Press, 2002, ISBN 0664224741, ISBN 9780664224745 p. 238.

Further reading

  • Denson, John, The Costs of War: America's Pyrrhic Victories. Transaction Publishers (1997). ISBN 1-560-00319-7.


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

WOTD - 5 July 2007    



Wikipedia has an article on:



Eponymous of the Greek king Pyrrhus of Epirus, who suffered heavy losses while defeating the Romans.


  • IPA: /ˌpɪr.ɪk ˈvɪk.tər.i/, /ˌpɪr.ɪk ˈvɪk.tri/, SAMPA: /%pIr.Ik "vIk.t@r.I/
  •  Audio (US)help, file


Pyrrhic victory (plural Pyrrhic victories)

  1. A very costly victory, wherein the considerable losses outweigh the gain, so as to render the struggle not worth the cost.
    • "Tough pensions regulation designed to protect employees in final-salary occupational schemes will prove a pyrrhic victory for unions and the government, a report warned yesterday." —The Guardian, October 6, 2005


Related terms

Simple English

A Pyrrhic Victory is the result of a battle in which the side that won the victory suffers very badly in a way that makes the victory very damaging to the winning side. A Pyrrhic victory may take place when the victorious army has lost a huge number of men or when the enemy army has reinforcements about to arrive which greatly outnumber the winning army and mean that the chances of a second victory are very low. A Pyrrhic Victory is named after King Pyrrhus of Epirus, who won a battle against the Romans in 280 AD during which he lost a great deal of men and a lot of his Generals were also killed.


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