4/25/10

The Alexandrian Solution

“We’ve been here floundering around for weeks!”

Alexander was irate at his siege-engineers. He stood in the shallows off the coast and looked out upon the fortress a thousand yards out into the Mediterranean Sea.

On January 27, 332 BC, the thirty-thousand men on the island city of Tyre sat securely, confident that the latest invader-king would eventually have to sue for peace. Tyre was impenetrable. Because of the rocks surrounding the island, no ships could get close enough to use their rams against the fortifications. Even if they could somehow land, the walls were one-hundred and fifty feet high, and any attackers would immediately be annihilated from above.

Alcippus, who’d joined the army during the Phrygian campaign, was surprised that a solution had not yet presented itself. “My king,” he began, “I joined you after witnessing the favor with which the gods regard you. I’m certain that with just a little more time, it will become obvious...”

Alexander snapped, “Must I do everything myself?!”

He grabbed the surprised Alcippus by the hair and began to drag him out into the water, intending to drown him in front of the others as an example. After pulling him along in the water for almost fifty yards, he stopped and released him. He was still only knee-deep in the sea.

“How far do these shallows extend?”

“All the way to Tyre, my king, six feet at the deepest,” Alcippus stammered.

In the same fashion with which he solved the Gordian Knot, by cutting straight to the heart of the matter, Alexander recognized the obvious and he smiled.

By July, two enormous catapults had smashed Tyre’s walls to bits, brought within range along a causeway patiently built rock by rock from the coast. Alexander the Great’s Macedonian army literally walked onto the island.

2 comments:

Karinann said...

I love ancient history. While mathematics usually makes my head spin and my eyes glaze over, I enjoyed the story behind the Gordian Knot.
Thanks for this one!

christopher said...

I love the Gordian knot story too. This though, to me, was one of the greatest moments in military history - pure, fearless genius.