Alexander’s Navy and the Siege of Tyre:


The Siege of Tyre was headed by Alexander the Great of Macedon in 332 BCE during his campaign against the Persians. This 7 month siege proved unique as Tyre was located on an island off of Phoenicia with no way to effectively invade it by land. Alexander began preparing to attack after having a dream of an invasion on Tyre that included a great struggle, but an ultimate victory in his favor. With his enthusiasm and appreciation of good behavior, Alexander managed to arouse support of his men even though the invasion seemed tactically improbable. They immediately began building a mole or causeway, essentially a bridge, from the mainland into the island using brick and wood in order to effectively invade the Tyrians (this passage would later bridge the island to the mainland through silt). This development immediately introduced new problems.

As a means of defense, The Tyrians had surrounded the city with thick fortified walls that they used to shoot the incoming Macedonians from as the mole approached the island. This forced Alexander to counter attack by constructing two defense towers to hold back the incoming fire. At this point, naval attacks seemed to be the only way to alleviate the building pressure between the two. The mole was at a standstill.

In response to the towers, The Tyrians “Fill(ed) a cavalry transport ship with dry vine twigs and other kindling… the greatest possible quantity of debris and firewood, and on top of that they put pitch, sulfur, and every other substance that stokes up a blaze…” (Arrian, II, 19), and successfully destroyed the defense structures. Alexander’s success now depended on a strong navy to further the development of the mole. Realizing this, he immediately began exploring new directions.

While seeking greater fortification to advance the mole, Alexander was informed of a large naval fleet that he could use with cooperation of Cyprus. The resulting naval assistance from Cyprus of 120 ships was given to Alexander with granted diplomatic Amnesty for their help. Alexander was also given additional naval assistance from Byblus, Aradus, Rhodes, Lycia, Cilicia and Macedon. Now with his fleet of approximately 220 ships consisting of quinquiremes, quadriremes, and triremes (polyremes), Alexander began to blockade Tyre. Alexander’s influence in the area had proven beneficial in assembling a navy. Obviously, these developements did not come without any adversity from the Tyrians.


Map of the Siege of Tyre

The Tyrians continued to launch small naval attacks against the Macedonians with minimal success as they were outnumbered. However, by submerging boulders about the border of the wall, The Tyrians managed to slow down the incoming naval fleet by making the crews anchor and extract stone. This gave them the ability to shoot at the Macedonians as their stalled warships approached. While the ships were anchored, the Tyrians also sent out divers to cut anchor cords.  Again, Alexander’s tactical mind countered this by replacing the cord with chain.

As the surrounding Navy grew in numbers and efficiency, the mole progressed forward; the end of the siege was inevitable. Other Naval groups under Alexander’s command also overtook major Tyrian harbors. This growth of control around the perimeter allowed Alexander to focus on and eventually breach the wall. He, himself, helped lead men into Tyre with a successful overtaking. “Nearly eight thousand Tyrians Perished…. About four hundred Macedonians died.”(Arrian, II, 24)

The success of this invasion for Alexander relied completely on tactical innovation and numbers, especially regarding the navy. Evaluating the geography, it is clear that the Tyrians had a major advantage, being surrounded by water and heavy fortification. However, by effectively recalling and implementing a navy gathered through Alexander’s overarching power at the time, it is apparent that such an overtaking was possible. The Tyrians did not have the numbers necessary to hold back such an invasion as the one they were faced with. Although they did demonstrate effective defensive tactics, such as bouldering and other tactics to prolong the process. In the end, the tactical blockading, engineering, and constructing along Tyre’s perimeter, along with sufficient resources being available, resulted in the inevitable victory for Alexander.


33°16′15″N 35°11′46″E. “Ancient Tyre” via Google Earth.

Arrian. The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander. Trans. James Romm. Anchor, 2012. Book. 28 February 2014.

C. Snell, D. 2012. Tyre. The Encyclopedia of Ancient History.

Chad M. Schaffer. (2011). Military Field Engineering in the Ancient World. Retrieved from

Gabrielsen, V. 2012. Navies, Greek. The Encyclopedia of Ancient History.

Grant. “Alexander’s Siege of Tyre, 332 BC.” 2011 August 2011. Web. 28 February 2014. <;.

Lendering, Jona. “Alexander Takes Tyre.” n.d. 5 February 2014.

The Department of History, United States Military Academy. Siege of Tyre. N.d. Map. Web. 28 Feb 2014. <;.

Wikipedia Contributors. “Alexander the Great.” 2014 March 1. Web. 28 Gebruary 2014. <;.

Wikipedia Contributors. “Siege of Tyre (332 BC).” 15 February 2014. Web. 28 February 2014. <;.

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