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Siege of Tyre (332 BC)

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Siege of Tyre (332 BC)
Part of the Wars of Alexander the Great
The Siege of Tyre, courtesy of The Department of History, United States Military Academy
Date January–July 332 BC
Location Tyre, Phoenicia (now Lebanon)
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Result Macedonian victory
Alexander captures the Levant
Greek allies
Achaemenid Empire
Commanders and leaders
Alexander the Great
Casualties and losses
400 killed[1] 8,000 killed or executed[2]
30,000 civilians enslaved[3]

The Siege of Tyre was orchestrated by Alexander the Great in 332 BC during his campaigns against the Persians. The Macedonian army was unable to capture the city, which was a strategic coastal base on the Mediterranean Sea, through conventional means because it was on an island and had walls right up to the sea. Alexander responded to this problem by first blockading and besieging Tyre for seven months, and then by building a causeway that allowed him to breach the fortifications.

It is said that Alexander was so enraged at the Tyrians' defense and the loss of his men that he destroyed half the city. According to Arrian, 8,000 Tyrian civilians were massacred after the city fell. Alexander granted pardon to all who had sought sanctuary (safety in the temple), including Azemilcus and his family, as well as many nobles. 30,000 residents and foreigners, mainly women and children, were sold into slavery.


Tyre, the largest and most important city-state of Phoenicia, was located both on the Mediterranean coast as well as a nearby island with two natural harbors on the landward side. The island lay about a kilometre from the coast in Alexander’s days, its high walls reaching 60 m (200 ft) above the sea on the east, landward facing, side of the island.


Tyre view from an airplane, 1934

At the time of the siege, the city held approximately 40,000 people, though the women and children were evacuated to Carthage, an ancient Phoenician colony. The Carthaginians also promised to send a fleet to their mother city’s aid. As Alexander did not have much of a navy, he resolved to take the city and thus deny the Persians their last harbor in the region. After months of trying to capture Tyre the Persian fleet surrendered about 332 BC. This enabled Alexander to attack from all sides.

Alexander knew of a temple to Melqart, whom he identified with Heracles, within the new city walls and informed the inhabitants that they would be spared if he were allowed to make sacrifice in the temple (the old port had been abandoned and the Tyrians were now living on an offshore island a kilometre from the mainland). The defenders refused to allow this and suggested he use the temple in the mainland, saying that they would not let Persians or Macedonians within their new city. A second attempt at negotiation resulted in his representatives being killed and then thrown from the walls into the sea, and Alexander became enraged at the defiance and ordered the siege to commence.[4]

The siege

As Alexander could not attack the city from the sea, he built a kilometer-long causeway stretching out to the island on a natural land bridge no more than two meters deep.[5]

This causeway allowed his artillery to get in range of the walls, and is still there to this day, as it was made of stone. As the work came near the walls, however, the water became much deeper, and the combined attacks from the walls and Tyrian navy made construction nearly impossible. Therefore, Alexander constructed two towers 50 m (160 ft) high and moved them to the end of the causeway. Like most of Alexander’s siege towers, these were moving artillery platforms, with catapults on the top to clear defenders off the walls, and ballista below to hurl rocks at the wall and attacking ships. The towers were made of wood, but were covered in rawhide to protect them from fire arrows. Although these towers were possibly the largest of their kind ever made, the Tyrians quickly devised a counterattack. They used an old horse transport ship, filling it with dried branches, pitch, sulfur, and various other combustibles. They then hung cauldrons of oil from the masts, so that they would fall onto the deck once the masts burned through. They also weighed down the back of the ship so that the front rose above the water. They then lit it on fire and ran it up onto the causeway. The fire spread quickly, engulfing both towers and other siege equipment that had been brought up. The Tyrian ships swarmed the pier, destroying any siege equipment that hadn’t caught fire, and driving off Macedonian crews that were trying to put out the fires.

A naval action during the siege. Drawing by André Castaigne, 1888-1889.

After this Alexander was convinced that he would not be able to take Tyre without a navy. Fortunately for him, his previous victory at Issus and subsequent conquests of the Phoenician city states of Byblos, Arwad and Sidon had caused the fleets of these cities, which composed most of the Persian navy, to come flocking to his banner. This immediately gave him command of a fleet of 80 ships. This coincided also with the arrival of another 120 war galleys sent by the king of Cyprus, who had heard of his victories and wished to join him. With the arrival of another 23 ships from the Greek city states of Ionia, Alexander had 223 galleys under his command, giving him command of the sea. Alexander then sailed on Tyre and quickly blockaded both ports with his superior numbers. He had several of the slower galleys, and a few barges, refit with battering rams. Finding that large underwater blocks of stone kept the rams from reaching the walls, Alexander had them removed by crane ships. The rams then anchored near the walls, but the Tyrians sent out ships and divers to cut the anchor cables. Alexander responded by replacing them with chains. The Tyrians launched another counterattack, yet were not so fortunate this time. They noticed that Alexander returned to the mainland at the same time every afternoon for lunch, at the same time much of his navy did. They therefore attacked at this time, but found Alexander had skipped his afternoon nap, and was able to quickly counter the sortie.[6]

Conclusion of the siege

Alexander started testing the wall at various points with his rams, until he made a small breach in the south end of the island. He then coordinated an attack across the breach with a bombardment from all sides by his navy. Alexander is said to have personally taken part in the attack on the city, fighting from the top of a siege tower.[7] Once his troops forced their way into the city, they easily overtook the garrison, and quickly captured the city. Those citizens that took shelter in the temple of Melqart were pardoned by Alexander, including the king of Tyre. According to Quintus Curtius Rufus 6,000 fighting men were killed within the city and 2,000 Tyrians were crucified on the beach.[7] The others, some 30,000 people, were sold into slavery. The severity of reprisals was both because of the length of the siege, and because the Tyrians had executed some captured soldiers on the walls, in sight of the attackers.

Alternative conclusion

Polyaenus the Macedonian, in one of the two stratagems he gives about Alexander's siege of Tyre, proposes another account as to how Alexander conquered the city. According to him, Alexander had marched into Arabia having left Parmenion in charge of the besieging force. The Tyrians found the courage to exit their walls and engage the Greeks, often beating them in battle. Alexander was informed and hurried back, reaching the city exactly when the Tyrians were fighting against a retreating Parmenion. Instead of attacking the Phoenicians, he chose to march directly to the city, which he immediately took by force surprising its remaining garrison. Another conclusion is that Alexander was so angry at building a bridge to take the City of Tyre he ended up killing all the people of Tyre or most of them.[8]

See also


  1. Arrian Anabasis 2.24.4
  2. Arrian Anabasis 2.24.4; Diodorus Library 17.46.4 claims 7,000, with 2,000 having been crucified; Quintus Curtius 4.4.16 claims 6,000, with 2,000 having been crucified on the beach
  3. Arrian Anabasis 2.24.5; Diodorus 17.46.4 claims 13,000
  4. O'Brien, John Maxwell Alexander the Great: the invisible enemy : a biography Routledge; 1 edition (15 September 1994) ISBN 978-0-415-10617-7 p.82
  5. Lua error in Module:Citation/CS1/Identifiers at line 47: attempt to index field 'wikibase' (a nil value).
  6. [1]
  7. 7.0 7.1 History of Alexander the Great of Macedonia, section 4.4.10-21
  8. Polyaenus, 4.3 Alexander, 4


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