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With Hanukka beginning Friday night, knowledge about the Hasmonean dynasty will be more accurate this year than in years past.
The Israel Antiquities Authority announced Thursday that it had found physical proof that the Hasmoneans' rule, which lasted from the middle of the second century BCE to the middle of the first, extended deep into the Negev.
"We are talking about a revolutionary discovery that will redraw the maps of the region which describe that era," Dr. Tali Erickson-Gini, the scientific editor of the excavation, said in a statement.
"Despite the evidence of the historian Josephus, according to which [the Hasmoneans' rule extended south of Gaza], no clear archeological proof of this has been found in the field. And it was because of this lack of proof that historians were inclined to dismiss the possibility that the Hasmoneans did indeed control the Negev."
The excavation centered around one of the sites - Horvat Ma'agura, about two miles west of the Sde Boker region - where the "Incense Road" ran between Petra and Gaza.
The IAA found that after the Hasmoneans conquered Gaza in 99 BCE, King Alexander Jannaeus - the great-grandson of Hasmonean leader Matityahu - built a fortress that was used to halt the Nabateans along the Incense Road.
The layout of the fortress originally led researchers to believe that it was a Roman stronghold from centuries later, but it is now clear that the Hasmoneans used the fortress to keep enemies out of their land until 66 BCE.
The IAA also found coins of Jannaeus at Nessana - about 40 kilometers west of Horvat Ma'agura - further solidifying proof that the Negev was under Hasmonean rule.
But the IAA also discovered what some might consider a disconcerting fact about the type of soldiers that Jannaeus used to fight off the Nabateans.
"The army that Alexander Jannaeus engaged was for the most part a mercenary force that was composed of non-Jewish soldiers," Erickson-Gini said. "We were able to confirm this based on the imported vessels that were found alongside the Jewish vessels there, and from the wine that was brought there from abroad. Apparently Alexander Jannaeus could not depend on Jewish soldiers because of the sharp political divisions that existed among the people."
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