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Siege of Tyre by Alexander the Great

After the defeat of the Persians by Macedonians at the battle of Issus in 333 BC, the Phoenician cities were also submitted to the authority of Alexander who, once again, was fully in his role as a great leader. He encountered no resistance from the cities of the north: Arwad, Byblos... and even Sidon, in the South. All those cities opened their doors to this conqueror who was considered like a savior after the Persians's oppressive domination. But when he expressed the desire to present a sacrifice to the Phoenician god Melqart, in his temple at Tyre, the king of the city, Azemilcos, refused him access. The old city of Tyre, located on a small rocky island, at some distance away from the shore, was believed to be invincible.

Alexander could not accept the refusal. The triumph of the Macedonians on Phoenician cities would really not be total if their leader could not presents his homage to the god of the enemy and in the principal temple in each city. And what would have been served to occupy the Phoenician coast if the island of Tyre had remained free and was able to receive aid, at any time, from the Carthage Wings?

Several reasons added together forced Alexander, following the example of his predecessor the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar, to initiate a siege on the city of Tyre, a draft that promised to be long, difficult and perilous. There was potentially two strategic reasons to occupy that island, known for its naval power and its location between land and sea with two large ports: A Political reason; Alexander had to show his strength and determination to occupy the entire region. And secondly, a mystical reason (or religious), the conqueror should deposit offerings to the god of the city, in full respect of ancestral traditions of his country. The siege of Tyre forced the Greek engineers to carry out tremendous construction work. It was necessary to build, under fire from the enemy, a jetty to connect the island of Tyre to the shore. This project was to be accompanied by a naval force that would protect workers during this achievement. Those vessels would also offer a blockade to stop the food and water supply to the inhabitants of the island, or the arrival of military aid from different colonies, especially from the powerful Carthage.

The siege of Tyre by Alexander the Great
The siege of Tyre by Alexander the Great

Alexander decided to connect the island to the mainland by building a dyke six hundred meters long on the shortest distance. He asked the kings of other Phoenician cities to provide him with their fleets, thus ensuring the edifice protection and the maritime blockade. Eager for their independence and their freedom, the besieged demolished overnight, the work that the Greeks were doing during the day. However, patience and tenacity were the best weapons of the Macedonian conqueror.

The first breaches allowed the attackers to enter the enclosure of the city. They were immediately slaughtered. Tridents, similar to fishhooks, snatched the shields of the Greeks and the Tyrians poured on the attackers, heated sand white and masses of iron red-hot. Triremes, charged with women, children and old people, went out during the night towards Carthage. The siege dragged and the Greek's losses were considerable, Alexander thought for a moment to give up his madness but his pride caught on him. The historian Diodorus of Sicily (Historical Library - Book XVII) left an account of this memorable event:

"He (Alexander) flung a bridge across from a wooden tower to the city walls and crossing by it alone gained a footing on the wall, neither concerned for the envy of Fortune nor fearing the menace of the Tyrians. Having as witness of his prowess the great army which had defeated the Persians, he ordered the Macedonians to follow him, and leading the way he slew some of those who came within reach with his spear, and others by a blow of his sabre. He knocked down still others with the rim of his shield, and put an end to the high confidence of the enemy.

Simultaneously in another part of the city the battering ram, put to its work, brought down a considerable stretch of wall; and when the Macedonians entered through this breach and Alexander's party poured over the bridge on to the wall, the city was taken. The Tyrians, however, kept up the resistance with mutual cries of encouragement and blocked the alleys with barricades, so that all except a few were cut down fighting, in number more than seven thousand. The king sold the women and children into slavery and crucified all the men of military age. These were not less than two thousand. Although most of the non-combatants had been removed to Carthage, those who remained to become captives were found to be more than thirteen thousand.

So Tyre had undergone the siege bravely rather than wisely and come into such misfortunes, after a resistance of seven months."

Detail of the siege of Tyre
Detail of the siege of Tyre

Only the temple of Melqart escaped the destruction of the island. The king of Macedonia could finally honor, as he wanted, the Phoenician Heracles. After this important victory of Alexander, the Greek fleet was now able to undermine and compete with the largest fleets of the time, thus completing the supremacy acquired on land. In September (-332), the Macedonian conqueror continued on his way to Egypt.

Illustrations from the book of Pierre BRIANT, De la Grèce à l'Orient, Alexandre le Grand,
Éditions Gallimard Découvertes, Paris 1988, numéro 27.

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