(a rock), a celebrated commercial city of Phoenicia on the coast of the Mediterranean. Its Hebrew name, Tzor, signifies a rock, which well agrees with the site of Sur, the modern town, on a rocky peninsula, formerly an island. There is no doubt that, previous to the siege of the city by Alexander the Great, Tyre was situated on an island, but according to the tradition of the inhabitants, there was a city on the mainland before there was a city on the island, and the tradition receives some color from the name of Palaetyrus, or Old Tyre, which was borne in Greek times by a city on the continent, thirty stadia to the south.
Notices in the Bible—In the Bible Tyre is named for the first time in the Book of Joshua (Joshua 19:29), where it is adverted to as a fortified city (in the Authorized Version “the strong city”) in reference to the boundaries of the tribe of Asher, But the first passages in the Hebrew historical writings, or in ancient history generally, with actual glimpses of the actual condition of Tyre, are in the book of Samuel (2 Samuel 6:11) in connection with Hiram king of Tyre sending cedar wood and workmen to David, for building him a palace, and subsequently in the book of Kings, in connection with the building of Solomon’s temple. It is evident that under Solomon there was a close alliance between the Hebrews and the Tyrians. Hiram supplied Solomon with cedar wood, precious metals, and workmen, and gave him sailors for the voyage to Ophir and India, while on the other hand Solomon gave Hiram supplies of corn and oil, ceded to him some cities, and permitted him to make use of some havens on the Red Sea (1 Kings 9:11-14, 26-28; 10:22). These friendly relations survived for a time the disastrous secession of the ten tribes, and a century later Ahab married a daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians (1 Kings 16:31), who, according to Menander, was daughter of Ithobal king of Tyre. When mercantile cupidity induced the Tyrians and the neighboring Phoenicians to buy Hebrew captives from their enemies, and to sell them as slaves to the Greeks and Edomites, there commenced denunciations, and at first threats of retaliation (Joel 3:4-8; Amos 1:9-10). When Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, had taken the city of Samaria, conquered the kingdom of Israel, and carried its inhabitants into captivity, he laid siege to Tyre, which, however, successfully resisted his arms. It is in reference to this siege that the prophecy against Tyre in Isaiah (Isaiah 23:1) was uttered. After the siege of Tyre by Shalmaneser (which must have taken place not long after 721 B.C.), Tyre remained a powerful state, with its own kings (Jeremiah 25:22; 27:3; Ezekiel 28:2-12), remarkable for its wealth, with territory on the mainland, and protected by strong fortifications (Ezekiel 26:4, 6, 8, 10, 12; 27:11; 28:5; Zechariah 9:3). Our knowledge of its condition thenceforward until the siege by Nebuchadnezzar depends entirely on various notices of it by the Hebrew prophets, but some of these notices are singularly full, and especially the twenty-seventh chapter of Ezekiel furnishes us, on some points, with details such as have scarcely come down to us respecting any one city of antiquity excepting Rome and Athens.
Siege by Nebuchadnezzar—In the midst of Tyre’s great prosperity and wealth, which was the natural result of extensive trade (Ezekiel 28:4), Nebuchadnezzar, at the head of an army of the Chaldees, invaded Judea and captured Jerusalem. As Tyre was so near to Jerusalem, and as the conquerors were a fierce and formidable race (Habakkuk 1:6), it would naturally be supposed that this event would have excited alarm and terror amongst the Tyrians. Instead of this, we may infer from Ezekiel’s statement (Ezekiel 26:2) that their predominant feeling was one of exultation. At first sight this appears strange and almost inconceivable, but it is rendered intelligible by some previous events in Jewish history. Only 34 years before the destruction of Jerusalem commenced the celebrated reformation of Josiah, B.C. 622. This momentous religious revolution (2 Kings 22-23) fully explains the exultation and malevolence of the Tyrians. In that reformation Josiah had heaped insults on the gods who were the objects of Tyrian veneration and love. Indeed, he seemed to have endeavored to exterminate their religion (2 Kings 23:20). These acts must have been regarded by the Tyrians as a series of sacrilegious and abominable outrages, and we can scarcely doubt that the death in battle of Josiah at Megiddo and the subsequent destruction of the city and temple of Jerusalem were hailed by them with triumph and retribution in human affairs. This joy, however, must soon have given way to other feelings, when Nebuchadnezzar invaded Phoenicia and laid siege to Tyre. That siege lasted thirteen years, and it is still a disputed point whether Tyre was actually taken by Nebuchadnezzar on this occasion. However this may be, it is probable that, on some terms or other, Tyre submitted to the Chaldees. The rule of Nebuchadnezzar over Tyre, though real, may have been light, and in the nature of an alliance.
Attack by the Persians; Capture by Alexander—During the Persian domination the Tyrians were subject in name to the Persian king and may have given him tribute. With the rest of Phoenicia they had submitted to the Persians without striking a blow. Toward the close of the following century, B.C. 332, Tyre was assailed for the third time by a great conqueror. At that time Tyre was situated on an island nearly half a mile from the mainland. It was completely surrounded by prodigious walls, the loftiest portion of which on the side fronting the mainland reached a height of not less than 150 feet, and notwithstanding the persevering efforts of Alexander, he could not have succeeded in his attempt if the harbor of Tyre to the north had not been blockaded by the Cyprians and to the south by the Phoenicians, thus affording an opportunity to Alexander for uniting the island to the mainland by an enormous, artificial mole. (The materials for this he obtained from the remains of old Tyre, scraping the very dust from her rocks into the sea, as prophesied by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 26:3-4, 12, 21) more than 250 years before.) The immediate results of the capture by Alexander were most disastrous to Tyre, as its brave defenders were put to death, and in accordance with the barbarous policy of ancient times, 30,000 of its inhabitants, including slaves, free females, and free children, were sold as slaves. It gradually, however, recovered its prosperity through the immigration of fresh settlers, though its trade is said to have suffered by the vicinity and rivalry of Alexandria. Under the Macedonian successors of Alexander it shared the fortunes of the Seleucidae. Under the Romans, at first it enjoyed a kind of freedom. Subsequently, however, on the arrival of Augustus in the East, he is said to have deprived both Tyre and Sidon of their liberties for seditious conduct. Still, the prosperity of Tyre in the time of Augustus was undeniably great. Strabo gives an account of it at that period and speaks of the great wealth which it derived from the dyes of the celebrated Tyrian purple which, as is well known, were extracted from shellfish found on the coast, belonging to a species of the genus Murex.
Tyre in the time of Christ and since—When visited by Christ (Matthew 15:21; Mark 7:24), Tyre was perhaps more populous than Jerusalem, and if so, it was undoubtedly the largest city which the saviour is known to have visited. At the time of the crusades it was still a flourishing city when it surrendered to the Christians on the 27th of June 1144. It continued more than a century and a half in the hands of Christians but was deserted by its inhabitants in A.D. 1291 upon the conquest of Acre (Ptolemais) by the sultan of Egypt and Damascus. This was the turning point in the history of Tyre, which has never recovered from the blow. Its present condition is a fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy (Ezekiel 28:5). It contains, according to Volney, 50 or 60 poor families, who live in part by fishing, and is, as Bruce describes it, “rock whereon fishers dry their nets.”
Smith's Bible Names Dictionary (1866)