Battle of Elasa

Battle of Elasa
Part of the Maccabean Revolt
Date160 BCE
LocationElasa, near modern-day Ramallah
Result Decisive Seleucid victory
Seleucid Empire Maccabean rebels
Commanders and leaders
Bacchides Judas Maccabeus 
Est. 20,000 infantry,
2,000 cavalry
Est. 800-1,000 infantry(during the battle)
Casualties and losses
Unknown Most killed

The Battle of Elasa was fought between Jewish and Seleucid armies during the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucid Empire.[1] The skirmish resulted in the defeat of outnumbered Maccabee forces and the fall of the Jewish leader Judah Maccabee. Despite the defeat and consequent overtake of Jerusalem by the Seleucids, Judah Maccabee's brothers continued in their revolt against the Seleucids and eventually succeeded in to expel the Seleucid forces from the region and establish an independent Kingdom.


In 160 BCE, the Seleucid King Demetrius, on campaign in the east, left his general Bacchides to govern the western portion of the empire. Bacchides led an army of 20,000 infantry and 2,000 cavalry into Judea intending to reconquer the newly emerging autonomous kingdom.[2][3]

The Seleucid general Bacchides hastily marched through Judea after carrying out a massacre in the Galilee. He quickly made for Jerusalem, besieging the city and trapping Judas Maccabeus, the spiritual and military leader of Judea, inside.[3]

1 Maccabees records that Judah's army consisting of 3,000 men were terrified of such a large force and two thirds of them fled the battle field, leaving Judah with only 800 or 1,000 soldiers (1 Maccabees, and Flavius Josephus respectively). Judah encouraged his remaining men and set out to meet the Seleucid army in the rough terrain surrounding Jerusalem.[3][4]

The battle

Being heavily outnumbered, Judah Maccabee ignored the Seleucid infantry which had deployed in the slow moving and inflexible phalanx formation, instead launching an all out attack on Bacchides himself, who was part of the Seleucid cavalry squadron on the right flank of the army. They succeeded in quickly routing Bacchides' cavalry, who fled into the steep hills that surround Jerusalem, with the Judeans in hot pursuit.[5] Meanwhile, the left flank of Seleucid cavalry had been racing to meet up with the right flank, and in doing so surrounded and fought against the Judeans in the hills. The Seleucid infantry may or may not have caught up. If they did catch up, despite being unable to properly deploy in phalanx formation due to the terrain, and not being trained or equipped properly for individual hand-to-hand combat, they would still have managed to turn the battle easily by sheer weight of numbers. Judah was eventually killed and the remaining Judeans fled.[3][6][7]

Betzalel Bar Kochva, an Israeli historian, believes that the Judeans would have had equal numbers to the Seleucids in this battle, that Bacchides' retreat was feigned in order to lure Judah into a vulnerable position, and that the Seleucid phalanx managed to best the Judean phalanx in a full-scale battle.[8] It is noteworthy that he has no sources for this theory, but develops his surmise after establishing the likely organization of a Judean military.


The Seleucids had reasserted their authority temporarily in Jerusalem, but Judah's brother Jonathan and after him Simon, continued to engage Seleucids, meeting Bacchides again in later battles. Eventually, after several additional years of war under the leadership of Judah's brothers and the defeat of Bacchides several times by both Jonathan and later Simon, Seleucid control of Judea was broken.[9] The descendants of Simon established the Hasmonean dynasty which, would last until 37 BCE, later overtaken by the pro-Roman Herod to become a vassal Roman kingdom.


  1. 1 Maccabees 9:1-18
  2. 1 Maccabees 9:4
  3. 1 2 3 4 Flavius Josephus "Book XII, Ch.11" in The Antiquities
  4. 1 Maccabees 9:5-10
  5. 1 Maccabees 9:14-15
  6. 1 Maccabees 9:16-18
  7. Flavius Josephus "Book XIII, Ch. 1" in The Antiquities
  8. Bar-Kochva, Bezalel (1976). "Part II, Ch. 16 Bacchides against Judas Maccabeus at Elasa". The Seleucid Army: Organization and Tactics in the Great Campaigns. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521206679.
  9. Flavius Josephus "Book XIII, Ch. 5" in The Antiquities

See also

Coordinates: 31°52′33.90″N 35°12′29.90″E / 31.8760833°N 35.2083056°E / 31.8760833; 35.2083056

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