The Siege of Tyre was a siege of the city of Tyre, a strategic coastal base on the Mediterranean Sea, orchestrated by Alexander the Great in 332 BC during his campaigns against the Persians. The Macedonian army was unable to capture the city through conventional means because it was on an island and had walls right up to the sea. So Alexander blockaded and besieged Tyre for seven months.
Alexander the Great ordered his engineers to use the debris of the abandoned mainland city to build a causeway and once within reach of the city walls, he used his siege engines from both the causeway and his ships to batter and finally breach the fortifications. It is said that Alexander was so enraged at the Tyrians' defense and the loss of his men that he destroyed half the city. According to Arrian, the Tyrian losses were about 8,000, while the Macedonians lost 400. Alexander granted pardon to the king and his family, whilst the 30,000 residents and foreigners taken were sold into slavery.
Tyre, the largest and most important city-state of Phoenicia, was located both on the Mediterranean coast as well as a nearby Island with two natural harbors on the landward side. The Island lay about half a mile from the coast in Alexander’s day, its high walls reaching 60 m (200 feet) above the sea on the on the east, landward facing, side of the island.
At the time of the siege, the city held approximately 40,000 people, though the women and children were evacuated to Carthage, an ancient Phoenician colony. The Carthaginians also promised to send a fleet to their mother city’s aid. As Alexander did not have much of a navy, he resolved to take the city and thus deny the Persians of their last harbor in the region. After months of trying to capture Tyre the Persian fleet surrendered about 332 BC. This enabled Alexander to attack from all sides.
Alexander began with an engineering feat that shows the true extent of his brilliance; as he could not attack the city from the sea, he built a kilometer-long causeway stretching out to the island on a natural land bridge no more than two meters deep.
This mole allowed his artillery to get in range of the walls, and is still there to this day, as it was made of stone. As the work came near the walls, however, the water became much deeper, and the combined attacks from the walls and Tyrian navy made construction nearly impossible. Therefore, Alexander constructed two towers 50 m (150 feet) high and moved them to the end of the causeway. Like most of Alexander’s siege towers, these were moving artillery platforms, with catapults on the top to clear defenders off of the walls, and ballista below to hurl rocks at the wall and attacking ships. The towers were made of wood, but were covered in rawhide to protect them from fire arrows. Although these towers were possibly the largest of their kind ever made, the Tyrians quickly devised a counterattack. They used an old horse transport ship, filling it with dried branches, pitch, sulfur, and various other combustibles. They then hung cauldrons of oil from the masts, so that they would fall onto the deck once the masts burned through. They also weighed down the back of the ship so that the front rose above the water. They then lit it on fire and ran it up onto the causeway. The fire spread quickly, engulfing both towers and other siege equipment that had been brought up. The Tyrian ships swarmed the pier, destroying any siege equipment that hadn’t caught fire, and driving off Macedonian crews that were trying to put out the fires.
Alexander was convinced that he would not be able to take Tyre without a navy. However, the Persian navy returned to find their home cities under Alexander’s control. The Persians' allegiance to their cities allowed Alexander to command eighty ships. This coincided with the arrival of another hundred and twenty from Cyprus, which had heard of his victories and wished to join him. With the arrival of another twenty three ships, Alexander had two hundred and twenty three galleys under his command. Alexander then sailed on Tyre and quickly blockaded both ports with his superior numbers. He had several of the slower galleys, and a few barges, refit with battering rams, the only known case of battering rams being used on ships. Finding that large underwater blocks of stone kept the rams from reaching the walls, Alexander had them removed by crane ships. The rams then anchored near the walls, but the Tyrians sent out ships and divers to cut the anchor cables. Alexander responded by replacing them with chains. The Tyrians tried another brilliant counter attack, yet were not so fortunate this time. They noticed that Alexander returned to the mainland at the same time every afternoon for lunch, at the same time much of his navy did. They therefore attacked at this time, but found Alexander had skipped his afternoon nap, and was able to quickly counter the sortie.
Conclusion of the siege
Alexander started testing the wall at various points with his rams, until he made a small breach in the south end of the island. He then coordinated an attack across the breach with a bombardment from all sides by his navy. Alexader is said to have personally taken part in the attack on the city, fighting from the top of a siege tower. Once his troops forced their way into the city, they easily overtook the garrison, and quickly captured the city. Those citizens that took shelter in the temple of Heracles were pardoned by Alexander, including the king of Tyre. According to Quintus Curtius Rufus 6,000 fighting men were killed within the city and 2,000 Tyrians were crucified on the beach. The others, some 30,000 people, were sold into slavery, both because of the length of the siege, and because the Tyrians had executed some captured sailors on the walls.
Polyaenus the Macedonian, in one of the two stratagems he gives about Alexander's siege of Tyre, proposes another account as to how Alexander conquered the city. According to him, Alexander had marched into Arabia having left Parmenio in charge of the besieging force. The Tyrians found the courage to exit their walls and engage the Greeks, often besting them in battle. Alexander was informed and hurried back, reaching the city exactly when the Tyrians were fighting against a retreating Parmenio. Instead of attacking the Phoenicians, he chose to march directly to the city, which he immediately took by force surprising its remaining garrison.
List of sieges
- 724-720 BC: Assyrian Siege by king Shalmaneser V
- 705 BC: Assyrian Siege by king Sennacherib
- 663 BC: Assyrian Siege by king Ashurbanipal
- 585-570 BC: Babylonian Siege by king Nebuchadnezzar II
- 332 BC: Macedonian Siege by Alexander the Great.
- 1111-1112 AD: By the Crusaders of Baldwin I
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- Stafford, Ned (2007-05-14), "How geology came to help Alexander the Great" ([dead link] – Scholar search), Nature.com, http://www.nature.com/news/2007/070514/full/070514-2.html, retrieved 2007-05-17
- History of Alexander the Great of Macedonia, section 4.4.10-21
- Polyaenus, 4.3 Alexander, 4
- Jongeling, Hans, The Siege of Tyre by Alexander the Great in 332 B.C. (2008 Master Thesis)
- Siege of Tyre animated battle map by Jonathan Webb
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