The Sands Of Tyre
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As the history of Phoenician cities like Tyre prove, with a little ingenuity even sand can be used as a weapon for survival. Tyre is an ancient city located in the south of Lebanon which has been the target of all sorts of attackers right from the moment it began to emerge as an urban centre, more than three thousand years ago. The city was in ancient times very rich and prosperous because it was one of the natural ports of the Phoenicians, and all sorts of goods were traded over there; it also had an extremely lucrative local industry, which was the manufacture of fabrics using the fabled purple of Tire: so it was only natural that all sorts of armies and kings wanted to seize it, more than once.
Riches attract corruption and crime, and like what happens with the homes of affluent citizens, which are often attacked by robbers who are allegedly poor - useless, in my opinion would be more fitting - because they "have nothing to eat", Tyre suffered the constant harassment of its neighbours in a fashion very similar to what is happening to Israel, in the same region, these days: the rich and prosperous always produces suspicion and envy among others. Tyreans had then to develop means to survive in such a context: the city had, of course, walls. These were well defended, and that was a mark of prosperity. Indeed, the more prosperous a city was in ancient times, the better were its fortifications because they had enough money to pay for them.
But Tyre also had a significant military fleet and a standing army: however, they wisely also used diplomacy and instead of fighting battles already lost from the beginning against much more powerful and aggressive enemies such as the Assyrians, the Babylonians and the Persians, they bribed them and bought favours using the money as a strategic resource. Phoenicians also developed feuds with the Greeks and Romans because these cultures began to expand over the same area used for trading by them, and slowly, Phoenicians eve saw how the Hellenistic culture began to overtake their own. Thus, when Alexander the Great decided to attack Persia, he just had to deal with the coastal Phoenician cities like Sidon and of course, Tyre, before crushing the Persian army, a feat he achieved afterwards at the plains of Gaugamela.
The city did not want to enter into diplomatic deals with the king of Macedonia, and thus, his army attacked the city beginning more or less in by using a common tactic before the days of gun powder artillery: the siege. But in this particular department, Tyreans relied on two very effective technologies that allowed them to resist extended sieges: one of the main problems of survival is the deprivation of water and food. In the case of ancient cities, storing both was a real problem because it was difficult and expensive to build adequate storage facilities which had to be watertight and waterproof in order to keep a reasonable volume of water that would not evaporate or be lost thorough porous stones. Then, cereals and other food had to be kept reasonably free of moisture and in rather dry, cool places.
Building such storage sites was very difficult and expensive in most cases, but the Phoenicians learned how to make special mortar mixes that were waterproof, actually using plaster, and used them to cover the inner walls of their strategic deposit. The result was that their cities were able to resist sieges that lasted more than a decade, much to the frustration of invading armies.Then, Phoenicians found out that they had a lot of sand, and how to use that resource for military and survival purposes: when heated enough, sand turns into liquid, very hot glass, and since sand was available almost anywhere within any Phoenician city's domains, they found out how to cook it and deliver it thorough their defensive walls to any assaulting army: the results were often catastrophic for the invaders.
When Alexander began his siege he tried to assault the city of Tyre, which was then an island, by using time and ships. However, the characteristics of the defensive systems used by the Tyreans made it impossible to assault the city fortifications successfully in such a way. So he ordered the construction of a structure that would give his superior Macedonian army an edge in the battle: his engineers began filling the bottom of the Mediterranean sea in order to make an inroad that would eventually put his troops right in front of the walls of Tyre, and at a great cost in human lives he finally succeeded and conquered the fortress.
The road of Alexander still exists, Tyre is no longer an island and it still bears the scars of one of the greatest feats in the history of military engineering. However, the painful defeat of Tyre shouldn't allow us to forget how effective were the technologies used by its inhabitants to protect themselves for centuries.
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