The Battles of Alexander the Great 334BC to 332BC

After his stunning victory at the River Granicus, Alexander pursued his Persian enemy into present day Turkey, where he achieved further great triumphs.

Alexander’s extraordinary success was not lost on the Greek cities in Asia Minor who saw a prize opportunity to relieve themselves of the taxes imposed by the Persians.

In return for this liberation, Alexander asked only that the cities join the League of the Isthmus of Corinth, which meant that the money once spent on taxes would instead come to him.

Meanwhile, the Persian navy was making threatening gestures in the hope of provoking Alexander. With no navy of his own with which to respond, he refused to be riled. Eventually, the Persians gave up and sailed to the naval base at Halicarnassus, the capital of Caria in southwestern Anatolia, now in Turkey.

The Siege of Halicarnassus

In the meantime, Memnon of Rhodes, Commander of the Greek mercenaries in service with Darius, and his son-in-law Orontobates had installed themselves in the city. Memnon was determined to resist Alexander and deployed his catapults to prevent his entry into Halicarnassus . The catapults were so effective that Alexander was forced back. This was his one and only defeat.

Encouraged by his victory, Memnon sent in his troops. However, Alexander’s infantry soon hit back and managed to break through the walls of Halicarnassus. In the ensuing fight, Orontobates was killed.

Now, it was only a matter of time before Halicarnassus fell to Alexander’s army but Memnon sought to spoil the party by setting it on fire. Unfortunately, a strong wind sprang up, spreading the flames right across the city. As a result, vast areas of Halicarnassus were already destroyed when Alexander took possession of its ruins.

King Darius takes charge

The Persian defeat at the battle of the Granicus river taught King Darius a sober lesson: from now on he would not leave command of his army to his generals: instead, he resolved to take charge in person.

Darius’ first task was to gather a mighty force and he combed his empire to recruit as many men as he could find. As his battlefield, Darius chose the Pinarus river close to the village of Issus on the gulf of the same name in southern Anatolia.

There was, though, one important lesson, Darius had failed to learn about battles: a river bank favored Alexander’s smaller, but more mobile army. In November 333BC, the Persian king drew up his forces in a deep formation along the narrow coastal plain, with their backs to the hills. This was a big mistake.

The Battle of Issus 333BC

Darius soon discovered his error when Alexander led his cavalry against the Persian left flank and cut gaps in their formation. The Persians were routed. Meanwhile, Alexander’s cavalry broke the Persian right flank. Riding his horse Bucephalus, Alexander personally led his cavalry in a direct attack on the Persian king’s chariot.

Darius’ horses had been injured and were tossing about in pain, threatening to throw the king off the chariot. Darius took fright, jumped out and threw away his royal diadem which would, of course, have served to identify him.

That done, he leapt onto a horse and galloped off . With Darius gone, his troops lost heart and were quick to surrender or, like their king, run away.

Alexander targets Tyre

In 332BC, Alexander resolved to seize Tyre, an important base on the coast of Phoenicia that was the only Persian port which had yet to surrender to him. The capture of Tyre,which stood partly on the Mediterranean coast, partly on an offshore island, was of paramount importance.

Tyre was the main base of the Persian navy and so presented a major threat to Alexander’s forces. Alexander still had no navy of his own to challenge the Persian force. So he resorted to diplomacy to obtain a peace treaty with Tyre. This, though, proved impossible. The Tyreans declared themselves neutral in the war and when Alexander tried diplomacy for a second time, they killed his envoys and threw their corpses over the city wall.

With that, Alexander’s engineers fell back on one of his previous plans: to build a causeway some 3,300 feet long that would stretch out as far as the island. Alexander also ordered the building of two towers, each almost 150 feet high, at the end of the causeway, where he had positioned siege machines.

The Tyreans, of course, could see what was going on and quickly guessed how the causeway would be used. They sent fireships, – old transports filled with wood, pitch, sulfur and other flammable materials – and sent it out to strike the causeway. The fire burned the two towers and the siege machines. Alexander, clearly, had to think again.

Alexander’s navy

Alexander now realized that he must create a navy. The only way, was to obtain vessels from other captured towns along the Phoenician coast. Then, the Persian navy which had been out of port, would return to find their coastal cities – and their ships – were under Alexander’s control.

Already, news of Alexander’s victories had spread around the Mediterranean, and inspired the Cypriots to send another 120 ships to join him. Alexander now led a navy comprising some two hundred vessels. With this force, he sailed to Tyre and began blockading the port.

Always innovative, Alexander had battering rams fitted to the slower vessels – galleys and barges – and used them to discover a weak spot in the city walls. Once they found it, at the southern end of the offshore island, they breached it. The breach served as a platform for a heavy bombardment with all Alexander’s ships taking part.

Alexander seizes Tyre 332BC

Alexander’s army stood by, waiting for the moment to force their way into Tyre. When they did so, the garrison was easily overcome and the city was soon in Alexander’s possession.

The forty thousand citizens of Tyre were now at their conqueror’s mercy. It was said that Alexander was so enraged at the loss of many of his own men in the struggle for Tyre that, as punishment, he destroyed half the city. Alexander pardoned the king of Tyre, but took revenge on thirty thousand citizens and foreigners. They were sold into slavery.

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