Pyrrhus was the King of Epirus. His kingdom was East of the boot of the Italian peninsula. At the time, much of Southern Italy was referred to as Magna Graecia as there were many Greek settlements of substantial size along the coasts. One of those settlements was the city of Tarentum. As the tentacles of the emerging Roman Empire continued to envelope Italy proper, it would eventually come into conflict with these Greek communities.
In 281 B.C., Tarentum was facing such a conflict with the Romans. Unable to withstand the pending attack, Tarentum appealed to Pyrrhus for military assistance. Pyrrhus readily agreed to the request, not only to defend fellow Greeks, but also contemplating the possibility of carving out his own piece of the Italian peninsula for himself.
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