The wealthy cities of southern Italy offered a tempting
prize to Roman greed. Before long many of them received Roman garrisons and
accepted the rule of the great Latin republic. Tarentum, however, the most
important of the Greek colonies, held jealously to her independence. Unable
single-handed to face the Romans, Tarentum turned to Greece for aid. She called
on Pyrrhus, king of Epirus, the finest soldier of his age. Pyrrhus led
twenty-five thousand mercenary soldiers into Italy, an army almost as large as
Alexander's. The Romans could not break the bristling ranks of the Greek
phalanx, and they shrank back in terror before the huge war elephants which
Pyrrhus had brought with him. The invader won the first battle, but lost many
of his best troops. He then offered peace on condition that the Romans should
give up their possessions in southern Italy. The Senate returned the proud
reply that Rome would not treat with the enemy while he stood on Italian soil.
A second battle was so bitterly contested that Pyrrhus declared, "Another
such victory, and I am lost."  Weary of the struggle, Pyrrhus now
crossed over to Sicily to aid his countrymen against the Carthaginians. The
rapid progress of the Roman arms called him back, only to meet a severe defeat.
Pyrrhus then withdrew in disgust to Greece; Tarentum fell; and Rome established
her rule over southern Italy.
 Plutarch, Pyrrhus, 21.
POLITICAL SITUATION IN 264 B.C.
The triumph over Pyrrhus and the conquest of Magna Graecia
mark a decisive moment in the history of Rome. Had Pyrrhus won Italy, as well
as Asia and Egypt, might have become a Greek land, ruled by Hellenistic kings.
Now it was clear that Rome, having met the invader so bravely, was to remain
supreme in the Italian peninsula. She was the undisputed mistress of Italy from
the strait of Messina northward to the Arnus and the Rubicon. Etruscans,
Latins, Samnites, and Greeks acknowledged her sway. The central city of the
peninsula had become the center of a united Italy. 
 It should be noticed, however, that as yet Rome
controlled only the central and southern parts of what is the modern kingdom of
Italy. Two large divisions of that kingdom, which every Italian now regards as
essential to its unity, were in other hands—the Po valley and the island of