The Destruction Of Tyre

by David Padfield

Tyre, the famous Phoenician seaport, is located 20 miles south of Sidon on the Mediterranean coast. During the conquest of the promised land by Joshua the Canaanites were not driven out of Tyre and other Phoenician cities as God commanded. "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." (Oliver Goldsmith, Alexander Reduces Tyre).

Hiram, king of Tyre, was instrumental in the building of the Temple in Jerusalem during the time of Solomon (1 Kings 5:1-18). The friendship between the Jews and Phoenicians ended when King Ahab married a daughter of King Ethbaal of Sidon. During the time of Joel, the Phoenicians sold Jewish children as slaves to the Greeks. The Lord promised retribution. "Indeed, what have you to do with Me, O Tyre and Sidon, and all the coasts of Philistia? Will you retaliate against Me? But if you retaliate against Me, swiftly and speedily I will return your retaliation upon your own head; because you have taken My silver and My gold, and have carried into your temples My prized possessions. Also the people of Judah and the people of Jerusalem you have sold to the Greeks, that you may remove them far from their borders." (Joel 3:4-6).

In Ezekiel 26, God makes a proclamation concerning Tyre, summed up in the following:

After the destruction of Jerusalem and the carrying away of her king Zedekiah into captivity, "Nebuchadnezzar took all Palestine and Syria and the cities on the seacoast, including Tyre, which fell after a siege of 13 years (573 B.C.)" (E. A. Wallis Budge, Babylonian Life And History, p. 50). The inhabitants of Tyre fled to a rocky island half a mile offshore. The walls on the landward side of the island were 150 feet high. "The channel between Tyre and the mainland was over twenty feet deep, and frequently lashed by violent south-west winds. Their fortifications, they believed, would resist the strongest battering-ram yet devised. The city-walls stood sheer above the sea: how could any army without ships scale them? Shore based artillery was useless at such a range." (Peter Green, Alexander of Macedon, p. 248).

On his way towards Egypt, Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) led his Macedonian troops to victory at Sidon and then continued south towards Tyre. Tyrian envoys met with Alexander and assured him that their city was at his disposal. "However, he put their goodwill to the test by expressing his wish to sacrifice at the shrine of Heracles inside the city; for the Tyrians recognized a Phoenician god who was identified by the Greeks as Heracles, and from this deity Alexander claimed descent. Tyrian goodwill unfortunately did not extend so far as to grant him the permission he sought In short, they would not admit him into the city." (David Chandler, Alexander 334-323 B.C., p. 41).

Alexander was tempted to bypass the island fortress and continue his march towards Egypt. He sent messengers to Tyre, urging them to accept a peace treaty. Believing themselves to be safe on their island, the Tyrians killed Alexander's ambassadors and threw their bodies from the top of the walls into the sea. This act served only to anger Alexander and embitter his troops.

Alexander determined to build a mole to get his troops from the mainland to the island. The mole is said to have been at least 200 feet wide. It was constructed from stones and timber from the old city of Tyre on the mainland. In fulfillment of Ezekiel's prophecy, the very foundation stones, timbers and dust of the city was cast "in the midst of the water" (Ezek. 26:12).

For a while the Tyrians laughed at Alexander's project. At first they would row boats across the channel and harangue the Macedonians. Their laughter turned to concern when they saw the mole was going to be completed. The Tyrians ignited a barge and drove it into the first mole. The towers on the mole caught fire and several of Alexander's men lost their lives. Alexander gave orders for the work to continue, and that the mole itself should be widened and more protective towers be built.

Alexander was able to obtain ships from Sidon, Greek allies and Cyprus to form a blockade around Tyre. When the mole was within artillery range of Tyre, Alexander brought up stone throwers and light catapults, reinforced by archers and slingers, for a saturation barrage. Battle engineers constructed several naval battering rams which smashed through the walls of Tyre. Though courageous, the Tyrians were no match for Alexander's troops. Over 7,000 Tyrians died in the defense of their island. In contrast, only 400 Macedonians were killed.

The seven month siege, from January to July 332 B.C., was over. "The great city over which Hiram had once held sway was now utterly destroyed. Her king, Azimilik, and various other notables, including envoys from Carthage, had taken refuge in the temple of Melkart, and Alexander spared their lives. The remaining survivors, some 30,000 in number, he sold into slavery. Two thousand men of military age were crucified. Then Alexander went up into the temple, ripped the golden cords from the image of the god (now to be renamed, by decree, Apollo Philalexander), and made his long-delayed sacrifice: the most costly blood-offering even Melkart had ever received." (Green, p. 262).

One historian wrote, "Alexander did far more against Tyre than Shalmaneser or Nebuchadnezzar had done. Not content with crushing her, he took care that she never should revive; for he founded Alexandria as her substitute, and changed forever the track of the commerce of the world." (Edward Creasy, Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World, ch. 4).

The small southern Lebanese town of Tyre (Sur) now has a population of about 117,000. "Today, deep under asphalt streets and apartment blocks, the stone core of that fantastic causeway still stands: one of Alexander's most tangible and permanent legacies to posterity." (Green, p. 263).

Was Tyre Ever Rebuilt?

"The modern city of Tyre is of modest size and is near the ancient site, though not identical to it. Archaeological photographs of the ancient site show ruins from ancient Tyre scattered over many acres of land. No city has been rebuilt over these ruins, however, in fulfillment of this prophecy." (Dennis and Grudem, “Tyre,” The ESV Study Bible)

"In point of fact, the mainland city of Tyre later was rebuilt and assumed some of its former importance during the Hellenistic period. But as for the island city, it apparently sank below the surface of the Mediterranean…All that remains of it is a series of black reefs offshore from Tyre, which surely could not have been there in the first and second millennia b.c., since they pose such a threat to navigation. The promontory that now juts out from the coastline probably was washed up along the barrier of Alexander’s causeway, but the island itself broke off and sank away when the subsidence took place; and we have no evidence at all that it ever was built up again after Alexander’s terrible act of vengeance. In the light of these data, then, the predictions of chapter 26, improbable though they must have seemed in Ezekiel’s time, were duly fulfilled to the letter—first by Nebuchadnezzar in the sixth century, and then by Alexander in the fourth." (Archer, “Tyre,” Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties)

Destruction of Tyre by Alexander and Nebuchadnezzar