Posts Tagged With: Phoenicia

32. The Battle of Issus

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘… about one hundred thousand [Persian soldiers] were killed (including more than ten thousand cavalry), such large numbers that Ptolemy the son of Lagus, who was with Alexander at the time, says that when the party in pursuit of Darius met a ravine in their path they could cross it over the bodies of the dead.’
(Arrian II.11.8)

Text used: Arrian ‘Alexander the Great‘ OUP 2013 (translated by Martin Hammond)

Following his victory at Issus, Alexander left Asia Minor once and for all and entered Phoenicia. I end my series of posts on Alexander in Asia Minor with an image of his route through the region, the famous Naples mosaic, a painting of Sisygambis’ equally famous mistake, and a bust of Ptolemy – one of Arrian’s main sources for his account of Alexander’s expedition. I hope you have enjoyed reading these posts!

Alexander’s Route Through Asia Minor
The famous Alexander Mosaic from Pompeii (now in Naples). In it, we see Darius fleeing, possibly at the Battle of Issus
Sisigambis pays homage to Alexander after mistaking Hephaestion for the king
Ptolemy I Soter

Credit Where It’s Due
Map of Alexander’s route through Asia Minor: University of N. Carolina
The Alexander Mosaic: Livius
Sisigambis mistakes Hephaestion for Alexander: Wikipedia
Ptolemy I Soter: New World Encyclopaedia

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30. Myriandrus

Crossing Asia Minor with Alexander

‘… and camped by the city of Myriandrus: during the night a fierce storm blew up, with rain and a violent wind, which kept him confined to camp.’
(Arrian II.6.2)

Text used: Arrian ‘Alexander the Great‘ OUP 2013 (translated by Martin Hammond)

With Myriandrus we actually leave Asia Minor and enter Phoenicia. As you can see from the map, Alexander had to march north towards the border of the two regions after realising that Darius was actually behind him.

Map showing the location of Myriandrus (or Alexandretta). Further to yesterday’s post, note the very southern location of the Syrian Gates. I wonder if the whole passage from the Gates to the Pinarus river are regarded as the Syrian Gates? More investigation required

Credit Where It’s Due
Map showing the location of Myriandrus: Wikimedia Commons

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Alexander Aloud

This morning I took a walk to Hampstead Heath in north London. There, I sat down on a bench and read some of John Keats’ poems. Keats lived at an address just off the heath between 1818-1820 before moving to Rome for the sake of his health. Sadly, the tuberculoses that necessitated his removal to the Eternal City claimed his life not long later.

Whenever I pass through Hampstead, I often feel an urge to read his poetry. Either Keats haunts the place, urging us not to forget him, or his memory is now part of Hampstead’s very fabric and can be sensed by people partial to his work in the same way lovers can sense the mood, beauty and thoughts of their beloved.

My bench was just off the nearest path. This gave me the confidence to read some of the poems out aloud to myself. For all my faults as a reader I found it a really enriching experience. It got me closer to the poem, closer – I shall dare to say – to Keats. Reading the poems out aloud made my heart ache, but my goodness I  felt more alive afterwards.

The reason I am mentioning Keats here is that as I read him, I wondered what it would be like to read one of the Alexander historians aloud. Would that be similarly intense? I pulled up Arrian, and selected the opening paragraphs of Book Three.

‘Pulled up’: I was reading e-book versions of both Keats’ and Arrian’s works. A while ago I bought them and a number of favourite books for moments such as these. It was definitely money well spent.

Back to Arrian. I have to be honest, my heart did not ache to read him. Of course, it would have been foolish to expect it to. It would take a better writer than Arrian to compete with Keats’s airy intensity. What reading Arrian aloud did do, however, was help my imagination picture his words, remind me of obscure references and introduce new questions to look into. For example –

Arrian describes how Alexander arrived in Pelusium where his fleet, after ‘coasting along from Phoenicia, was already at anchor’. Coasting along from Phoenicia Reading these words out revealed a Greek ships sailing in formation to port. As I think about the imagine now I see a bright blue sky and deep blue sea. It is a very simple image but one that brings that little bit more life to the story.

Arrian refers to ‘Darius’ ignominious scramble for safety’. Here, I locked on to the idea of his ‘ignominious scramble’. What a dreadful way to describe the Persian Great King – and all the more dreadful for being true. Poor Darius.

A little further on Arrian mentions how Alexander ‘offered a special sacrifice to Apis’. As soon as I read this, I said to myself, ‘Alexander sacrificing to a foreign god? Are there any other examples of him doing that? I don’t recall so’. I hope I can find out whether he did. I knew that Alexander held other religions in high regard but I don’t recall him ever going so far as to offer to their gods.

Leaving Memphis, Alexander and his men sailed to somewhere called Canobus. I highlighted this name as it is a place I am completely unfamiliar with. As with Apis, I hope I can now find the time – even if just through a google search or look at Wikipedia – to find out more about this mysterious place.

I stopped reading at the point where Alexander’s ship came out of the Nile delta and stopped ‘at the spot where Alexandria, the city which bears his name, now stands’. What a rich collection of images that sentence contains – Alexander on his boat and the city in its many manifestations thereafter.

This post has been a little here and there but if the opportunity to read an ‘Alexander text’ aloud occurs again then I will definitely try to write a more organised post. In the mean time, whether it is poetry or prose that you like, why not see what you can get out of it when you read it aloud?

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The Macedonian Mole Approaches Tyre

Daily Diodorus
Vol. VIII. Book XVII Ch. 40, 41 (Loeb Classical Library)
Read the other posts in this series here

The Headlines
Alexander Requests Permission To Enter Tyre
Tyre Refuses To Let Alexander In
Construction of Mole Begins
Sea-Monster: What Are The Gods Saying?

The Story
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.

Chapter 41
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.

There is no joke at the end of this post
as I am too tired to make one

Categories: Diodorus Siculus | Tags: , , , | 4 Comments

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