1. The Maccabees Are the Heroes of Chanukah

The Maccabees were Jewish fighters who led the revolt against the Syrian Greek ruling class, who had suppressed Jewish religion in an effort to spread their Hellenistic customs and idolatrous beliefs. The Maccabee victory, and the subsequent miracle of the oil burning in the Temple menorah for eight days instead of one, is what we celebrate every year during the eight-day holiday of Chanukah.

Read: 13 Chanukah Facts Every Jew Should Know

2. The Name “Maccabee” Is Not Mentioned in the Talmud

The Talmud speaks little of Chanukah. The one time the story is briefly told, the leaders of the group (and their descendants) are referred to as the House of Chashmonai, the ancestral family of Matityahu, the pious and brave priest who led the group until his passing.

Read: What Happened to Tractate Chanukah?

3. The Maccabees Were From Modiin

Matityahu began his revolt in the village of Modiin, where the Greeks tried to compel him to publically engage in idol worship. When he refused, violence broke out and a group of Jews ended up taking refuge in caves among the surrounding hills.

Read: What’s So Terrible About Idolatry?

4. The Maccabees Originally Refused to Fight on Shabbat

According to Josephus, after the Maccabees refused to comply with the Greek demands, they were attacked on Shabbat morning. Devoted to Torah, the Jews refused to fight back, and around 1,000 people, including many women and children, died from fire and smoke.

After that, Matityahu made it clear that Judaism is a religion of life, and that the Shabbat laws are temporarily suspended to save a life.

Read: 25 Shabbat Facts Every Jew Should Know

5. Matityahu Had Five Sons

Matityahu’s five sons—Yochanan, Yehuda, Shimon, Elazar, and Yonatan—joined the struggle. After a year of leadership, as the elderly Matityahu neared his end, he exhorted the group to follow Shimon’s guidance in religious matters and to appoint Judah as their military leader.

Read: A Brief Bio of Judah the Maccabee

6. Many Meanings Are Ascribed to the Name Maccabee

The term Maccabee, which was apparently first only associated with Judah, may be related to the Hebrew word for “hammer” or the Greek words for “strong” or “fighter.”

Perhaps the best-known explanation is that the word “Maccabee” comprises the initial letters of a verse the Jewish people sang after G‑d split the sea: “Mi kamocha ba’eilim Hashem (מי כמוך באילים י׳), “Who is like You among the mighty, O G‑d.” It is said that this phrase was the Maccabean battle cry, written upon their banners and shields.

Read: What Does Maccabee Mean?

7. The Maccabees Were Deeply Religious

Matityahu and Judah were not merely fighting for political or national freedom. They saw themselves as fighting for G‑d Himself. Josephus tells of many instances where they prayed to G‑d for success in their battles. In one instance, he records Judah telling his troops that victory depends not on the number of soldiers but on their faithfulness to G‑d. He bolstered his arguments with examples from Jewish history where a few pious Jews managed to vanquish thousands of enemies.

Read: Were the Maccabees Barbarians?

8. They Used Guerilla Tactics

At times, the Maccabees faced overwhelming odds, vastly outnumbered and out-weaponed by the massive armies of Greek soldiers and mercenaries sent their way. Yet, with a prayer on their lips, they managed to surprise the enemy and send them fleeing in fear time and time again.

Read: 10 Facts to Know About War and Judaism

9. They Restored the Holy Temple in Jerusalem

After decisively routing the Greeks from the Land, Judah led his band of battle-hardened men to Jerusalem to restore the Holy Temple to its sacred use, which the Greeks had discontinued. They were met by a sorry sight: broken walls, overgrown courtyards, and pagan idols in G‑d’s home. On the 25th day of Kislev (the first day of Chanukah), they rededicated the Temple, lit the menorah, offered the showbread, and resumed regular worship.

Read: 9 Little-Known Facts About the Holy Temple

10. G‑d Performed a Miracle for Them

As recorded in the Talmud, the Maccabees found just enough pure oil in the Temple to kindle the menorah for a single day. As they had done so many times before, they threw reason to the wind and placed their trust in G‑d. They lit the menorah, and a miracle occurred: the oil burned for 8 days until more could be obtained.

They declared that these 8 days be celebrated as the Festival of Lights, commonly known as Chanukah (“dedication”).

Read: Why Is Chanukah 8 Days Long?

11. Their Descendants Should Not Have Become Kings

The Chashmonaim took for themselves the throne of kingship and establish a monarchy. This was a grievous mistake, since they were Levite priests and G‑d had already promised that only the descendants of David (from the tribe of Judah) may be appointed to the throne (see II Samuel 7:12–15). Indeed, they were eventually usurped by Herod, an Edomite, who killed the Hasmonean King Antigonus and took the throne for himself.

Read: A History of Jewish Monarchy

12. Judah Continued to Battle

Even after he successfully trounced the Greek armies, Judah continued to fight off invaders from near and far. Sadly, he died courageously in battle and was laid to rest in Modiin.

Read: How Chanukah Is Celebrated in Modiin

13. Chanukah Has Several Great Female Heroes

Jewish lore tells the story of the brave Judith, who enticed a Greek general with cheese and wine before decapitating him, thus saving her townspeople from death. And then there is the story of Chanah, who encouraged her seven sons to die rather than cave to the Greek demands that they worship idols.

Read: 18 Incredibly Brave Jewish Women