The Great Events by Famous Historians/Volume 2/Alexander Reduces Tyre, Later Founds Alexandria

186632The Great Events by Famous Historians, Vol. 2 — Alexander Reduces Tyre, Later Founds AlexandriaOliver Goldsmith


B.C. 332


(The master spirit who could sigh for more worlds to conquer was at this time high in his dazzling flight. Alexander has always been considered one of the most striking and picturesque characters of history. His personality was pleasing, his endurance remarkable, and courage dauntless. Educated by Aristotle, his keen mind was well trained. He was skilled in horsemanship, and his control over the fiery Bucephalus, untamable by others, has become a household tale in all lands. There never was a more kingly prince.

A king at twenty, his career has been an object of wonder to succeeding generations. He shot like a meteor across the sky of ancient civilization. His military achievements were remarkable for quickness of conception and rapidity of execution; his life was a progress from conquest to conquest. Alexander's army, with its solid phalanx, its darting cavalry, and light troops, had become irresistible. He possessed Napoleon's ability to select good generals and to make the most of his talents. In battle Alexander was entirely devoid of fear. After a victory his chief thoughts were for the wounded. Like Napoleon, he also possessed that personal equation of absolute popularity with his soldiers. Their devotion to him was simply complete.

After Thebes came the invasion of Asia. The invincible Macedonian had fought and won the battle of the Granicus. In this battle nearly all of the Persian leaders were slain, and its result spread terror throughout Persia. Halicarnassus was next reduced. The march of Alexander was ever onward. In the citadel of Gordium he cut the "Gordian knot," and prophecy marked him for the lord of Asia.

And now Darius marched to meet him, making a fatally bad choice of battle-ground. Darius was totally defeated at the celebrated battle of Issus, although he had anticipated a victory. After the Persian rout and the flight of Darius, whose numbers counted for nothing before the Macedonian's skill, Lindon welcomed the invaders, and Alexander determined to take Tyre. This was accomplished after a siege, which was attended with much cruelty.

The siege of Gaza followed, in which nearly all of the citizens perished. In B.C. 332 Alexander began his expedition to Egypt. He conciliated the natives by paying honors to their gods. In his progress he was struck by the advantages of a certain site for a city, and founded there the town which is now called Alexandria.)

All Phoenicia was subdued except Tyre, the capital city. This city was justly entitled the "Queen of the Sea," that element bringing to it the tribute of all nations. She boasted of having first invented navigation and taught mankind the art of braving the winds and waves by the assistance of a frail bark. The happy situation of Tyre, at the upper end of the Mediterranean; the conveniency of its ports, which were both safe and capacious; and the character of its inhabitants, who were industrious, laborious, patient, and extremely courteous to strangers, invited thither merchants from all parts of the globe; so that it might be considered, not so much a city belonging to any particular nation, as the common city of all nations and the centre of their commerce.

Alexander thought it necessary, both for his glory and his interest, to take this city. The spring was now coming on. Tyre was at that time seated on an island of the sea, about a quarter of a league from the continent. It was surrounded by a strong wall, a hundred and fifty feet high, which the waves of the sea washed; and the Carthaginians, a colony from Tyre, a mighty people, and sovereigns of the ocean, promised to come to the assistance of their parent State. Encouraged, therefore, by these favorable circumstances, the Tyrians determined not to surrender, but to hold out the place to the last extremity. This resolution, however imprudent, was certainly magnanimous, but it was soon after followed by an act which was as blamable as the other was praiseworthy.

Alexander was desirous of gaining the place rather by treaty than by force of arms, and with this in view sent heralds into the town with offers of peace; but the inhabitants were so far from listening to his proposals, or endeavoring to avert his resentment by any kind of concession, that they actually killed his ambassadors and threw their bodies from the top of the walls into the sea. It is easy to imagine what effect so shocking an outrage must produce in a mind like Alexander's. He instantly resolved to besiege the place, and not to desist until he had made himself master of it and razed it to the ground.

As Tyre was divided from the continent by an arm of the sea, there was necessity for filling up the intermediate space with a bank or pier, before the place could be closely invested. This work, accordingly, was immediately undertaken and in a great measure completed; when all the wood, of which it was principally composed, was unexpectedly burned by means of a fire-ship sent in by the enemy. The damage, however, was very soon repaired, and the mole rendered more perfect than formerly, and carried nearer to the town, when all of a sudden a furious tempest arose, which, undermining the stonework that supported the wood, laid the whole at once in the bottom of the sea.

Two such disasters, following so closely on the heels of each other, would have cooled the ardor of any man except Alexander, but nothing could daunt his invincible spirit, or make him relinquish an enterprise he had once undertaken. He, therefore, resolved to prosecute the siege; and in order to encourage his men to second his views, he took care to inspire them with the belief that heaven was on their side and would soon crown their labors with the wished-for success. At one time he gave out that Apollo was about to abandon the Tyrians to their doom, and that, to prevent his flight, they had bound him to his pedestal with a golden chain; at another, he pretended that Hercules, the tutelar deity of Macedon, had appeared to him, and, having opened prospects of the most glorious kind, had invited him to proceed to take possession of Tyre.

These favorable circumstances were announced by the augurs as intimations from above; and every heart was in consequence cheered. The soldiers, as if that moment arrived before the city, forgetting all the toils they had undergone and the disappointments they had suffered, began to raise a new mole, at which they worked incessantly.

To protect them from being annoyed by the ships of the enemy, Alexander fitted out a fleet, with which he not only secured his own men, but offered the Tyrians battle, which, however, they thought proper to decline, and withdrew all their galleys into the harbor.

The besiegers, now allowed to proceed unmolested, went on with the work with the utmost vigor, and in a little time completed it and brought it close to the walls. A general attack was therefore resolved on, both by sea and land, and with this in view the King, having manned his galleys and joined them together with strong cables, ordered them to approach the walls about midnight and attack the city with resolution. But just as the assault was going to begin, a dreadful storm arose, which not only shook the ships asunder, but even shattered them in a terrible manner, so that they were all obliged to be towed toward the shore, without having made the least impression on the city.

The Tyrians were elated with this gleam of good fortune; but that joy was of short duration, for in a little time they received intelligence from Carthage that they must expect no assistance from that quarter, as the Carthaginians themselves were then overawed by a powerful army of Syracusans, who had invaded their country. Reduced, therefore, to the hard necessity of depending entirely upon their own strength and their own resources, the Tyrians sent all their women and children to Carthage, and prepared to encounter the very last extremities. For now the enemy was attacking the place with greater spirit and activity than ever. And, to do the Tyrians justice, it must be acknowledged that they employed a number of methods of defence which, considering the rude state of the art of war at that early period, were really astonishing. They warded off the darts discharged from the ballisters against them, by the assistance of turning wheels, which either broke them to pieces or carried them another way. They deadened the violence of the stones that were hurled at them, by setting up sails and curtains made of a soft substance which easily gave way.

To annoy the ships which advanced against their walls, they fixed grappling irons and scythes to joists or beams; then, straining their catapultas—an enormous kind of crossbow—they laid those great pieces of timber upon them instead of arrows, and shot them off on a sudden at the enemy. These crushed some of their ships by their great weight, and, by means of the hooks or hanging scythes, tore others to pieces. They also had brazen shields, which they drew red-hot out of the fire; and filling these with burning sand, hurled them in an instant from the top of the wall upon the enemy.

There was nothing the Macedonians dreaded so much as this fatal instrument; for the moment the burning sand got to the flesh through the crevices of the armor, it penetrated to the very bone, and stuck so close that there was no pulling it off; so that the soldiers, throwing down their arms, and tearing their clothes to pieces, were in this manner exposed, naked and defenceless, to the shot of the enemy.

Alexander, finding the resources and even the courage of the Tyrians increased in proportion as the siege continued, resolved to make a last effort, and attack them at once both by sea and land, in order, if possible, to overwhelm them with the multiplicity of dangers to which they would be thus exposed. With this view, having manned his galleys with some of the bravest of his troops, he commanded them to advance against the enemy's fleet, while he himself took his post at the head of his men on the mole.

And now the attack began on all sides with irresistible and unremitting fury. Wherever the battering-rams had beat down any part of the wall, and the bridges were thrown out, instantly the argyraspides mounted the breach with the utmost valor, being led on by Admetus, one of the bravest officers in the army, who was killed by the thrust of a spear as he was encouraging his soldiers.

The presence of the King, and the example he set, fired his troops with unusual bravery. He himself ascended one of the towers on the mole, which was of a prodigious height, and there was exposed to the greatest dangers he had ever yet encountered; for being immediately known by his insignia and the richness of his armor, he served as a mark for all the arrows of the enemy. On this occasion he performed wonders, killing with javelins several of those who defended the wall; then, advancing nearer to them, he forced some with his sword, and others with his shield, either into the city or the sea, the tower on which he fought almost touching the wall.

He soon ascended the wall, followed by his principal officers, and possessed himself of two towers and the space between them. The battering-rams had already made several breaches; the fleet had forced its way into the harbor; and some of the Macedonians had possessed themselves of the towers which were abandoned. The Tyrians, seeing the enemy masters of their rampart, retired toward an open place, called Agenor, and there stood their ground; but Alexander, marching up with his regiment of bodyguards, killed part of them and obliged the rest to fly.

At the same time, Tyre being taken on that side which lay toward the harbor, a general carnage of the citizens ensued, and none was spared, except the few that fell into the hands of the Siclonians in Alexander's army, who—considering the Tyrians as countrymen—granted them protection and carried them privately on board their ships.

The number that was slaughtered on this occasion is almost incredible; even after conquest, the victor's resentment did not subside. He ordered no less than five thousand men, who were taken in the storming, to be nailed to crosses along the shore. The number of prisoners amounted to thirty thousand and were all sold as slaves in different parts of the world. Thus fell Tyre, that had been for many ages the most flourishing city in the world, and had spread the arts and commerce into the remotest regions.

While Alexander was employed in the siege of Tyre he received a second letter from Darius, in which that monarch treated him with greater respect than before. He now gave him the title of king; he offered him ten thousand talents as a ransom for his captive mother and queen; and he promised him his daughter Statira in marriage, with all the country he had conquered, as far as the river Euphrates, provided he would agree to a peace. These terms were so advantageous that, when the King debated upon them in council, Parmenio, one of his generals, could not help observing that he would certainly accept of them were he Alexander. "And so would I," replied the King, "were I Parmenio!" But deeming it inconsistent with his dignity to listen to any proposals from a man whom he had so lately overcome, he haughtily rejected them, and scorned to accept of that as a favor which he already considered his own by conquest.

From Tyre, Alexander marched to Jerusalem, fully determined to punish that city for having refused to supply his army with provisions during the siege; but his resentment was mollified by a deputation of the citizens coming out to meet him, with their high priest, Taddua, before them, dressed in white, and having a mitre on his head, on the front of which the name of God was written. The moment the King perceived the high priest, he advanced toward him with an air of the most profound respect, bowed his body, adored the august name upon his front, and saluted him who wore it with religious veneration.

And when some of his courtiers expressed their surprise that he, who was adored by everyone, should adore the high priest of the Jews: "I do not," said he, "adore the high priest, but the God whose minister he is; for while I was at Dium in Macedonia, my mind wholly fixed on the great design of the Persian war, as I was revolving the methods how to conquer Asia, this very man, dressed in the same robes, appeared to me in a dream, exhorted me to banish my fear, bade me cross the Hellespont boldly, and assured me that God would march at the head of my army and give me the victory over the Persians." This speech, delivered with an air of sincerity, no doubt had its effect in encouraging the army and establishing an opinion that his mission was from heaven.

From Jerusalem he went to Gaza, where, having met with a more obstinate resistance than he expected, he cut to pieces the whole garrison, consisting of ten thousand men. Not satisfied with this act of cruelty, he caused holes to be bored through the heels of Boetis, the governor, and tying him with cords to the back of his chariot dragged him in this manner around the walls of the city. This he did in imitation of Achilles, whom Homer describes as having dragged Hector around the walls of Troy in the same manner. It was reading the past to very little, or rather, indeed, to very bad purpose, to imitate this hero in the most unworthy part of his character.

Alexander, having left a garrison in Gaza, turned his arms toward Egypt; of which he made himself master without opposition. Here he formed the design of visiting the temple of Jupiter, which was situated in the sandy deserts of Lybia at the distance of twelve days' journey from Memphis, the capital of Egypt. His chief object in going thither was to get himself acknowledged the son of Jupiter, an honor he had long aspired to. In this journey he founded the city of Alexandria, which soon became one of the greatest towns in the world for commerce.

Nothing could be more dreary than the desert through which he passed, nor anything more charming—according to the fabulous accounts of the poets—than the particular spot where the temple was situated.

It was a perfect paradise in the midst of an immeasurable wilderness. At last, having reached the place, and appeared before the altar of the deity, the priest, who was no stranger to Alexander's wishes, declared him to be the son of Jupiter.

The conqueror, elated with this high compliment, asked whether he should have success in his expedition. The priest answered that he should be monarch of the world. The conqueror inquired if his father's murderers were punished. The priest replied that his father Jupiter was immortal, but that the murderers of Philip had all been extirpated.