Siege engines have been used since antiquity to break down walls and gain access to walled or fortified cities.
Both Alexander the Great and his father, Philip II, used siege warfare as part of their military strategies. In particular, Alexander the Great laid siege to the ancient island city of Tyre, Phoenicia, present day Lebanon, in 332 BC.
After Alexander’s success at the battle of Issus, he wanted to sacrifice to Heracles at Tyre. Seeing this as a ploy to occupy the city, take the last Persian harbor, and increase his navy, the Tyrians refused Alexander’s request, suggesting that he could still sacrifice to Heracles at old Tyre on the main land, but not at new Tyre.
Still intent on visiting and worshiping at the new temple of Melqart, a Phoenician God that would have been roughly equivalent to Heracles, Alexander sent representatives to try to negotiate with Tyre. However, the representatives were killed and their bodies were thrown over the walls of the city into the Mediterranean Sea. Alexander saw this as an act of defiance and declared war upon Tyre.
Women and children were evacuated from Tyre to Carthage. As well as providing refuge to the Tyrians, they also promised aid in the form of ships to the Tyrians.
Tyre presented more than one tactical problem to Alexander due to the terrain; new Tyre was built on an island about a half mile out from shore. Alexander did not have much of a navy at the time, nor did he have much of a way to be able to access the walled, island city. To address this, Alexander began the process of building a causeway out to Tyre so he could transport siege engines and begin breaking down the walls of the city.
Building the causeway was not terribly difficult for a while, the sea was shallow and Alexander’s men were able to fend off artillery attacks from Tyre. However, the closer Alexander and his men got Tyre, the more intense the artillery fire became. The sea floor also took a dramatic, cliff-like drop about half way between the shore and Tyre. The siege weapons had to be covered in wet rawhide so they would not catch fire from the flaming arrows that Tyre shot at them. Despite Alexander’s best efforts to keep his men safe, about 400 were killed in the process of building the causeway, breaking down the city walls and entering the city of Tyre.
After seven long months of fighting and blockades, Tyre fell to Alexander’s forces. Of the original population of Tyre, 30,000 were sold into slavery, 2,000 were crucified on the beach and 6,000 were killed during the attack. Alexander did worship Heracles at the temple of Melqart before moving on to subdue Gaza and Egypt.
“A naval action during the siege of Tyre.” by Andre Castaigne. 1898-1899. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:A_naval_action_during_the_siege_of_Tyre_by_Andre_Castaigne_(1898-1899).jpg
“Alexander’s Siege of Tyre, 332 BC” Ancient History Encyclopedia. Web. 4 March 2014. http://www.ancient.eu.com/article/107/
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Bose, Partha. “Alexander The Great’s Art of Strategy.” India: Penguin Books, 1 May 2004. Web.
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“The Siege of Tyre.” Wikipedia. Web. 4 March 2014. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Siege_of_Tyre_(332_BC)