Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 40, 41 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here
Alexander Requests Permission To Enter Tyre
Tyre Refuses To Let Alexander In
Construction of Mole Begins
Sea-Monster: What Are The Gods Saying?
Chapter 40 begins a new year in Diodorus’ chronology but takes us back to the Macedonian camp immediately after the Battle of Issus. After burying his dead, and ‘those of the Persians who had distinguished themselves by courage’, Alexander sacrificed to the gods and gave rewards to those of his men ‘who had borne themselves well in battle’. Once these tasks were over, he let the army rest for a few days before beginning the southward journey to Egypt.
In southern Phoenicia, Alexander came to the island city of Tyre. There, he told the Tyrians that he ‘wished to sacrifice to the Tyrian Heracles’ only to be refused permission to enter the city. Angered by this, Alexander threatened to take the city by force ‘but the Tyrians cheerfully faced the prospect of a siege’.
Diodorus explains that the Tyrians’ decision to bar Alexander was motivated by a desire to ‘gratify Darius’. They also thought that by this show of loyalty ‘they would receive great gifts from the king’.
As he prepared to lay siege to the city, Alexander saw that Tyre would be impossible to take by sea ‘because of the engines mounted along its walls and the fleet that it possessed’. Neither was taking it by land an option as Tyre lay four furlongs away from the coast.
The obvious answer to this dilemma was simply to leave Tyre where it was and continue on to Egypt. But in Alexander’s eyes, this would cause his army to be ‘held in contempt by a single undistinguished [!] city’ and he could not allow that.
His first action was to demolish Old Tyre and start the construction of a mole (a causeway), two hundred feet wide, to bridge the gap between shoreline and city. This kind of project was going to need a large workforce to complete, and Diodorus says that Alexander ‘drafted into service the entire population of the neighbouring cities’ in order to get it done. Which in due course, they did, with some speed.
At first, though, the Tyrians did not take the mole seriously. They sailed up to it ‘and mocked the king, asking if he thought that he would get the better of Poseidon’. This contempt only lasted as long as it took for the Tyrians to realise that the mole was approaching their city with ‘unexpected rapidity’. An assembly was held and a vote taken. It was decided to
- Transport all women, children and ‘old men’ (not old women?) to Carthage
- Post ‘the young and able-bodied to the defence of the walls’
- Prepare the navy – eighty triremes strong – for battle
Diodorus reports that some women and children – and presumably old men – were removed to Carthage but that the rest were forced to stay in the city by the rapid advance of of the mole.
As you can see by the map below (from Wikipedia’s page dedicated to the siege), Tyre’s two ports were land-facing. Perhaps as the mole progressed this put the ships within range of Alexander’s catapults making their movement impossible.
Having said that, as the Footnotes point out, in Chapter 46 Diodorus says that ‘most of the non-combatants’ were taken out of the city.
Whether or not the women and children got away, the men in the city set about constructing catapults and other anti-siege engines. Work went well ‘because of the [number of] engineers and artisans… who were in the city’.
Strange events now interrupted the siege and caused confusion among the Macedonians and Tyrians alike. As the mole ‘came within [firing] range’ of the Tyrians, a tidal wave caused ‘a sea-monster of incredible size’ to crash into the mole. Neither were harmed and after a while the monster (a whale?) swam back into the sea. But what did it mean? Was it a good or bad omen? Both sides asked themselves this question. And both sides decided it was a sign that Poseidon was on their side.
Around the same time, the Macedonians reported that their rations of bread ‘had a bloody look’. And in Tyre, a man claimed to have had a vision ‘in which Apollo told him that he would leave the city’. He was accused of wanting to ‘curry favour with Alexander, and some of the younger citizens set out to stone him’. The man was rescued by the city magistrates; he hid in the temple of Heracles.
So not everyone believed the man’s vision but enough were convinced, and they tied golden cords round their statue of Apollo to prevent the god from deserting them.
Why did Alexander really lay siege to Tyre? Out of anger, as Diodorus suggests? I agree with anyone who says that his request was a either a ploy to get into the city, whereupon he would take control of it, or a pretext to lay siege to it. Tyre was pro-Persian. That made it too dangerous to leave unconquered. Had Alexander bypassed the city he would have handed the Persians a sea and land base from which to attack him.
No city is an island – even when it is. Notwithstanding the Tyrians’ trust in their strength, it is interesting to note that Tyre hoped Carthage, a colony, would help them out. Diodorus says that part of the Tyrian objective was to hold Alexander up and give Darius time to assemble his army. A Carthaginian attack would surely, though, have allowed Tyre to take the fight to Alexander.
I like the fact that Alexander justified the siege in terms of his army’s honour. Very crafty – even though I think he had sound military reasons for destroying Tyre, telling the men they were going to build the mole to save them from contempt could only have appealed to their pride.
Diodorus doesn’t mention the possibility that Alexander’s ships – he still had some after dismissing his fleet following the siege of Miletus (Ch. 22) – had an influence on Tyre’s inability to evacuate its women and children though they must have been present.
Young men are really not coming off well in Diodorus’ history. First we saw how they failed to break Ephialtes’ army during the siege of Halicarnassus – and had to be saved by the Macedonian veterans; then there was the case of the young men of Marmares who killed their families and fled their city despite resolving to die for its freedom; now, the young Tyrians nearly lynched the visionary. Is there a lesson to be drawn from this? I’ll let you decide.