Maccabean Jewish (168-104 BC)

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After the death of Alexander the Great, the region of Palestine (including Judea) was ruled for a time by the Ptolemies before being seized by the Seleucid Antiochus III around 200 BC. Later, when the Romans defeated Antiochus and imposed a heavy tribute, he refilled his coffers by imposing heavy taxes on the Judeans. After Antiochus IV (Epihanes) succeeded his father in 175 BC, he arranged for the assassination of the Judaean High Priest Onias III (who was suspected of collaboration with the Ptolemies) and installed Onias' brother Jason, who supported Hellenestic culture in Judea. Jason, however, fell out of favor and was deposed in 172 BC to be replaced by the High Priest Menelaus.

In 171 BC, Antiochus IV lead an army through Palestine to attack the Seleucids in Egypt. With Antiochus so preoccupied, Jason recruited allies among the anti-Hellenistic Hasidim and led them into Jerusalem, where they threw the High Priest Menelaus into prison, expelled the Seleucid garrison and set about systematically killing Jason's rivals. His "reign of terror" was short-lived, for Antiochus and his army returned from Egypt, threw down the walls of Jerusalem, restored Menelaus, and placed a new garrison in the city. At this junction, Antiochus apparently decided to unify his empire by imposing Hellenistic culture throughout. In 168 BC, he erected a statute of Zeus in the temple in Jerusalem and desecrated the altar by building a Greek altar on top and sacrificing a sow. He then summoned the Judeans of Palestine to Jerusalem to perform sacrifices to Zeus to demonstrate their loyalty. Those who refused were killed; while others fled to join the priest Mattathias Hasmon of Modein, along with his five sons, who had resisted Antiochus by killing the bearer of the summons. Mattathias lead his followers into the Gophna Hills, where he formed them into a guerrilla army and launched a successful raid to Jerusalem to overthrow the Greek altar.

Mattathias thereafter fell ill and died, and his son Judas Maccabaeus emerged as the head of the resistance in 167 BC, along with his brothers Eleazor, John, Jonathan and Simon. Under Judas, the "Maccabeans" fought a running series of battles with the Seleucids including Nahal el-Haramiah (166 BC), Beth Horon (165 BC), Emmaus (165 BC), Beth Zur (164 BC), Beth Zacariah (162 BC), and Elasa (161 BC). Although buoyed by his alliance with Rome in 165 BC, the tide began to turn against Judas when Antiochus V Eupator assumed the Seleucid throne in 164 AD. At Beth Zacariah, Judas' brother Eleazar cut his way through the Seleucid host to kill the elephant that he supposed carried Antiochus V, only to have it crush him in the process. Facing an army of "fifty thousand footmen, and five thousand horsemen, and fourscore elephants," Judas fought on until his loses were too heavy and then retired to Gophna, leaving Antiochus to briefly occupy Jerusalem before winter compelled his return to Syria. Then in 161 AD, Judah defeated a Seleucid army dispatched by Demetrius I Soter under the command of the general Nicanor. The same year, however, Judas was brought to bay by a second Seleucid army commanded by Bacchides and forced to give battle with only 800 men; despite their desperate valor they were defeated and Judas was slain.

Jonathan, the brother of Judas, made his peace with the Seleucids, who recognized his title as High Priest of Judea in 152 BC, a position to which the Hasmon lineage was not considered eligible since they traced their descent from the line of Levi and not David. In 150 BC, Jonathan backed the successful claim of Alexander I Balas to the Seleucid throne, and later found himself forced to provide auxiliaries to Antiochus VI Epiphanes who assumed the throne in 145 BC. Not as militarily successful as Judas, Jonathan did lead an expedition that ended at the gates of Damascus, but primarily devoted himself to political intrigues and alliances with Rome and Sparta. In 143 BC, he supported Antiochus against the usurper Trypho (Diodotus Tryphon), but fell into Trypho's clutches and was made prisoner. When the Seleucid usurper invaded Judea in 142 BC, he was defeated by Simon but got his revenge by putting the prisoner Jonathan to death.

Thus Simon, the last of the sons of Mattahias, came to power. Simon lead a campaign against the Seleucid usurper Trypho, seizing Gazara, Joppa and Jamnia before joining Demetrius and his army in the seige of Dora where Trypho was slain. Rather than reward his powerful ally, Antiochus VI sent an army under Cendebeus to subdue Simon. The Jewish Historian Josephus records: "yet he, though he was now in years, conducted the war as if he were a much younger man. He also sent his sons with a band of strong men against Antiochus, while he took part of the army himself with him, and fell upon him from another quarter. He also laid a great many men in ambush in many places of the mountains, and was superior in all his attacks upon them; and when he had been conqueror after so glorious a manner, he was made high priest, and also freed the Jews from the dominion of the Macedonians, after one hundred and seventy years of the empire [of Seleucus]."

The Seleucids formally recognized Judean independence in 142 BC, and in 141 BC, Simon and his army expelled the last Seleucid garrison from Jerusalem. Simon ruled until he was assassinated in 134 BC by an ambitious son-in-law.

His son, John Hyrcanus survived the attempted coup and assumed the dual role of High Priest and King, only to face an invasion by Antiochus, which he was able buy-off with a tribute of 3000 talents taken from the sepulcher of David. Using that same source of funding, Hyrcanus then built a large army, hiring numerous foreign auxiliaries, and lead them into Syria where he subdued and forceably converted the Idumeans to Judiasm, and overran the cities of Medaba, Samea, Shechem, Gerizzim, Adoreon and Marissa. He set his sons to beseige Samaria, where they defeated a relieving force sent by Antiochus and pursued it as far as Scythopolis before returning to complete the seige. Thereafter, they returned to Scythopolis, forcing Antiochus to shelter behind its walls while they laid waste to the heart of the Seleucid kingdom. The victory secured Hyrcanus, who ruled Judea until his death in 105 BC, after which the DBA armies of Judea transition into the Hasmonean Jewish (II/50) list.

Note: The dates listed above are approximate; as they seem to vary slightly from source to source, they should not be taken as authoritative.

From collection of Paul Hannah

Army Composition

The DBA Maccabean Jewish army is comprised of the following elements:

3Kn General and older (better equipped) cavalry -- armored horse, body armor, helmet, greaves, small shield, and 12 foot spear. Typically stationed on the wings.
2LH Cavalry of the Phalanx -- unarmored men and horses, used to support the infantry of the phalanx.
4Pk or 4Ax (option) "Regular" foot of the Phalanx. Armed with 12 foot spear, javelins and long oval shield per the Dead Sea Scrolls. Originally fighting like the Greek-style thureophoroi, the Maccabean foot purportedly resorted to a more rigid "phalanx" formation after 149 BC, thus prompting the reclassification as Pike, although scholars disagree on this.
3Ax Guerilla foot
2Ps Guerilla skirmishers - javelins, slingers, archers.

You can build this army with 3 armored horse and riders, 4 unarmored light horse, 16 foot with long spears and long oval shields (suitable for dual use as 4Pk or 4Ax), 6 lightly armed foot, and 6 skirmishers (mix of archers, slingers, and javelins) for a total of 35 figures (including their horses).

Painting Tips

Irv Horowitz: Start with a deep near-eastern suntan, black hair and full beards for all. The basic man's garment was a tunic made from two rectangular sheets of cloth joined along one narrow edge with an opening left for the wearer's head. Each sheet had two dark stripes woven into it. The stripes ran the length of each sheet and were matched where the sheets joined at the shoulders. The sides of the tunic were not sewn; the garment was held closed with a leather or rope belt. The cloth could be dyed various bright colors, but most Maccabee rebels were poor farm boys, so their tunics would mostly be off-white/greyish unbleached wool with black stripes. Brown, blue or purple stripes were also possible.

Over his tunic a man might wear a mantle, a large rectangular sheet of cloth, wrapped around him or draped over his shoulders. Mantles had dark bands with notched edges woven into them, parallel to and not far from the narrow edges of the sheet. Again, unbleached wool would be the most common fabric for mantles, though they could be dyed in different colors, and black the most common color for the notched bands.

Leather sandals.

If you're working in 25mm or larger and you like super-detail, you may want to represent your Maccabees as wearing "tefilin" (small leather boxes of ritual significance) bound to their left arms and foreheads. Ancient "tefilin" were smaller than modern types, so just paint the leather straps.

The Firebird book "Judas Maccabeus" by Mark Healy includes many drawings of these costumes, if you can find a copy. You may want to track down a copy of Yigael Yadin's "Bar-Kokhba" (probably available at your public library). This book includes photos and drawings of original 1st century AD garments recovered from caves near the Dead Sea.

Don't forget to paint a fanatic glint in your Maccabees' eyes, fleas and flecks of foam in their beards. Mi Komochah Ba'alim Yah!


Specific ranges of 15mm Maccabean/Jewish Revolt figures are available from Donnington, Essex, and Old Glory.  Newline Designs has a 25mm range.

Enemies and Allies

The Maccabean's foes are the Seleucids (II/19cd) and the Arabo-Arameans (II/22ab) of Nabataea and Emesa.

Camps and BUAs


Other Resources

Paul Hannah's Maccabeans Jewish.

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Last Updated: 22 Dec. 2005