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Alexander's Isthmus, Tyre, Lebanon Volume 61 Number 1, January/February 2008
by Samir S. Patel

Alexander's Isthmus • Tyre, Lebanon


There is no shortage of stories about Alexander the Great's military accomplishments. One of them, his 332 B.C. conquering of the seemingly impenetrable Phoenician island fortress of Tyre, was revised a bit this year. History tells us that Alexander, after laying siege to the massive fort for seven months, made his final assault by having his engineers build a half-mile causeway connecting the island to the mainland--a stunning feat.

Geoarchaeological analysis of today's isthmus at the Lebanese city of Tyre shows that Alexander the Great took advantage of a natural sandbank during his celebrated siege of the city. (Alexander:, Graphic: Courtesy Nick Marriner, CNRS)

But a study published in May posits that Alexander got assistance from a submerged sandbar, so he crossed water only a yard or two deep. Geoarchaeologist Nick Marriner, of France's National Center of Scientific Research, and his colleagues also theorize that the bridge or causeway that Alexander's army built altered coastal currents and the flow of sand, helping permanently join the island of Tyre with the mainland. It's always fascinating when archaeology and other forms of science can be applied to the historical record. In this case, geoarchaeology explains not only how Alexander made his assault, but also how he actually reshaped Lebanon's coastline.

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© 2008 by the Archaeological Institute of America