The infamous Siege of Tyre was the most memorable siege in Alexander The Great’s military campaign, in which he nearly took over the entirety of the ancient world as it was known to the Greeks.
It’s November 333 BCE. Alexander the Great had just achieved an impressive victory against the Persian King Darius III in the battle of Issus, north of Phoenicia.
The Macedonian king had successfully pushed his enemies back and had a great opportunity to bring the fight closer to the Persian Empire in the East. However, the warlord’s eyes were set South.
Phoenicia, which was part of the Persian Empire at the time, would have posed a serious threat to the Macedonian Army had it been left unconquered. Hence, Alexander marched South, and easily seized the coastal cities of Arwad, Byblos, and Sidon by January 332 BCE.
What was left was the most valuable of the Phoenician settlements; Tyre. But Alexander knew very well that it was also the most difficult to conquer.
Tyre was composed of two settlements: Old Tyre, which was a coastal city with insignificant defenses, and New Tyre – Alexander’s real target – which was a formidable island city, a little less than a kilometer into the sea from Old Tyre.
New Tyre was famous for its impenetrable, nearly 46-meter walls, and powerful navy.
Its people were famously proud and confident in their ability to wear down invaders and withstand long sieges, as they had done with Babylon’s attempt to capture the city long ago.
After Alexander took the coastal cities north of Tyre, Tyrians began preparing for an incoming siege. They evacuated most of the city’s women and children to another Phoenician colony, Carthage.
The 40,000 people who remained to defend their city dug in and prepared for battle. At first, the envoys sent by Tyrians to the Macedonian king declared the city’s intent to comply and honor his wishes.
Before the siege commenced, Alexander requested to make a sacrifice to the Greek god Heracles in New Tyre’s temple, but the Tyrians refused to allow it, recognizing his request to be a trick to siege their city.
Instead, they told him to make his sacrifice at the temple of Old Tyre.
Of course, the Macedonian king saw no strategic interest in the mainland settlement, and he sent a final warning to the Tyrians to lay down their arms and surrender their city to avoid a long siege.
But the Tyrians were not willing to surrender. They defiantly executed the heralds who carried the Macedonians’ warning and threw their bodies into the sea. Furious, Alexander began preparing to besiege the island city.
In January 332 BCE, with Old Tyre already conquered, Alexander ordered the Macedonians to use the raw resources taken from the buildings of the mainland city to construct a causeway.
Because Alexander had barely any navy, the only way for him to reach the island city with his siege weapons was to use the natural channel that connected it to the coast.
A large portion of the channel was only 2 meters below water level, so it was initially fairly easy to construct a causeway over it.
However, as Macedonian laborers got closer to the city, the natural bridge became deeper (as much as 5.5 meters) and slowed down construction.
At the same time, the work had gotten close enough to New Tyre that its defenders could reach it with their projectiles.
In response, Alexander constructed two siege towers at the end of the causeway and was able from them to fire back at the city, allowing progress on the causeway to continue. Two defensive palisades were also built near the towers.
In turn, the Tyrians filled an old ship used for transporting horses with oil and flammable materials, and crashed it into the Macedonians’ defenses, burning down the towers and the palisades.
Tyrians then followed up with an attack on the builders and successfully pushed them back towards the mainland settlement. Following that incident, the Macedonians broadened the causeway and constructed more siege towers.
Meanwhile, Alexander set off to gather a fleet to end the Tyrians’ naval superiority. He ended up securing around 220 ships from the recently-conquered Phoenician cities in addition to Ionia, Cyprus, and Macedonia.
He also managed to bring in 4,000 mercenaries. With the new fleet, Alexander sailed towards New Tyre, overwhelming its navy and pushing its defenders back inside it.
The Macedonian ships surrounded the island and bombarded it with catapults while the work on the causeway, on which new siege engines were being installed, continued.
During the siege, Tyrian divers would cut the anchor ropes of the besieging ships, which forced Alexander to resort to using chains instead.
At one point, Tyrians launched a surprise operation at the Sidonian harbor. The attack destroyed some ships, but a quick counterattack by Alexander suppressed the defenders and pushed them back into the city walls.
By then, the causeway was complete and breach attempts from its side began, but they were fruitless against the powerful fortifications of New Tyre.
In the meantime, Alexander’s besieging ships continued their attempts to penetrate the city’s walls.
The two sides of the conflict would exchange artillery fire, and Tyrians would pour hot sand onto the attacking ships, which would set them aflame.
After months of continuous siege, the Macedonians managed to create a small breach in the city’s southern wall using their battering rams. Alexander then created diversionary attacks from all sides of the city to keep the defenders busy.
Finally, he personally commanded a force of elite soldiers in an assault through the breach, successfully entering the city after a brutal clash with the Tyrians.
Soon after, Macedonians were able to infiltrate the city from different points, killing 6,000 Tyrians, crucifying another 2,000 on the beach, and selling 30,000 as slaves.
Alexander spared Tyre‘s king and his family, as well as a group of pilgrims who sought refuge in the city’s temple, in which Alexander finally made his sacrifice to Heracles after 6 long, grueling months of siege.
You can watch a visualization of the battle in the video below: