Wars of Alexander the Great: Siege of Tyre

Alexander the Great. Public Domain

Siege of Tyre - Conflict & Dates:

The Siege of Tyre took place from January to July 332 BC during the Wars of Alexander the Great (335-323 BC).

Commanders

Macedonians

  • Alexander the Great 

Tyre

  • Azemilcus

Siege of Tyre - Background:

Having defeated the Persians at Granicus (334 BC) and Issus (333 BC), Alexander the Great swept south along the Mediterranean coast with the ultimate goal of moving against Egypt.

Pressing on, his intermediate goal was to take the key port of Tyre. A Phoenician city, Tyre was situated on an island approximately half a mile from the mainland and was heavily fortified. Approaching Tyre, Alexander attempted to gain access by requesting permission to make a sacrifice at the city's Temple of Melkart (Hercules). This was refused and the Tyrians declared themselves neutral in Alexander's conflict with the Persians.

The Siege Begins:

Following this refusal, Alexander dispatched heralds to the city ordering it to surrender or be conquered. In response to this ultimatum, the Tyrians killed Alexander's heralds and threw them from the city walls. Angered and eager to reduce Tyre, Alexander was faced with the challenge of attacking an island city. In this, he was further hampered by the fact that he possessed a small navy. As this precluded a naval assault, Alexander consulted his engineers for other options.

It was quickly found that the water between the mainland and the city was relatively shallow until shortly before the city walls.

A Road Across the Water:

Using this information, Alexander ordered the construction of a mole (causeway) that would stretch across the water to Tyre. Tearing down the remains of the old mainland city of Tyre, Alexander's men began building a mole that was approximately 200 ft.

wide. The early phases of construction went smoothly as the city's defenders were unable to strike at the Macedonians. As it began to extend farther into the water, the builders came under frequent attack from Tyrian ships and the city's defenders who fired from atop its walls.

To defend against these assaults, Alexander constructed two 150 ft.-tall towers topped with catapults and mounting ballistas to drive off enemy ships. These were positioned at the end of the mole with a large screen stretched between them to protect the workers. Though the towers provided the needed defenses for construction to continue, the Tyrians quickly devised a plan to topple them. Constructing a special fire ship, which was weighted down aft to raise the bow, the Tyrians attacked the end of the mole. Igniting the fire ship, it rode up onto the mole settling the towers ablaze.

The Siege Ends:

Despite this setback, Alexander endeavored to complete the mole though he became increasingly convinced that he would need a formidable navy to capture the city. In this, he benefited from the arrival of 120 ships from Cyprus as well as another 80 or so that defected from the Persians. As his naval strength swelled, Alexander was able to blockade Tyre's two harbors.

Refitting several ships with catapults and battering rams, he ordered them anchored near the city. To counter this, Tyrian divers sortied out and cut the anchor cables. Adjusting, Alexander ordered the cables replaced with chains (Map).

With the mole nearly reaching the Tyre, Alexander ordered catapults forward which began bombarding the city walls. Finally breaching the wall in the southern part of the city, Alexander prepared a massive assault. While his navy attacked all around Tyre, siege towers were floated against the walls while troops attacked through the breach. Despite fierce resistance from the Tyrians, Alexander's men were able to overwhelm defenders and swarmed through the city. Under orders to slay the inhabitants, only those who took refuge in the city's shrines and temples were spared.

Aftermath of the Siege of Tyre:

As with most battles from this period, casualties are not known with any certainty. It is estimated that Alexander lost around 400 men during the siege while 6,000-8,000 Tyrians were killed and another 30,000 sold into slavery. As a symbol of his victory, Alexander ordered the mole to be completed and had one of his largest catapults placed in front of the Temple of Hercules. With the city taken, Alexander moved south and was forced to lay siege to Gaza. Again winning a victory, he marched in Egypt where he was welcomed and proclaimed pharaoh.

Selected Sources