Pyrrhic victory

James G. Blaine finally gained the 1884 Republican nomination for U.S. president, in his third attempt – "Another victory like this and our money's gone!"

A Pyrrhic victory (k/ (About this soundlisten) PIRR-ik) is a victory that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is tantamount to defeat. Someone who wins a Pyrrhic victory has also taken a heavy toll that negates any true sense of achievement.

Etymology

Pyrrhic victory is named after King Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose army suffered irreplaceable casualties in defeating the Romans at the Battle of Heraclea in 280 BC and the Battle of 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 other 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.

— Plutarch, Life of Pyrrhus[1]

In both Epirote victories, the Romans suffered greater casualties but they had a much larger pool of replacements, so the casualties had less impact on the Roman war effort than the losses of King Pyrrhus.

The report is often quoted as

Ne ego si iterum eodem modo uicero, sine ullo milite Epirum reuertar.
Another such victory and I come back to Epirus alone.

or

If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.

— Plutarch[3]

Ironically enough, it can never fairly be said that Pyrrhus of Epirus ever incurred such a "victory", having handily defeated the Romans in each of their engagements by a large margin, all the while suffering substantially fewer casualties (see, for example, the Battle of Heraclea). The term entered the English vernacular due to popular misconceptions of the magnitude of Pyrrhus's losses: beginning before the 1800s, Latin history teaching books said that Pyrrhus suffered losses in the tens of thousands.[4]

Other Languages
беларуская: Пірава перамога
беларуская (тарашкевіца)‎: Пірава перамога
български: Пирова победа
Deutsch: Pyrrhussieg
Ελληνικά: Πύρρειος νίκη
Esperanto: Venko de Pirho
हिन्दी: पिरिक जीत
hrvatski: Pirova pobjeda
Bahasa Indonesia: Kemenangan Piris
interlingua: Victoria pyrrhic
íslenska: Pyrrhosarsigur
lietuvių: Pyro pergalė
македонски: Пирова победа
Nederlands: Pyrrusoverwinning
norsk nynorsk: Pyrrhossiger
português: Vitória pírrica
Simple English: Pyrrhic victory
slovenščina: Pirova zmaga
српски / srpski: Пирова победа
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Pirova pobjeda
svenska: Pyrrhusseger
татарча/tatarça: Pirr ciñüe
Türkçe: Pirus zaferi
українська: Піррова перемога