The cities on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea put up some of the staunchest defenses that Alexander the Great would face during his conquests. After Alexander defeated the Persian forces in the 334 BCE battle at the Granicus River and the 333 BCE battle at Issus, the king set his sight on subduing the Middle Eastern coastline and Egypt before marching deeper into the Persian Empire. Amazingly, only two major cities offered resistance to Alexander during his march to Egypt. First, was the island city of Tyre, which Alexander besieged from January to August in 332 BCE. After a grueling standoff, Tyre fell to an assault by land (via an earthen causeway) and by sea. With the Tyrians slaughtered or enslaved by the thousands, Alexander continued his march in peace, not experiencing any resistance, until he reached the fortified city of Gaza. There, a bold eunuch named Batis was inspirited by his personal supply of provisions and mercenaries to resist the invaders.
Alexander arrived at Gaza around September 332 BCE, and laid siege to the fortress. For this battle, Alexander and his engineers did not pull any punches. The besiegers encircled the city with a tall earthwork platform that extended as high as Gaza’s walls. With the platform complete, Alexander deployed his siege engines (likely towers and catapults), facing Gaza’s southern walls, where the defenses looked the weakest.
Batis and his mercenaries rightly saw the looming threat of the siege weapons and decided to launch a sudden attack against the earthwork. Their goal was to burn Alexander’s siege engines and they nearly achieved their mission—Batis had his own artillery and he deployed them to the south, utilizing them alongside archers and slingers to drive the besiegers off the earthwork. The Greek forces were about to falter from the onslaught of projectiles when Alexander arrived in the nick of time to rally his troops. Although the besiegers were victorious against the sortie from Gaza, it came at a cost. Alexander was struck in the shoulder by a projectile fired from the city’s artillery. Unfortunately for the people of Gaza, Alexander’s shield and armor absorbed most of the blow’s impact, and he recovered with remarkable speed. Instead of being crippled or dead, Alexander was still on the frontlines and more inspired than ever to capture the city.
Not long after Alexander was wounded, his navy arrived with a cargo of even more siege weapons, which were left over from the capture of Tyre. With such a stockpile of artillery at his disposal, Alexander expanded his earthwork around Gaza to accommodate the new machines. With his earthwork upgraded, the new siege engines were set up to encircle the town. As if this were not enough, Alexander also deployed sappers to tunnel under the fortifications of Gaza and undermine its walls.
By October of 332 BCE, the defenses of Gaza were in a very poor state due to Alexander’s artillery and sapping. Large swaths of the wall had crumbled or completely collapsed. With breaches appearing all over the fortress, Alexander launched three assaults on Gaza, with debatable commitment to the attack—theses assaults were mainly mounted by archers and the heavy infantry was held in reserve. Yet, on the fourth assault, Alexander threw the full might of his infantry into the fray and overwhelmed the defenders. A predicted 10,000 men of fighting age were slaughtered by Alexander’s forces in the capture of Gaza. The lives of the women and children were spared, but they were ultimately sold into slavery.
Written by C. Keith Hansley.
Picture Attribution: (Alexander Instructing his soliders, from The Deeds of Alexander the Great (Antonio Tempesta 1555–1630 Rome), [Public Domain] via Creative Commons)
The Campaigns of Alexander by Arrian, translated by Aubrey de Sélincourt. New York: Penguin Classics, 1971.
Alexander the Great by Philip Freeman. New York: Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2011.
Alexander the Great: The Story of an Ancient Life by Thomas R. Martin and Christopher W. Blackwell. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012.