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Cities in History - Ancient Tyre

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The author is a student of ancient and modern European history.

Al Mina Theater excavation at Tyre

Al Mina Theater excavation at Tyre

Ancient Tyre

Tyre lies along the Mediterranean coast, in modern Lebanon. In its current state Tyre is a large city in Lebanon, and it’s presence on the world stage is relatively small. Though it is now merely a tourist site, it’s importance in the ancient world was staggering.

Ancient Tyre was settled by the Phoenicians who built two separate cities, Tyre on the island and Ushu on the coast. Often working together these two cities dominated trade along the western Mediterranean coast, and were frequently involved in battles with the regional superpowers.

From city-state to Outpost

With it’s position on an island Tyre was destined to become a naval power. It’s harbors were well defended from nature and man, and Ushu was able to provide it with raw materials. Furthermore Tyre was able to manufacture a special purple dye, Tyrian Purple, which was used throughout the Mediterranean world for royalty.

With the flow of trade and goods filling the Tyrian treasury the city was constantly in the eyes of powerful neighbors. Though difficult to capture, Egypt and Babylon were able to extract tribute by holding the coastal community of Ushu hostage. It was not until the Persians came that the city was conquered.

Persian control of Palestine left the region relatively unchanged. The Achaemenid Empire sought to control military and political matters, and left much of the domestic rule to local Satraps. Tyre did become host to the Persian navy in the Mediterranean, and this made it a target of the Greeks when the Graeco-Persian wars began.

Map of the Siege of Tyre

Map of the Siege of Tyre


Tyre was the home port of the Persian navy throughout the Graeco-Persian Wars, but it managed to avoid becoming a target during the wars. Greek armies never managed to reach Palestine, and so were not able to secure a landing to supply their navy for such an assault.

It therefore fell to Alexander the Great to be the first European ruler to invade Tyre. After a series of successful battles in Asia Minor, Alexander was in position to invade Persia proper, but he wisely decided to liberate Egypt before doing so. This meant crawling down the coast of Palestine. Despite being cutoff from the rest of the empire, Tyre refused to surrender.

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In the ancient world a city that surrendered before the outbreak of hostilities was often spared the worst results of being conquered. If, after being besieged, the city capitulated before an army stormed its walls it was punished, but not to excess. Forcing an army to storm the walls typically resulted in near annhilation. The Tyrian leaders thought themselves secure, and refused all reasonable terms.

Alexander besieged the city from land and sea, and when his forces failed to breach the city from the water he decided to build a bridge. Alexander tore down the old city of Ushu, using its stone to build a causeway, and in doing so connected Tyre to the mainland. His armies then assaulted the city from land and sea, crushed the defenders, killed many of the men and sold the women and children into slavery. The only survivors were those who had taken refuge in the temple of Melquart.


The severity of the aftermath was a result of the length of the siege, but despite losing much of the populace the city bounced back by the death of Alexander. This was partly as a result of the policies put in place by Alexander to expand Greek dominion over the East. Greeks and Macedonians were resettled into captured cities to serve as garrisons and administrators.

Hellenization spread across the former Persian territories and breathed new life into the old cities. Tyre became an important trade port in the Greek Empires, and under the Seleucids recovered it’s importance to the region.

With its harbors recovered Tyre continued to be an economic hub until the Ottomans consolidated their control over the eastern Mediterranean.

Further Reading

Waterfield, Robin. Dividing the Spoils: The War for Alexander the Great's Empire,

Mayor, Adrienne. The Poison King: The Life and Legend of Mithridates, Rome’s Deadliest Enemy.

Lendon, J.E.. Soldiers and Ghosts: A History of Battle in Classical Antiquity

Cartledge, Paul. Alexander the Great

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