The Battle of Asculum (or Ausculum) is a battle that in 279 BC. It features in Rome: Total War as a historical battle. You take the role of the Roman army as it moves to defeat the Epirote army of Pyrrhus of Epirus (represented ingame by the Seleucids, though he was not related to them historically).
Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, had a long career as a soldier, pretty much from the age of twelve. He was related to Alexander the Great through his mother and was drawn into the Wars of the Succesion after Alexander's death. In the process he managed to get himself deposed and reinstalled as King of Epirus and proclaimed the King of Macedonia, then promptly dethroned in Macedonia. Pyrrhus consciously modelled himself on Alexander and even claimed that Alexander talked to him in dreams. Even after losing the Macedonian throne, he kept looking for something to conquer, like his hero... It was at this point that ambassadors from Tarentum arrived to ask for help against some western barbarians who called themselves "Romans". Pyrrhus needed little further encouragement and in 280 BC landed in Italy. His first overtues to the Romans offering mediation between them and the citizens of Tarentum were rejected. His victory at Heraclea was not enough to win the war, however, even when he marched on Rome. Incidentally, his oponent at Heraclea, Appius Claudius, was responsible for giving the Roman army its first taste of new punishment: decimation. Pyrrhus had hoped to win over Rome's allies and client cities to its banner, but every one of them shut the gates against him and he was forced to winter in Campania, even though he had been close enough to Rome to see the smoke of the city on the horizon.In 279 Pyrrhus advanced again. This time he moved up the Adriatic coast, methodically reducing the Roman colonies there. Perhaps he hoped that the locals would rise and follow him, but the Romans moved too and sent an army to confront him under the command of P. Sulpicius Saverrio and P. Decimus Mus. The two armies confronted eachother at the river Aufidus, upstream from the spot where the equally bloody battle of Cannae would be fought some 63 years later...
Asculum was to give the world the concept of Pyrrhic victory: a victory won at so great a cost that it was almost a defeat. As Pyrrhus himself remarked "If we are victorious in one more battle against the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined."