Under constant attacks from the Lucanians and Bruttians, the Greek
cities in Italy sought aid from Rome in 283 BC. However, Tarentum, an
old ally of Rome, took exception at the incursion into Tarentum
territory. They sent out a requst for help, and it arrived in the
form of Pyrrhus of Epirus. Pyrrhus used Tarentum as a base for a
campaign of conquest, hoping to achieve such a victory as Alexander
the Great had in the east. Pyrrhus achieved a number of victories
against the Roman armies, although each was gained at high cost to
his own forces. This is where the term "Pyrrhic victory"
was derived from. With the losses he was incurring, however, his
plans for dominance were doomed.
Carthage, the other major mediterranean power, formed another treaty
with Rome in 279 BC and sent troops to aid in the defeat of Pyrrhus.
That same year, sensing his dire situation, Pyrrhus retreated from
the Italian mainland and instead captured Sicily. Both armies were
quickly closing in on him.