SIEGE OF TYRE AND ALEXANDER THE GREAT IN PHOENICIA

ALEXANDER THE GREAT IN PHOENICIA


Alexander the Great heads to Phoencia not long after cutting the Gordian knot

As Alexander headed down the Mediterranean coast in the Levant, nearly all the cities that were under Persian control surrendered and opened their gates to Alexander. The only city that put any resistance was Tyre, a former Phoenician island fortress off the coast of present-day Lebanon.

Plutarch wrote: “After the battle of Issus, he sent to Damascus to seize upon the money and baggage, the wives and children, of the Persians, of which spoil the Thessalian horsemen had the greatest share; for he had taken particular notice of their gallantry in the fight, and sent them thither on purpose to make their reward suitable to their courage. Not but that the rest of the army had so considerable a part of the booty as was sufficient to enrich them all. This first gave the Macedonians such a taste of the Persian wealth and women and barbaric splendour of living, that they were ready to pursue and follow upon it with all the eagerness of hounds upon a scent. But Alexander, before he proceeded any further, thought it necessary to assure himself of the sea-coast. Those who governed in Cyprus put that island into his possession, and Phoenicia, Tyre only excepted, was surrendered to him. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ]

The seige of Tyre was one of the defining moments of Alexander’s campaign. In the early 6th century, King Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Tyre for 13 years but was unable to conquer it.In 332 B.C., Alexander the Great captured Tyre by using ship-mounted battering rams and catapults to blast a hole in the fortress wall and gangplanks and two large siege towers to launch the assault. Alexander's army had spent seven months building a half mile causeway to the island, with debris from an abandoned mainland city, only to be bombarded with stones and arrows when they got near. The Tyrians also launched a boat with blazing cauldrons to set fire to the attackers. This tactic only delayed the inevitable.

The victory over Tyre added Lebanon as well as Palestine, Syria and Egypt to Alexander's empire. Alexander was reportedly so enraged by the loss of time and men used to capture Tyre that he destroyed half the city, and rounded up its residents, who were either massacred or sold into slavery. Seven thousand people were slaughtered after the capture, 2,000 young men were crucified and 30,000 people were sold into slavery.

Websites on Ancient Greece: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; BBC Ancient Greeks bbc.co.uk/history/; Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org; British Museum ancientgreece.co.uk; Illustrated Greek History, Dr. Janice Siegel, Department of Classics, Hampden–Sydney College, Virginia hsc.edu/drjclassics ; The Greeks: Crucible of Civilization pbs.org/empires/thegreeks ; Oxford Classical Art Research Center: The Beazley Archive beazley.ox.ac.uk ; Ancient-Greek.org ancientgreece.com; Metropolitan Museum of Art metmuseum.org/about-the-met/curatorial-departments/greek-and-roman-art; The Ancient City of Athens stoa.org/athens; The Internet Classics Archive kchanson.com ; Cambridge Classics External Gateway to Humanities Resources web.archive.org/web; Ancient Greek Sites on the Web from Medea showgate.com/medea ; Greek History Course from Reed web.archive.org; Classics FAQ MIT rtfm.mit.edu; 11th Brittanica: History of Ancient Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ;Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu;Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy plato.stanford.edu

Macedonian Deserters Flee into Egypt While Alexander Occupies Phoenicia

Arrian wrote: But Amyntas son of Antiochus, Thymondas son of Mentor, Aristomedes the Pheraean, and Bianor the Acarnanian, all being deserters, fled without delay from the posts assigned them in the battle, with about , soldiers under their command, and passing through the mountains, they arrived at Tripolis in Phoenicia. There they seized the ships which had been hauled up on shore in which they had previously been transported from Lesbos; they launched as many of these vessel as they thought sufficient to convey them, and the rest they burnt there in the docks, in order not to supply their enemy with the means of quickly pursuing them. They fled first to Cyprus, thence to Egypt; where Amyntas shortly after, meddling in political disputes, was killed by the natives. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]


Alexander's route in Phoenicia and Egypt

“Meantime Pharnabazus and Autophradates were staying near Chios; then having established a garrison in this island they despatched some of their ships to Cos and Halicarnassus, and with of their best sailing vessels they put to sea themselves and landed at Siphnus. And Agis, king of the Lacedaemonians, came to them with one trireme, both to ask for money to carry on the war, and also to urge them to send with him into the Peloponnese as large a force both naval and military as they could. At that very time news reached them of the battle which had been fought at Issus; and being alarmed at the report, Pharnabazus started off to Chios with twelve triremes and , Grecian mercenaries, for fear that the Chians might attempt to effect a revolution when they received the news of the Persian defeat. Agis, having received from Autophradates thirty talents of silver and ten triremes, despatched Hippias to lead these ships to his brother Agesilaus at Taenarum, ordering him also to instruct Agesilaus to give full pay to the sailors and then to sail as quickly as possible to Crete, in order to set things in order there. For a time he himself remained there among the islands, but afterwards joined Autophradates at Halicarnassus.

“Alexander appointed Menon, son of Cerdimmas, viceroy of Coele-Syria, giving him the cavalry of the Grecian allies to guard the country. He then went in person towards Phoenicia; and on the march he was met by Strato, son of Gerostratus, king of the Aradians and of the people living near Aradus. But Gerostratus himself was serving in the fleet with Autophradates, as were also the other kings both of the Phoenicians and the Cyprians. When Strato fell in with Alexander, he placed a golden crown upon his head, promising to surrender to him both the island of Aradus and the great and prosperous city of Marathus, situated on the mainland right opposite Aradus; also Sigon, the city of Mariamme, and all the other places under his own dominion and that of his father.”

Byblos and Sidon Submit to Alexander

Arrian wrote: “When Alexander ascertained that all the money which Darius had sent off to Damascus with Cophen, son of Artabazus, was captured, and also that the Persians who had been left in charge of it, as well as the rest of the royal property, were taken prisoners, he ordered Parmenio to take the treasure back to Damascus, and there guard it. When he also ascertained that the Grecian ambassadors who had reached Darius before the battle had likewise been captured, he ordered them to be sent to him. They were Euthycles, a Spartan; Thessaliscus, son of Ismenias, and Dionysodorus, a victor in the Olympic games, Thebans; and Iphicrates, son of Iphicrates the general, an Athenian. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]


Byblos

“When these men came to Alexander, he immediately released Thessaliscus and Dionysodorus, though they were Thebans, partly out of compassion for Thebes, and partly because they seemed to have acted in a pardonable manner. For their native city had been reduced to slavery by the Macedonians, and they were trying to find whatever succour they could for themselves and perhaps also for their native city from Darius and the Persians. Thinking thus compassionately about both of them, he released them, saying that he dismissed Thessaliscus individually out of respect for his pedigree, for he belonged to the ranks of the distinguished men of Thebes. Dionysodorus also he released because he had been conqueror at the Olympic games; and he kept Iphricrates in attendance on himself as long as he lived, treating him with special honour both from friendship to the city of Athens and from recollection of his father’s glory. When he died soon after from sickness, he sent his bones back to his relations at Athens. But Euthycles at first he kept in custody, though without fetters, both because he was a Lacedaemonian of a city at that time openly and eminently hostile to him, and because in the man as an individual he could find nothing to warrant his pardon. Afterwards, when he met with great success, he released even this man also.

“He set out from Marathus and took possession of Byblus on terms of capitulation, as he did also of Sidon, the inhabitants of which spontaneously invited him from hatred of the Persians and Darius. Thence he advanced towards Tyre; ambassadors from which city, despatched by the commonwealth, met him on the march, announcing that the Tyrians had decided to do whatever be might command. He commended both the city and its ambassadors, and ordered them to return and tell the Tyrians that he wished to enter their city and offer sacrifice to Heracles. The son of the king of the Tyrians was one of the ambassadors, and the others were conspicuous men in Tyre; but the king Azemilcus himself was sailing with Autophradates.”

Tyrians Refuse to Let Alexander Worship Hecurcules

Arrian wrote: “The reason of this demand was, that in Tyre there existed a temple of Heracles, the most ancient of all those which are mentioned in history. It was not dedicated to the Argive Heracles, the son of Alcmena; for this Heracles was honoured in Tyre many generations before Cadmus set out from Phoenicia and occupied Thebes, and before Semele, the daughter of Cadmus, was born, from whom Dionysus, the son of Zeus, was born. This Dionysus would be third from Cadmus, being a contemporary of Labdacus, son of Polydorus, the son of Cadmus; and the Argive Heracles lived about the time of Oedipus, son of Laius. The Egyptians also worshipped another Heracles, not the one which either the Tyrians or Greeks worship. But Herodotus says that the Egyptians considered Heracles to be one of the twelve gods, just as the Athenians worshipped a different Dionysus, who was the son of Zeus and Core; and the mystic chant called Iacchus was sung to this Dionysus, not to th ligaturee Theban. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]


Tyre

“So also I think that the Heracles honoured in Tartessus by the Iberians, where are certain pillars named after Heracles, is the Tyrian Heracles; for Tartessus was a colony of the Phœnicians, and the temple to Heracles there was built and the sacrifices offered after the usage of the Phœnicians. Hecataeus the historian says Geryones, against whom the Argive Heracles was despatched by Eurystheus to drive his oxen away and bring them to Mycenae, had nothing to do with the land of the Iberians; nor was Heracles despatched to any island called Erythia outside the Great Sea; but that Geryones was king of the mainland (Epirus) around Ambracia and the Amphilochians, that Heracles drove the oxen from this Epirus, and that this was deemed no mean task. I know that to the present time this part of the mainland is rich in pasture land and rears a very fine breed of oxen; and I do not think it beyond the bounds of probability that the fame of the oxen from Epirus, and the name of the king of Epirus, Geryones, had reached Eurystheus. But I do not think that Eurystheus would know the name of the king of the Iberians, who were the remotest nation in Europe, or whether a fine breed of oxen grazed in their land, unless some one, by introducing Hera into the account, as herself giving these commands to Heracles through Eurystheus, wished, by means of the fable, to disguise the incredibility of the tale.

“To this Tyrian Heracles, Alexander said he wished to offer sacrifice. But when this message was brought to Tyre by the ambassadors, the people passed a decree to obey any other command of Alexander, but not to admit into the city any Persian or Macedonian; thinking that under the existing circumstances, this was the most specious answer, and that it would be the safest course for them to pursue in reference to the issue of the war, which was still uncertain.”

Alexander’s Speech After the Tyre Rejection

Arrian wrote: “When the answer from Tyre was brought to Alexander, he sent the ambassadors back in a rage. He then summoned a council of his Companions and the leaders of his army, together with the captains of infantry and cavalry, and spoke as follows: “Friends and allies, I see that an expedition to Egypt will not be safe for us, so long as the Persians retain the sovereignty of the sea; nor is it a safe course, both for other reasons, and especially looking at the state of matters in Greece, for us to pursue Darius, leaving in our rear the city of Tyre itself in doubtful allegiance, and Egypt and Cyprus in the occupation of the Persians. I am apprehensive lest while we advance with our forces towards Babylon and in pursuit of Darius, the Persians should again forsooth conquer the maritime districts, and transfer the war into Greece with a larger army, considering that the Lacedaemonians are now waging war against us without disguise, and the city of Athens is restrained for the present rather by fear than by any good-will towards us. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“But if Tyre were captured, the whole of Phoenicia would be in our possession, and the fleet of the Phoenicians, which is the most numerous and the best in the Persian navy, would in all probability come over to us. For the Phoenician sailors and marines will not put to sea in order to incur danger on behalf of others, when their own cities are occupied by us. After this, Cyprus will either yield to us without delay, or will be captured with ease at the mere arrival of a naval force; and then navigating the sea with the ships from Macedonia in conjunction with those of the Phoenicians, Cyprus at the same time coming over to us, we shall acquire the absolute sovereignty of the sea, and at the same time an expedition into Egypt will become an easy matter for us. After we have brought Egypt into subjection, no anxiety about Greece and our own land will any longer remain, and we shall be able to undertake the expedition to Babylon with safety in regard to affairs at home, and at the same time with greater reputation, in consequence of having cut off from the Persian empire all the maritime provinces and all the land this side of the Euphrates.”


Siege of Tyre


Construction of the Causeway to Tyre

Alexander's army had spent seven months building a half mile causeway to the island, with debris from an abandoned mainland city, only to be bombarded with stones and arrows when they got near. Arrian wrote: “By this speech he easily persuaded his officers to make an attempt upon Tyre. Moreover he was encouraged by a divine admonition, for that very night in his sleep he seemed to be approaching the Tyrian walls, and Heracles seemed to take him by the right hand and lead him up into the city. This was interpreted by Aristander to mean that Tyre would be taken with labour, because the deeds of Heracles were accomplished with labour. Certainly, the siege of Tyre appeared to be a great enterprise; for the city was an island and fortified all round with lofty walls. Moreover naval operations seemed at that time more favourable to the Tyrians, both because the Persians still possessed the sovereignty of the sea and many ships were still remaining with the citizens themselves. However, as these arguments of his had prevailed, he resolved to construct a mole from the mainland to the city. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“The place is a narrow strait full of pools; and the part of it near the mainland is shallow water and muddy, but the part near the city itself, where was the deepest part of the channel, was the depth of about three fathoms. But there was an abundant supply of stones and wood, which they put on the top of the stones. Stakes were easily fixed down firmly in the mud, which itself served as a cement to the stones to hold them firm. The zeal of the Macedonians in the work was great, and it was increased by the presence of Alexander himself, who took the lead in everything, now rousing the men to exertion by speech, and now by presents of money, lightening the labour of those who were toiling more than their fellows from the desire of gaining praise for their exertions. As long as the mole was being constructed near the mainland, the work made easy and rapid progress, as the material was poured into a small depth of water, and there was no one to hinder them; but when they began to approach the deeper water, and at the same time came near the city itself, they suffered severely, being assailed with missiles from the walls, which were lofty, inasmuch as they had been expressly equipped for work rather than for fighting.

“Moreover, as the Tyrians still retained command of the sea, they kept on sailing with their triremes to various parts of the mole, and made it impossible in many places for the Macedonians to pour in the material. But the latter erected two towers upon the mole, which they had now projected over a long stretch of sea, and upon these towers they placed engines of war. Skins and prepared hides served as coverings in front of them, to prevent them being struck by fire-bearing missiles from the wall, and at the same time to be a screen against arrows to those who were working. It was likewise intended that the Tyrians who might sail near to injure the men engaged in the construction of the mole should not retire easily, being assailed by missiles from the towers.”“

Tyrians Respond to the Construction of the Causeway to Tyre

The Tyrians also launched a boat with blazing cauldrons to set fire to the attackers. This tactic only delayed the inevitable. Arrian wrote: “But to counteract this the Tyrians adopted the following contrivance. They filled a vessel, which had been used for transporting horses, with dry twigs and other combustible wood, fixed two masts on the prow, and fenced it round in the form of a circle as large as possible, so that the enclosure might contain as much chaff and as many torches as possible. Moreover they placed upon this vessel quantities of pitch, brimstone, and whatever else was calculated to foment a great flame. They also stretched out a double yard-arm upon each mast; and from these they hung caldrons into which they had poured or cast materials likely to kindle flame which would extend to a great distance. They then put ballast into the stern, in order to raise the prow aloft, the vessel being weighed down abaft. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]


Tyre from an airplane in 1934


“Then watching for a wind bearing towards the mole, they fastened the vessel to some triremes which towed it before the breeze. As soon as they approached the mole and the towers, they threw fire among the wood, and at the same time ran the vessel, with the triremes, aground as violently as possible, dashing against the end of the mole. The men in the vessel easily swam away, as soon as it was set on fire. A great flame soon caught the towers; and the yard-arms being twisted round poured out into the fire the materials that had been prepared for kindling the flame. The men also in the triremes tarrying near the mole kept on shooting arrows into the towers, so that it was not safe for men to approach in order to bring materials to quench the fire.

“Upon this, when the towers had already caught fire, many men hastened from the city, and embarking in light vessels, and striking against various parts of the mole, easily tore down the stockade which had been placed in front of it for protection, and burnt up all the engines of war which the fire from the vessel did not reach. But Alexander began to construct a wider mole from the mainland, capable of containing more towers; and he ordered the engine-makers to prepare fresh engines. While this was being performed, he took the shield-bearing guards and the Agrianians and set out to Sidon, to collect there all the triremes be could; since it was evident that the successful conclusion of the siege would be much more difficult to attain, so long as the Tyrians retained the superiority at sea.”

Alexander Activities During the Siege of Tyre

Plutarch wrote: “During the siege of this city, which, with mounds of earth cast up, and battering engines, and two hundred galleys by sea, was carried on for seven months together, he dreamt that he saw Hercules upon the walls, reaching out his hands, and calling to him. And many of the Tyrians in their sleep fancied that Apollo told them he was displeased with their actions, and was about to leave them and go over to Alexander. Upon which, as if the god had been a deserting soldier, they seized him, so to say, in the act, tied down the statue with ropes, and nailed it to the pedestal, reproaching him that he was a favourer of Alexander. Another time Alexander dreamed he saw a satyr mocking him at a distance, and when he endeavoured to catch him, he still escaped from him, till at last with much perseverance, and running about after him, he got him into his power. The soothsayers, making two words of Satyrus, assured him that Tyre should be his own. The inhabitants at this time show a spring of water, near which they say Alexander slept when he fancied the satyr appeared to him. [Source: Plutarch (A.D. 45-127), “Life of Alexander”, A.D. 75 translated by John Dryden, 1906, MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ]

“While the body of the army lay before Tyre, he made an excursion against the Arabians who inhabit the Mount Antilibanus, in which he hazarded his life extremely to bring off his master Lysimachus, who would needs go along with him, declaring he was neither older nor inferior in courage to Phoenix, Achilles's guardian. For when, quitting their horses, they began to march up the hills on foot, the rest of the soldiers outwent them a great deal, so that night drawing on, and the enemy near, Alexander was fain to stay behind so long, to encourage and help up the lagging and tired old man, that before he was aware he was left behind, a great way from his soldiers, with a slender attendance, and forced to pass an extremely cold night in the dark, and in a very inconvenient place; till seeing a great many scattered fires of the enemy at some distance, and trusting to his agility of body, and as he was always wont by undergoing toils and labours himself to cheer and support the Macedonians in any distress, he ran straight to one of the nearest fires, and with his dagger despatching two of the barbarians that sat by it, snatched up a lighted brand, and returned with it to his own men. They immediately made a great fire, which so alarmed the enemy that most of them fled, and those that assaulted them were soon routed and thus they rested securely the remainder of the night. Thus Chares writes.


Alexander at the Siege of Tyre

“But to return to the siege, it had this issue. Alexander, that he might refresh his army, harassed with many former encounters, had led only a small party towards the walls, rather to keep the enemy busy than with any prospect of much advantage. It happened at this time that Aristander, the soothsayer, after he had sacrificed, upon view of the entrails, affirmed confidently to those who stood by that the city should be certainly taken that very month, upon which there was a laugh and some mockery among the soldiers, as this was the last day of it. The king, seeing him in perplexity, and always anxious to support the credit of the predictions, gave order that they should not count it as the thirtieth, but as the twenty-third of the month, and ordering the trumpets to sound, attacked the walls more seriously than he at first intended. The sharpness of the assault so inflamed the rest of his forces who were left in the camp, that they could not hold from advancing to second it, which they performed with so much vigour that the Tyrians retired, and the town was carried that very day. The next place he sat down before was Gaza, one of the largest cities of Syria, when this accident befell him. A large bird flying over him let a clod of earth fall upon his shoulder, and then settling upon one of the battering engines, was suddenly entangled and caught in the nets, composed of sinews, which protected the ropes with which the machine was managed. This fell out exactly according to Aristander's prediction, which was, that Alexander should be wounded and the city reduced.”

Tyre Besieged by Sea as well as Land

Arrian wrote: “About this time Gerostratus, King of Aradus, and Enylus, King of Byblus, ascertaining that their cities were in the possession of Alexander, deserted Autophradates and the fleet under his command, and came to Alexander with their naval force, accompanied by the Sidonian triremes; so that about eighty Phoenician ships joined him. About the same time triremes also came to him from Rhodes, both the one called Peripolus, and with it nine others. From Soli and Mallus also came three, and from Lycia ten; from Macedonia also a ship with fifty oars, in which sailed Proteas, son of Andronicus. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“Not long after, too, the kings of Cyprus put into Sidon with about one hundred and twenty ships, when they heard of the defeat of Darius at Issus, and were terrified, because the whole of Phoenicia was already in the possession of Alexander. To all of these Alexander granted indemnity for their previous conduct, because they seemed to have joined the Persian fleet rather by necessity than by their own choice. While the engines of war were being constructed for him, and the ships were being fitted up for a naval attack on the city and for the trial of a sea-battle, he took some squadrons of cavalry, the Agrianians and archers, and made an expedition into the range of mountains called Anti-Libănus. Having subdued some of the mountaineers by force, and drawn others over to him by terms of capitulation, he returned to Sidon in ten days. Here he found Oleander, son of Polemocrates, just arrived from Peloponnesus, having , Grecian mercenaries with him.


““When his fleet had been arranged in due order, he embarked upon the decks as many of his shield-bearing guards as seemed sufficient for his enterprise, unless a sea-battle were to be fought rather by breaking the enemy’s line than by a close conflict. He then started from Sidon and sailed towards Tyre with his ships arranged in proper order, himself being on the right wing which stretched out seaward; and with him were the kings of the Cyprians, and all those of the Phoenicians except Pnytagoras, who with Craterus was commanding the left wing of the whole line. The Tyrians had previously resolved to fight a sea-battle, if Alexander should sail against them by sea. But then with surprise they beheld the vast multitude of his ships; for they had not yet learnt that Alexander had all the ships of the Cyprians and Phoenicians. At the same time they were surprised to see that he was sailing against them with his fleet arranged in due order; for Alexander’s fleet a little before it came near the city, tarried for a while out in the open sea, with the view of provoking the Tyrians to come out to a battle; but afterwards, as the enemy did not put out to sea against them, though they were thus arranged in line, they advanced to the attack with a great dashing of oars. Seeing this, the Tyrians decided not to fight a battle at sea, but closely blocked up the passage for ships with as many triremes as the mouths of their harbour would contain, and guarded it, so that the enemy’s fleet might not find an anchorage in any of the harbours.

“As the Tyrians did not put out to sea against him, Alexander sailed near the city, but resolved not to try to force an entrance into the harbour towards Sidon on account of the narrowness of its mouth; and at the same time because he saw that the entrance had been blocked up with many triremes having their prows turned towards him. But the Phoenicians fell upon the three triremes moored furthest out at the mouth of the harbour, and attacking them prow to prow, succeeded in sinking them. However, the men in the ships easily swam off to the land which was friendly to them. Then, indeed, Alexander moored his ships along the shore not far from the mole which had been made, where there appeared to be shelter from the winds; and on the following day he ordered the Cyprians with their ships and their admiral Andromachus to moor near the city opposite the harbour which faces towards Sidon, and the Phoenicians opposite the harbour which looks towards Egypt, situated on the other side of the mole, where also was his own tent.”

Siege of Tyre


In 332 B.C., Alexander the Great captured Tyre by using ship-mounted battering rams and catapults to blast a hole in the fortress wall and gangplanks and two large siege towers to launch the assault. Arrian wrote: “He had now collected many engineers both from Cyprus and the whole of Phoenicia, and many engines of war had been constructed, some upon the mole, others upon vessels used for transporting horses, which he brought with him from Sidon, and others upon the triremes which were not fast sailers. When all the preparations had been completed they brought up the engines of war along the mole that had been made and also began to shoot from ships moored near various parts of the wall and making trial of its strength. The Tyrians erected wooden towers on their battlements opposite the mole, from which they might annoy the enemy; and if the engines of war were brought near any other part, they defended themselves with missiles and shot at the very ships with fire-bearing arrows, so that they deterred the Macedonians from approaching the wall. Their walls opposite the mole were about one hundred and fifty feet high, with a breadth in proportion, and constructed with large stones imbedded in gypsum. It was not easy for the horse-transports and the triremes of the Macedonians, which were conveying the engines of war up to the wall, to approach the city, because a great quantity of stones hurled forward into the sea prevented their near assault. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“These stones Alexander determined to drag out of the sea; but this was a work accomplished with great difficulty, since it was performed from ships and not from the firm earth; especially as the Tyrians, covering their ships with mail, brought them alongside the anchors of the triremes, and cutting the cables of the anchors underneath, made anchoring impossible for the enemy’s ships. But Alexander covered many thirty-oared vessels with mail in the same way, and placed them athwart in front of the anchors, so that the assault of the ships was repelled by them. But, notwithstanding this, divers under the sea secretly cut their cables. The Macedonians then used chains to their anchors instead of cables, and let them down so that the divers could do no more harm. Then, fastening slip-knots to the stones, they dragged them out of the sea from the mole; and having raised them aloft with cranes, they discharged them into deep water, where they were no longer likely to do injury by being hurled forward. The ships now easily approached the part of the wall where it had been made clear of the stones which had been hurled forward.

“The Tyrians being now reduced to great straits on all sides, resolved to make an attack on the Cyprian ships, which were moored opposite the harbour turned towards Sidon. For a long time they spread sails across the mouth of the harbour, in order that the filling of the triremes might not be discernible; and about the middle of the day, when the sailors were scattered in quest of necessaries, and when Alexander usually retired from the fleet to his tent on the other side of the city, they filled three quinqueremes, an equal number of quadriremes and seven triremes with the most expert complement of rowers possible, and with the best-armed men adapted for fighting from the decks, together with the men most daring in naval contests. At first they rowed out slowly and quietly in single file, moving forward the handles of their oars without any signal from the men who give the time to the rowers; but when they were already tacking against the Cyprians, and were near enough to be seen, then indeed with a loud shout and encouragement to each other, and at the same time with impetuous rowing, they commenced the attack.”

Naval Defeat of the Tyrians


Arrian wrote: “It happened on that day that Alexander went away to his tent, but after a short time returned to his ships, not tarrying according to his usual custom. The Tyrians fell all of a sudden upon the ships lying at their moorings, finding some entirely empty and others being filled with difficulty from the men who happened to be present at the very time of the noise and attack. At the first onset they at once sank the quinquereme of the king Pnytagoras, that of Androcles the Amathusiau and that of Pasicrates the Curian; and they shattered the other ships by pushing them ashore. But when Alexander perceived the sailing out of the Tyrian triremes, he ordered most of the ships under his command to be manned and to take position at the mouth of the harbour, so that the rest of the Tyrian ships might not sail out. He then took the quinqueremes which he had and about five of the triremes, which were manned by him in haste before the rest were ready, and sailed round the city against the Tyrians who had sailed out of the harbour. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“The men on the wall, perceiving the enemy’s attack and observing that Alexander himself was in the fleet, began to shout to those in their own ships, urging them to return; but as their shouts were not audible, on account of the noise of those who were engaged in the action, they exhorted them to retreat by various kinds of signals. At last after a long time, perceiving the impending attack of Alexander’s fleet, they tacked about and began to flee into the harbour; and a few of their ships succeeded in escaping, but Alexander’s vessels assaulted the greater number, and rendered some of them unfit for sailing; and a quinquereme and a quadrireme were captured at the very mouth of the harbour. But the slaughter of the marines was not great; for when they perceived that their ships were in possession of the enemy, they swam off without difficulty into the harbour. As the Tyrians could no longer derive any aid from their ships, the Macedonians now brought up their military engines to the wall itself. Those which were brought near the city along the mole, did no damage worth mentioning on account of the strength of the wall there. Others brought up some of the ships conveying military engines opposite the part of the city turned towards Sidon. But when even there they met with no success, Alexander passed round to the wall projecting towards the south wind and towards Egypt, and tested the strength of the works everywhere. Here first a large piece of the wall was thoroughly shaken, and a part of it was even broken and thrown down. Then indeed for a short time he tried to make an assault to the extent of throwing a bridge upon the part of the wall where a breach had been made. But the Tyrians without much difficulty beat the Macedonians back.”

Alexander’s Force Breech the Walls of Tyre

Arrian wrote: “The third day after this, having waited for a calm sea, after encouraging the leaders of the regiments for the action, he led the ships containing the military engines up to the city. In the first place he shook down a large piece of the wall; and when the breach appeared to be sufficiently wide, he ordered the vessels conveying the military engines to retire, and brought up two others, which carried his bridges, which he intended to throw upon the breach in the wall. The shield-bearing guards occupied one of these vessels, which he had put under the command of Admetus; and the other was occupied by the regiment of Coenus, called the foot Companions. Alexander himself, with the shield-bearing guards, intended to scale the wall where it might be practicable. He ordered some of his triremes to sail against both of the harbours, to see if by any means they could force an entrance when the Tyrians had turned themselves to oppose him. He also ordered those of his triremes which contained the missiles to be hurled from engines, or which were carrying archers upon deck, to sail right round the wall and to put in where it was practicable, and to take up position within shooting range, until it became impossible to put in, so that the Tyrians, being shot at from all quarters, might become distracted, and not know whither to turn in their distress. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“When Alexander’s ships drew close to the city and the bridges were thrown from them upon the wall, the shield-bearing guards mounted valiantly along these upon the wall; for their captain, Admetus, proved himself brave on that occasion, and Alexander accompanied them, both as a courageous participant in the action itself, and as a witness of brilliant and dangerous feats of valour performed by others. The first part of the wall that was captured was where Alexander had posted himself; the Tyrians being easily beaten back from it, as soon as the Macedonians found firm footing, and at the same time a way of entrance not abrupt on every side. Admetus was the first to mount the wall; but while cheering on his men to mount, he was struck with a spear and died on the spot.



“After him, Alexander with the Companions got possession of the wall; and when some of the towers and the parts of the wall between them were in his hands, he advanced through the battlements to the royal palace, because the descent into the city that way seemed the easiest.”

Capture of Tyre

Arrian wrote: “To return to the fleet, the Phoenicians posted opposite the harbour looking towards Egypt, facing which they happened to be moored, forcing their way and bursting the bars asunder, shattered the ships in the harbour, attacking some of them in deep water and driving others ashore. The Cyprians also sailed into the other harbour looking towards Sidon, which had no bar across it, and made a speedy capture of the city on that side. The main body of the Tyrians deserted the wall when they saw it in the enemy’s possession; and rallying opposite what was called the chapel of Agenor, they there turned round to resist the Macedonians. Against these Alexander advanced with his shield-bearing guards, destroyed the men who fought there, and pursued those who fled. [Source: Arrian the Nicomedian (A.D. 92-175), “Anabasis of Alexander”, translated, by E. J. Chinnock, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1884, gutenberg.org]

“Great was the slaughter also made both by those who were now occupying the city from the harbour and by the regiment of Coenus, which had also entered it. For the Macedonians were now for the most part advancing full of rage, being angry both at the length of the siege and also because the Tyrians, having captured some of their men sailing from Sidon, had conveyed them to the top of their wall, so that the deed might be visible from the camp, and after slaughtering them, had cast their bodies into the sea. About , of the Tyrians were killed; and of the Macedonians, besides Admetus, who had proved himself a valiant man, being the first to scale the wall, twenty of the shield-bearing guards were killed in the assault on that occasion. In the whole siege about Macedonians were slain. Alexander gave an amnesty to all those who fled for refuge into the temple of Heracles; among them being most of the Tyrian magistrates, including the king Azemilcus, as well as certain envoys from the Carthaginians, who had come to their mother-city to attend the sacrifice in honour of Heracles, according to an ancient custom. The rest of the prisoners were reduced to slavery; all the Tyrians and mercenary troops, to the number of about ,, who had been captured, being sold. Alexander then offered sacrifice to Heracles, and conducted a procession in honour of that deity with all his soldiers fully armed. The ships also took part in this religious procession in honour of Heracles. He moreover held a gymnastic contest in the temple, and celebrated a torch race. The military engine, also, with which the wall had been battered down, was brought into the temple and dedicated as a thank-offering; and the Tyrian ship sacred to Heracles, which had been captured in the naval attack, was likewise dedicated to the god. An inscription was placed on it, either composed by Alexander himself or by some one else; but as it is not worthy of recollection, I have not deemed it worth while to describe it. Thus then was Tyre captured in the month Hecatombaion, when Anicetus was archon at Athens.”


Tyre beseiged and captured by Alexander


Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Greece sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Hellenistic World sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; BBC Ancient Greeks bbc.co.uk/history/ ; Canadian Museum of History historymuseum.ca ; Perseus Project - Tufts University; perseus.tufts.edu ; MIT, Online Library of Liberty, oll.libertyfund.org ; Gutenberg.org gutenberg.org Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Live Science, Discover magazine, Times of London, Natural History magazine, Archaeology magazine, The New Yorker, Encyclopædia Britannica, "The Discoverers" [∞] and "The Creators" [μ]" by Daniel Boorstin. "Greek and Roman Life" by Ian Jenkins from the British Museum.Time, Newsweek, Wikipedia, Reuters, Associated Press, The Guardian, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, World Religions edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); History of Warfare by John Keegan (Vintage Books); History of Art by H.W. Janson Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J.), Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

Last updated October 2018

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