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The Maccabees were a Jewish family who fought against the rule of the Seleucid dynasty; they founded the Hasmonean royal line and established Jewish independence for about 100 years (from 165 BC to 63 BC).

From the beginning of the Grece-Macedonian rule over the Near East, the Greeks had been more or less respectful of indigenous cultures, though exploitative in terms of governance. The area of Judea was particularly well treated, since it was a buffer state between the Seleucids and Ptolemaic Egypt. The reasons for Antiochus IV's change in policy have perplexed historians. Beginning in the 180s BC, Seleucid fortunes certainly were declining, in the peace of Apamea the Seleucids lost virtually all of Asia Minor to the Attalids of Pergamum, around this time the Seleucids were also humiliated by the Ptolemies.

Other than the book of Maccabees, there is no corroborating evidence that the Seleucids suddenly wanted to Hellenize all the peoples of their empire, it is probable that the revolt started when the Seleucids tried to establish a garrison in the Jewish heartland, where none had existed before. Antiochus IV may also have tried to establish a ruler cult.

In 165 BC, Judas Maccabaeus started the revolt against the Seleucid overlords of Palestine (though at this time the area was known as Judea). After defeating them militarily, he entered Jerusalem in triumph and cleansed the Jewish Temple, reestablishing traditional Jewish worship there.

Independence was achieved gradually. It was not until 140 that Simon ben Jonathan had himself crowned king (in a Hellenistic ceremony). Jewish historians have said that Simon's claiming of kingship is what did in the state, since no one who was not of Davidic stock was ever supposed to have that title. In any case, the Maccabee kings ruled in similar manner not altogether different from the Seleucids. Their bureaucracy was filled with people with Greek names.

Judas' victory over the Seleucids is celebrated each year at Hanukkah.

The story of the Maccabees can be found in the Biblical books of 1 Maccabees and 2 Maccabees.