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From Antiochus III to the First Jewish War

(by Teresa Petrozzi - translated by Raphael Bonanno ofm)

After the episodes of Deborah and Gideon Tabor returns into history with a series of battles, which begin in the hellenistic period.

Alexander the Great had conquered Palestine in 333 BC. when he defeated the Persians at Issus. At his death ten years later the Macedonian Empire was tormented by a long series of wars between the greek princes which ended about 301 BC. At that time Ptolemy was confirmed in Egypt and Palestine; Syria was given to Seleucus. Antiochus III of Syria, during a war against Ptolemy IV of Egypt, entered the enemy's territory and in 218 BC, descending from the north, moved towards Philoteria and later towards Beth Shean. From that point---having crossed the mountains---he marched in the direction of Atabyrion. Polibius [1], who tells about the adventures of this expeditionary force, says that Atabyrion was a city on a conical mountain more than 15 stadia high. On the mountain the Egyptians undoubtedly could have built some fortifications as was done later by Flavius Josephus and the Saracens. Nevertheless there is a detail in Polibius that takes away from the case for Tabor: he says, "having passed the mountains". On the road from Beth Shean to Tabor there are no mountains to cross, unless Antiochus III, having left the roads on the plain, thought it opportune for his men to climb Little Hermon, and then make them descend immediately.

However, Polibius refers to the capture of Atabyrion. Antiochus III provoked the defenders of the city and then, when they reacted, he faked a retreat. The Egyptians fell into the trap: while they followed him, the Syrians who were in place along the route attacked and they suffered heavy casualties. Then Antiochus III left a garrison in the city and crossed the Jordan river and conquered Pella, Camus and Gefrus. The war continued between Antiochus III and Ptolemy V and ended in 198 BC. with the battle of Panion and the Syrians as the winners. Strabo [2] and Flavius Josephus speak of the war but do not mention the capture of the city of Atabyrion.

Alexander Janneus, a proud descendant of the Maccabees, continued the war of independence against the Syrians and around 100 BC. conquered also the mount of Atabyrion and annexed the region to his Hasmonean Kingdom of Juda.

The Galilee thereafter passed into Roman hands. While the proconsul Gabinius was in Egypt, in 55 BC. another Hasmonean, Alexander the son of Aristobulus, seized the power, and at the head of a large army moved through the country killing all the Romans he found. Gabinius left Egypt in a hurry and through Antipater persuaded a part of the Jews to submit themselves to him but he could not stop Alexander. The Jewish leader with 30,000 troops marched against Gabinius and engaged him in battle near Tabor. However his luck was bad: 10,000 Jews were slain and the others escaped in flight.

History takes us then to the end of the First Jewish War. The commander of the Galilee was Flavius Josephus who foresaw that the Romans would attack the whole region. Therefore he fortified the cities of Jotapata, Bersabe, Selame, Cafareccius, Japha, Segov, Tarichea and Tiberias, as well as the mountain called Atabyrion or Tabor. Some Galileans found safety on Tabor. The historian writes: Those Galileans, who after the defeat of Jotapata had rebelled against the Romans, surrendered when the Galileans of Tarichea were conquered; thus the Romans took over all the villages and cities, except Ghiscala and those who had occupied the mount of Atabyrion.

On the mountain, not quite accessible from the western slope, Flavius Josephus built in only forty days a wall 26 stadia long which surrounded all of the level ground on the top. In order to finish the work Flavius Josephus made his men carry up from the plain not only the materials for construction but also the water, since those who were up there had only rain water. In 66 AD. the Roman general Vespasian took notice of those people on top and sent his tribune Placidus with 600 cavalry. Placidus used the same tactic as Antiochus III. When the Jews began to fight, he faked a retreat, and, below on the plain, sent in his cavalry. The losses on the Jewish side were great; many survivors fled toward Jerusalem and those who remained surrendered themselves and the mountain to Placidus.


[1] Polibius, Historiarum Reliquiae, V, 70.

[2] Strabo, Geographica, XVI, II, 31<

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