Alexander's Campaign > Siege of Tyre

Siege of Tyre

Background

Alexander III the Great's siege of Tyre in 332 BCE is probably one of the best instances of his military genius and ingenuity. The Phoenician city of Tyre was a small island in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of modern day Turkey. In ancient times, Tyre was one of the most prosperous trading ports in the entire world and was one of the most powerful maritime empires in the region. As he passed by on his way to conquer Persia he determined with his generals he could not leave Tyre to plot against him later.

Control over Tyre also meant control over the Mediterranean sea and this was something that was a great military advantage if he was going to successfully control Egypt and truly establish his empire. Therefore the city needed to be taken. However, it was surrounding by guard ships and had 150 foot walls that surrounded the island. Alexander only had a ground based army, so what was he to do?.

Alexander the Great - Alexander's Siege of Tyre

Alexander's Siege of Tyre 332 BC Plan

Upon arriving Alexander knew what needed to be done. He was going to mobilize his engineers to build a massive earthen walkway from the ancient ruins of Tyre to the island in order to bring his land army to them. This land bridge would be wide enough to accept siege vehicles and would allow them to easily take the city. However, this is a great idea in theory but the practicality of building a massive land bridge to a city that is surrounding by hostile ships and facing besieged defenders is something different.

The stones and building materials from the ancient city of Tyre would provide most of the material resources to do this, so Alexander now worked on a plan to protect his men while this work was being done. Alexanders troops normally supported him to the fullest and this was no exception. The prospect of building a land bridge to capture one of the greatest cities in the region led to great enthusiasm and moral.

Dam Construction

Most of the material involved in constructing a massive earthen project like this involves a stone base with dirt and earth more or less used as filler. Massive wooden stakes are also used to support the structure. If a structure was made totally of dirt in the water, it would collapse upon the weight of men and siege towers. Waves would also easily erode it.

To accomplish the construction of this project, Alexander sent his soldiers into the woods of Lebanon to cut down trees to get the necessary supplies. The cedars in Phoenicia were very famous in ancient times so Alexander's men chopped down the trees and hauled them back to their camp. They sharpened one end of the tree and pounded it into the sand like a giant tent spike. This would protect the sides of their dam. While some soldiers pounded the giant trees into the ground, others were demolishing the ruins of the land based city of Tyre and bringing them to the shore to be dumped into the sea.

The people of Tyre did not really notice what was going on at first, as they may have simply thought Alexander was building beach fortifications. They never thought he would build an earthen bridge to them. However, soon it became apparent as to what Alexander and his army were doing and the people of Tyre became rightly alarmed. As the earthen structure began to grow in size day after day after day the people of Tyre began really mounting their defense. The people of Tyre began building anti-siege weaponry on their massive 150 foot walls that would fling massive stones and darts at the incoming Greeks. They also sent some of their agents ashore to make diplomatic alliances with several neighboring tribes. The people of Tyre had great wealth and if they survived, these tribes would be greatly rewarded.

So Tyre tasked these tribes with disrupting the gathering of resource efforts by Alexander's army. Tyre also landed a small contingent of its own men on the shore and tried to repel the stone gathering operation at the ancient ruins of Tyre. Having a considerable navy with their manned war galleys that protected their merchants from pirates, Tyre decided to respond even further. The war galleys rode right up to the construction side of the earthen dam walkway and bombarded the crew with all sorts of arrows and projectiles. While the first offense of Tyre slowly impeded Alexander's efforts, ultimately what they did was in vain. Alexander resumed his construction efforts right away and began building defensive structures around the camps. Alexander and his army built huge screens of wood and covered them with animal hides to protect them from any projectiles launched while they were working.

As the work advanced more defensive structures were built, especially at the sides and the front facing the city. These structures consisted partially of the great siege engines required for driving the massive wooden piles into the sea, along with catapults for throwing massive stones. Soldiers would also be able to throw stones, darts and shoot the galleys with bows and arrows from these siege towers which prevented them from getting too close to the workers.

Fire & Water

After their first attacks failed, the Tyrians knew they had to come up with a new plan to destroy this earthen walkway that was slowly approaching them. The people of Tyre came up with the same idea that the infamous pirates of Nassau did when the British rolled into their pirate town and claimed law of the land, they built a fireship.

Tyre decided to take a massive war galley and fill it with all kinds of combustibles such as dry wood, tar, oil and anything else to make the ship burn more. They soaked all of the rigging and all of the sails in oil, as to make the ship instantly combust when necessary. On a windy day they towed the ship right up to the point of Alexander's project and when they got close enough the men set the ships on fire and rowed away in boats.

The ship exploded into flame and drifted right into the largest concentration of siege engines and construction efforts. Alexander's soldiers attempted to alter the course of the fireship but it did not work. The entire complicated wooden construction effort at the front of the structure was engulfed in flames very quickly. While Alexander's army made attempts to put out the fire, it was of no use and they were forced to retreat. A few men were lost in the process and the entire construction apparatus was destroyed.

Next, a storm finished off the burnt remains of Alexander's efforts while his army looked on with dismay from the shore. When the storm subsided however, Alexander and his army resumed their efforts with even more furor than before. As they increased the strength and widened it, they also added fireproofing measures to the construction vehicles themselves. Soon the embankment had not only been repaired but was slowly beginning to advance towards the city of Tyre.

Last Defense of Tyre

During the entire construction effort of Alexanders embankment, the massive war galleys of Tyre were a constant pain as they lobbed all sorts of projectiles from their decks. In order to combat this Alexander went to the city-state of Sidon north of Tyre and requested their assistance in his engagement. Using this small maritime force they created a makeshift blockade in order to protect the workers.

As the Tyrians realized their impending battle they decided to evacuate many of the women and children to the African city of Carthage. The people of Tyre were prepared to defend their city to the bitter end if necessary, but did not want their women and children around if the outcome was not in their favor.

Siege of Tyre -

However, as the siege began to prolong Alexander grew ever more angry and ever more impatient. The Tyrians knew they could not surrender at this point, and both sides knew this was going to be a bloody conflict. Both sides grew ever more cruel to each other, torturing captured soldiers in an every increasing fashion. As Alexanders earthen path grew closer and closer to the city more and more resources were cut off. Soon the earthen wall reached right up to the walls of the city and Alexander's siege began.

As Alexander's massive siege structures such as battering rams pounded away at Tyre's massive walls they soon began to make significant progress on the southern side of the city. Soon the Tyrians began to realize an all out assault of their city was imminent. Alexander mobilized his navy from Sidon to block off the southern portion of the city while they created a system of platforms that would allow his men to pass through the hole created in Tyre's walls.

Tyre - Alexander's Siege of Tyre

Alexander's Siege of Tyre - Andre Castaigne (1898)

The breach was successful, however Alexander's forces incurred heavy casualties as the Tyrians hurled darts, stones and arrows down onto the advancing soldiers. Hundreds of soldiers were killed and their bodies simply pushed into the sea as other soldiers streamed in overtop of them.

Eventually though Alexander's forces broke into the city streets and they began to pour through the rich neighborhoods. Seven months of hatred and pent up aggression led Alexander's army to commit unspeakable carnage in the city, looting and destroying everything in their wake. The city of Tyre was taken.

Alexander's Brutality

Even after the soldiers became exhausted from slaughtering Tyrians there remained many alive. Up until this point Alexander had a reputation for generosity and mercifulness. However, today those virtues were thrown out the window as Alexander ordered the execution and crucification of nearly two thousand men.

Many historians note that Alexander had lost the modesty of his earlier life, and had become increasingly cruel and arrogant. This is to be noted as it sets a precedent of behavior that may encourage members of his own organization to begin plotting his assassination.

Message to Darius

A good illustration of this is afforded by the answer that he sent to Darius, about the time of the storming of Tyre, in reply to a second communication which he had received from him proposing terms of peace. Darius offered him a very large sum of money for the ransom of his mother, wife, and child, and agreed to give up to him all the country he had conquered, including the whole territory west of the Euphrates. He also offered him his daughter Statira in marriage. He recommended to him to accept these terms, and be content with the possessions he had already acquired; that he could not expect to succeed, if he should try, in crossing the mighty rivers of the East, which were in the way of his march toward the Persian dominions. Alexander replied, that if he wished to marry his daughter he could do it without his consent; as to the ransom, he was not in want of money; in respect to Darius's offering to give him up all west of the Euphrates, it was absurd for a man to speak of giving what was no longer his own; that he had crossed too many seas in his military expeditions, since he left Macedon, to feel any concern about the rivers that he might find in his way; and that he should continue to pursue Darius wherever he might retreat in search of safety and protection, and he had no fear but that he should find and conquer him at last. It was a harsh and cruel message to send to the unhappy monarch whom he had already so greatly injured. Parmenio advised him to accept Darius's offers. "I would," said he, "if I were Alexander." "Yes," said Alexander, "and so would I if I were Parmenio." What a reply from a youth of twenty-two to a venerable general of sixty, who had been so tried and faithful a friend, and so efficient a coadjutor both to his father and to himself, for so many years.

Legacy & Impact

The siege of the city of Tyre is considered one of the best military achievements of Alexander III the Great. The ingenuity involved and the massive resourcefulness of his entire army was able to accomplish something that would make engineers today blush. After seven months of backbreaking work while getting shot at by arrows the Macedonians finally poured into the city of Tyre and captured the wealthiest city on the Mediterranean.

The ramifications of this event would reverberate throughout the ancient world and much like the previous victories at the Battle of the Granicus and the Battle of Issus which would allow him to take a lot of future victories without effort. At this point Alexander's reputation was cemented in the ancient world and Darius III was on the ropes. The momentum he gained in Tyre would allow him to liberate Egypt before walking through Babylonia and eventually resting in the city of Babylon.

After resting in Babylon the Macedonian army led by Alexander continued onto the Battle of Gaugamela where using brilliant military tactics the Persian army was crushed once again and Darius was sent fleeing into the hills once again. Murdered by his own men a few weeks later Alexander the Great was officially the king of the vanquished Achaemenid Empire.

Yet his conquest would not continue there as Alexander would campaign all through Bactria and India before finally coming back to Babylon to die suddenly and unexpectedly. Overall, Alexanders entire life was the battle and that was all he knew. Yet this event was one that rose even higher in his legacy and was one of the greatest feats to ever be accomplished by him. Tyre was the richest city in the region and its conquest was a great moral and wealth victory for him and his forces. Oh and another important legacy that still exists today? The city of Tyre is still no longer and island and the land bridge that Alexander constructed is still there today.

Escape to Carthage

In the aftermath of the siege of Tyre many of the wealthiest citizens were able to buy their lives and escape to Carthage. Many of the people of Tyre had already evacuated there before the impending siege. So when the wealthy refugees of Tyre arrived they were quickly able to rebuild the Phoenician maritime trading network and within one hundred years Carthage had become the wealthiest city on the Mediterranean.

This escape to Carthage allowed the Phoenician culture to live on at least for a couple hundred more years. In fact, the city would grow so prosperous that it would build a completely new civilization, culture and empire known as Punic. After the Carthage was utterly destroyed and the Phoenician civilization wiped out for good.

Alexander's Campaign

Balkan Campaign

Balkan Battles

Persian Campaign

Persian Battles

Indian Campaign

Indian Battles

Sources

Primary Sources

Secondary Sources

Abbott, J. (1848). Alexander the Great. New York & London: Harper & Brothers

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