Alexander possessed a foolproof tenacity. This was more than demonstrated when he undertook the siege and the capture of the island of Tyre.

The island of Tyre

Tyre was a Phoenician city, with approximately 40,000 inhabitants, located on an island, 800 meters from the coast of the current country of Lebanon, relatively close to the border with Israel. It was impregnable because it was completely walled and in some points its walls were 45 meters high. It had already emerged successfully from the first siege to which it was subjected by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II, so the Tyrians felt invincible.

The island of Tyre in the Mediterranean. The length of the dike was approx. 750 meters

Alexander was on a campaign to conquer the Persian empire, so he needed to ensure control of the Mediterranean coast, to be able to march calmly towards the east, which is why he had to take Tyre first. So, when he reached the coast, off the island of Tyre, he came up with an idea that made even his own generals laugh: get to the island by building a breakwater of stone and earth. His generals weren’t the only ones who laughed; the people of Tyre also thought it was a totally crazy idea. Ignoring this, Alexander ordered the construction of the breakwater to begin, taking advantage of the remains of the city that the Tyrians had abandoned on the continent, which they completely demolished.

But what Alexander did not know was that the citizens of Tire were just as tenacious as he was. When the work began, Alejandro’s engineers planted wooden stakes in the sea to delimit the route that the jetty should take. But Tyrian swimmers tied the stakes to rowing boats and dragged them out to sea. At the same time, from their boats they shot arrows at the workers. Alexander ordered to protect them with screens of skins and wood.

The siege of Tyre

It should be mentioned that, at that time, Alexander’s fleet was very far away, which is why it could not face the ships of the besieged.

The Tyrians then placed large catapults and crossbows (ballistas) atop their walls and began to hurl projectiles and huge arrows at the breakwater builders. The Macedonians responded by building two siege towers at the end of the jetty, to which they also installed catapults, with which they managed to protect the workers. The next step of the besieged was to tow a boat in which they placed sulfur, pitch and whatever flammable material they had, and made it crash against the point of the jetty. They immediately released incendiary arrows, starting a fire that consumed the two siege towers and most of the wooden stakes. Seeing this, the Tyrians thought that their city was saved and they felt more confident than ever. But they did not know Alexander.

Siege tower burned down by the Tyrians

This time, the Macedonian chief ordered the construction of a wider jetty, at the same time that his fleet was already approaching Tyre. When Alexander’s ships arrived, they began a blockade of the island (reminds me of Cuba), with which its inhabitants could no longer receive food and supplies by sea, but even so they did not give up. Taking advantage of the darkness of the night, they cut the anchor ropes of some enemy ships and ran them aground on the coast. Alexander responded by changing the anchor ropes to chains, set up a more careful watch, posted more ships to protect the advancing breakwater, and reassembled siege towers, from which catapults hurled projectiles at the walls. The defenders placed bags of seaweed to cushion the impact of the projectiles and kept throwing stones and logs, trying to bring down the siege towers, but the jetty kept advancing. He finally made it to the island.

The ballista, weapon used by the defenders of the island

The battering rams could now go into action. These huge machines were like a house with a gabled roof but no walls (like an inverted V). From the horizontal trunk, which forms the vertex of the V, hung, by means of ropes, an enormous trunk (also in a horizontal position) that was used to deliver powerful blows to the walls, until they were knocked down.

Reconstruction of a battering ram

The Tyrians, with their endless ingenuity, tied sharp knives to the ends of some very long sticks, which they drove from the top of the walls and cut the ropes that supported the enormous trunk of the battering ram. Alexander responded by roofing the battering rams so that the rods could not reach the ropes. Finally the walls began to give way, but new surprises awaited the attackers. The defenders had heated sand in large bronze vessels and hurled it at the Macedonians, managing to burn many. Likewise, they wrapped them with fishing nets, tied to large stones, with which they managed to make them fall from the top of the walls, but their advance was already unstoppable.

Alexander manages to reach the Island of Tyre

Alexander ordered that, parallel to the attack from the jetty, his ships attacked the other Port of Tire, thus managing to divide the defenders and facilitating the final attack that he himself led. Finally, after seven months, the Macedonian king was able to enter the island, not without feeling admiration for the determination with which its inhabitants defended it. He surely thought he would have done the same.


Today Tyre is no longer an island. It has been turned into a peninsula, as can be seen in the photo. This confirms the great vision of Alejandro who, without being an engineer, as soon as he saw the island from the coast, imagined that it could be connected to the mainland.


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