Attack on the City of Tyre, from the History of Alexander the Great by Unknown French artist

Unknown French artist

Attack on the City of Tyre, from the History of Alexander the Great, 15th century, Manuscript illumination, Musée du Petit Palais, Paris, Dutuit 456, fol. 58v, © RMN-Grand Palais / Art Resource, NY; Photo: Bulloz

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‘Tyre Has Built Itself a Rampart’

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This fifteenth-century French manuscript illustration from a history of Alexander’s career probably draws on accounts of a Crusader siege of Tyre in 1124 to fill in the details of the Greek conquest of the city nearly fifteen centuries earlier. It depicts a moment as the armies of Alexander the Great marched eastward. Very little slowed them down, but the ancient Phoenician city of Tyre—located on an island just a kilometre from the coast of present-day Lebanon—posed a problem.

The city had forty-six-metre walls towering over the sea, making any attack difficult. Tyre retreated behind its fortifications, but Alexander built a causeway from the mainland to the island, breached the walls, and took the city, killing many of its inhabitants and selling many more into slavery.

To this day, Tyre is an isthmus rather than an island, still connected to the mainland by Alexander’s ambition in the form of the causeway.

‘Tyre has built itself a rampart’, the prophet says in Zechariah 9:3, ‘and heaped up silver like dust, and gold like the dirt of the streets’ (NRSV). Trade had made the city very wealthy. ‘But now’, Zechariah continues, ‘the Lord will strip it of its possessions, and hurl its wealth into the sea, and it shall be devoured by fire’ (vv.3–4). Just as the anticipated successful defence of Judah against the ‘sons of Greece’ would be attributed to the patronage of God and the strength of native sons a few verses later, the sack of Tyre was seen as the work of the Lord, who was patronizing Judea and using the Macedonians as a weapon against Tyre. The armies of Alexander were enemies when they approached Judea, but they were instruments of God’s wrath against Tyre. These verses about Tyre are a major reason many scholars see Zechariah as an oracle about the fourth century BCE, rather than the sixth or fifth century BCE post-exilic period.

Even after its fall to Alexander, the city remained important and resistant to subsequent attacks until an army of Franks and Venetians arrived in the twelfth century CE. The papal bull that would have authorized that siege and the broader ‘crusade’ of which it was a part is not extant, but it is not difficult to imagine that such a document would have made reference to Zechariah 9:3–4.

 

References

Chinnock, E. J. (trans.) 1884. Arrian: The Anabasis of Alexander, 2.16–24, pp. 117–34

Mixter, John R. 2005. ‘Alexander’s Triumph at Tyre’, MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History: 34–43, 80–81