The Siege of Tyre

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 42-46 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Macedonian Assault of Tyre Begins
Tyre’s Brave Defence
Macedonians Breach Wall: Street-to-Street Fighting
Tyre Falls to Alexander

The Story

Chapter 42
‘[A]larmed at the advance of the mole’ the Tyrians sent out ships armed ‘with both light and heavy catapults’ as well as with ‘archers and slingers’ to attack the Macedonian workers. Their attack was successful – Diodorus reports that there were so many workers on the mole that the missiles could not help but hit their target.

Seeing the Tyrian attack, Alexander led his ships to Tyre’s harbour. His plan was to cut off the Tyrian sailors’ retreat. The sailors feared he would ‘seize the harbour and capture the city while it was empty of soldiers’. Both sides rowed towards the harbour with all their might. The Tyrians made it back first – just, and some at the end of the column were lost to the Macedonians.

The mole continued its approach to Tyre, this time with a fleet of ships screening it from attack. But they could do nothing about the next assault, which left Alexander ‘at a loss [on how] to deal with the harm done to his project’. This is because he was now attacked by ‘a powerful north-west gale’ that blew up ‘and damaged a large part of the mole’.

Alexander was then tempted to give up the siege but ‘driven by ambition’ decided to persevere. Huge mountain trees were cut down and rolled into the sea beside the mole where they acted as breakers.

The damaged part of the mole was repaired. When Tyre came within firing range, Alexander had his siege engines forward. The fight for Tyre now began in earnest.

One Stone throwers were employed to attack Tyre’s walls; light catapults were aimed at the walls’ defenders. Archers and slingers also joined the offensive.

Chapter 43
Two Tyre defended itself against the new onslaught with ‘ingenious counter-measures’. Catapult missiles were broken against or deflected by a spinning wheel. The stone-throwers’ balls were caught by ‘soft and yielding materials’ (See also Thirteen below).

Three While the first assault was taking place, Alexander sailed round the city to inspect Tyre’s walls. By doing so, he ‘made it clear that he was about to attack the city alike by land and sea’.

Four During his tour, Alexander sank three Tyrian ships at the city harbour mouth. Tyre actually had two harbours; Diodorus doesn’t say which one these ships were moored at. After sinking the ships, Alexander returned to his camp.

Five In an effort to give the city extra protection, the Tyrians now (or perhaps earlier?) built a second wall five cubits (seven and a half feet) inside the outer wall. The new wall ‘was ten cubits [fifteen feet] in thickness’. The space between the two walls was ‘filled with stone and earth’.

Six Alexander, meanwhile, began his sea-borne assault of the city by tying a number of triremes together and mounting siege engines upon them. The attack was successful. If I read Diodorus correctly, a one hundred foot wide hole was punched through the inner outer and inner wall.

Seven That Alexander was able to break through both walls and the rubble in-between seems unlikely, but Diodorus does say that after doing this, Macedonian soldiers ‘burst into the city’. The Tyrians fought back, however, and Alexander’s men were repulsed. That night, the damaged wall was rebuilt.

Eight The mole now reached Tyre’s walls. Hand-to-hand fighting took place along them. The Tyrians fought bravely, perhaps even desperately; they knew what a disaster it would be if Alexander captured their city.

Nine The Macedonians set foot on the battlements by means of a bridge flung down from their siege engine. The Tyrians responded by firing barbed tridents, which struck and attached themselves to Macedonians’ shields. The tridents were attached to rope, which were then pulled back. The Macedonian soldier would then face the choice of either releasing the shield and exposing his body to further attack or of being pulled off the siege engine and falling to his death. Another Tyrian tactic was simply to fling fishing nets over the Macedonians as they crossed the bridge. These would then be pulled so that the Macedonian would fall to his death.

Chapter 44
Ten This chapter is dedicated to the various defensive measures employed by the Tyrians. Here is a list of those that Diodorus mentions.

  1. Red hot sand. Heated in bronze and iron shields, the sand was then scattered (‘[b]y means of a certain apparatus’) over the invaders. The sand would get inside the Macedonians’ armour and burn their skin. The victim would scream for mercy only to die in a state of madness.
  2. Fire. Diodorus says that fire was poured (from the walls) and that fire-throwers ‘discharged huge red-hot masses of metal’ at the Macedonians. Once again, there were so many of the latter that the metal always hit someone.
  3. ‘[J]avelins and stones’ – thrown in such numbers that they weakened ‘the resolution of the attackers’.
  4. Poles and ‘spars equipped with concave cutting edges’ were also used to ‘cut the ropes supporting the [battering] rams.
  5. Crows and iron hands – types of grappling hook – that were launched at the Macedonians pulling them to their deaths.

Chapter 45
Eleven Diodorus says that the Tyrians caused ‘extreme terror’ by their use of these defensive measures. And a great deal of death, too. But the Macedonians were unbowed. When one man fell, another came up from behind to replace him.

Twelve Alexander directed the catapults and ‘made the walls rock with the boulders that they threw’. Along with the ‘dart-throwers’ on his towers, the king kept up a constant barrage ‘of all kind of missiles’.

Thirteen Diodorus now refers again to the Tyrians’ ‘ingenious counter-measures’ that we saw in Chapter 43 and at Two, above. This time, he adds that the rotating wheels were made of marble and that the ‘soft and yielding materials’ were ‘hides or pairs of skins’ that were stuffed with seaweed.

Fourteen After a summary of the Tyrians’ fighting performance (bold and valorous) Diodorus adds that some of the defenders used axes ‘to chop off any part of the body of an opponent that presented itself’. By way of an example, Diodorus mentions a Macedonian commander named Admetus – ‘a conspicuously brave and powerful man’ – who was ‘killed instantly when his skull was split by the stroke of an axe’.

Fifteen We now come to a very interesting moment in Alexander’s career. The Tyrians were holding his army ‘in check’. Night was falling so he ordered his soldiers to camp. That night, he decided ‘to break off the siege and march on to Egypt’. But something or someone changed his mind and ‘he reflected that it would be disgraceful to leave the Tyrians with all the glory of the operation’. Diodorus states that only one of Alexander’s Friends supported his decision to continue the siege. You would be forgiven for thinking that that was Hephaestion, but it wasn’t. On this occasion, only a Friend named Amnytas son of Andromenes sided with his king.

Chapter 46
Sixteen Presumably the next day, Alexander addressed his men ‘calling on them to dare no less than he’. The Macedonian fleet was prepared and a ‘general assault’ on Tyre began. It came via land and sea and ‘was pressed furiously’. During the attack, Alexander noticed that the city wall ‘on the side of the naval base was weaker than elsewhere’. He attacked it with the siege engines mounted on the triremes that had been tied together.

Seventeen Unless Diodorus is referring to a different section of wall, it seems that the purpose of the attack wasn’t to demolish the wall. This is because he states that (at an unspecified point), Alexander bridged the gap between trireme and wall. He crossed it first, fearing neither ‘the envy of Fortune nor… the menace of the Tyrians’. Ordering his men after him, Alexander took the fight to the Tyrians with spear, sabre and shield, thus putting ‘an end to the high confidence of the enemy’.

Eighteen At the same time, one of the Macedonian battering rams breached part of the Tyrian wall. Macedonian soldiers entered the city for the first time. Alexander and his men were not far behind. ‘[T]he city was taken’.

Nineteen All may have been lost for the Tyrians but they did not surrender. Far from it. Alleys were barricaded, encouragements shouted, and ‘all except a few were cut down fighting’. Diodorus now gives us the Tyrian casualty figures,

  • Men Dead ‘more than seven thousand’
  • Men Executed ‘not less than two thousand’

As per normal practice, the women and children of the city were sold into slavery. It is at this point that contrary to what he said in Chapter 41 (here), Diodorus now states that ‘most of the non-combatants’ were evacuated to Carthage. Those left behind still numbered ‘more than thirteen thousand’.

Diodorus does not give any figures for the Macedonian dead.

Twenty The siege of Tyre took seven months. After gaining control of the city, Alexander removed Apollo’s golden cords and ordered that he be renamed ‘Apollo Philalexander’. He carried out ‘magnificent sacrifices to Heracles’ just as he said he had wanted to do at the beginning, gave rewards to the brave among his men and organised ‘lavish funerals’ for his dead. Finally, he placed a man called Ballonymus on the throne ‘the story of whose career’ Diodorus tells us, ‘I cannot omit because it is an example of a quite astonishing reversal of fortune’. I agree wholeheartedly with Diodorus on this, and we shall look at what happened in the next post.

Comments
This has been a long post, so I shall try and keep these comments brief.

While writing the previous post, I wondered if another reason most of the Tyrian women and children were obliged to remain in the city was because as well as the city’s ports being within range of the Macedonian catapults they were also prey to Alexander’s ships. A Footnote to Chapter 42 confirms that Alexander did indeed have ships at his disposal but doesn’t say when they arrived.

The Tyrians’ ‘ingenious devices’ sound very clever indeed – especially the rotating wheel but did it really exist? The Footnotes confirm that no other Alexander historian mentions them. Perhaps Diodorus heard tell of them elsewhere, or had simply discussed the possibility of such devices with someone and then decided to include them as the kind of thing Alexander would have used if he had the chance.

I must credit the Footnotes again for the conversion of cubit to feet.

Chapter 45 is absolutely fascinating in terms of Alexander’s relations with his generals, with Hephaestion and indeed, Amyntas son of Andromenes.

In terms of the generals, their refusal to support a continuation of the siege represents the first time that I can think of since Alexander became king that he failed to win the support of his Friends for a proposed course of action. In fact, the only other time that I can think of when Alexander was so isolated was when the army mutinied at the Hyphasis River. Then, the army was exhausted. This time, it must have been a professional isolation as there was no bad blood on Alexander’s part once Tyre fell.

Regarding Hephaestion, the fact that he did not support Alexander on this occasion serves as a useful reminder that despite being Alexander’s best friend and intimate – however we choose to interpret that – he was not a cipher and would not always have agreed with the king. We can make of this what we will; I think it points to a maturity in the friendship.

Amyntas has not been mentioned before by Diodorus; had we been reading Arrian, however, we would know him well by now. In the Anabasis, Amyntas is seen at the Battle of the Granicus and Issus, he also accepts the surrender or Sardis and at the attack on Myndus. A friend of Philotas, Amyntas nearly suffered the same fate, but was acquitted at trial.

Having said all that, it should be noted that in his Who’s Who in the Age of Alexander the Great (from where I have taken the above information) Heckel says that while it is ‘plausible’ that Amyntas supported Alexander’s decision to continue the Tyrian siege it is also ‘incapable of proof’.

Match Report
Away win for Macedonia
Tyre made the best use of its resources to mount a sterling defence of the city against a committed Macedonian attack. Such was the Tyrians’ strength and depth that Alexander had to dig deep in order not to let the game get away from him. Fortunately for the Macedonian king, his strikers were in fine form all through the match especially in front of (the) goal. Then, the Tyrians’ lack of a true attacking option came back to haunt them just as 9,000 of their men will now haunt the city. Following a period of co-ordinated forward play, Alexander broke through the Tyrian defence, broke Tyrian hearts and took the well earned win.
Man of the Match Award Admetus. A solid performance only let down by his not so solid head.
Substitutions None, although Apollo did try to excuse himself, the Tyrians prevented him from doing so

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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2 thoughts on “The Siege of Tyre

  1. Thanks for this very detailed review. Though you base your account of the writings of Diodorus, I am very tempted to mention one of my favorite occurrences from the siege of Tyre.

    It comes from Plutarch and actually, for the reasons unknown to me, very rarely mentioned anywhere. “Aristander , examining entrails, declares that Tyre will be taken that month, even though it is the last day. Alexander decrees a two day change in the calendar, but then takes the city the same day. (*P 25.1–2). This is not a direct quote from Plutarch but a brief description of the episode. I don’t know if this episode is true or not, but if it is true, it proves Alexander’s incredible ability to think quickly on his feet, and not only on military issues.

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    • The Footnotes mention Alexander’s calendar change. I could have mentioned it but I think the précis was more than ready to be finished by then!

      You are right, though, it provides proof of Alexander’s ability to think on his feet – and in a very cunning fashion.

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