Antiochus was the evil king who oppressed the Jews and defiled the Temple in the Chanukah story. The Maccabees defeated his armies, and proceeded to clean the Temple and light the menorah, which famously burned for eight days. Want to know more? Read on to discover 11 facts about this infamous Chanukah figure.

1. He Lived in the Second Century BCE

Antiochus, king of the Syrian-Greek Empire and antagonist of the Chanukah story, lived in the second century BCE, equivalent to the 37th century since Creation. His reign marks roughly the midpoint of the 420 years during which the Second Temple stood.

Listen: The Period of the Second Temple

2. He Ruled a Vast Empire

After Macedonian conqueror Alexander the Great died, his vast kingdom was split between four of his generals, progenitors of the Ptolemaic, Antigonid, Antipatrid, and Seleucid dynasties. Antiochus was the ruler of the Seleucid (or Syrian-Greek) Empire, centered in Syria but stretching from Asia Minor in the west to Persia in the east.

Read: Why Is Alexander a Jewish Name?

3. He Was the Fourth Monarch With the Same Name

Antiochus was a dynastic name for rulers of the Seleucid family. Over the course of the 250-year span of the empire, over a dozen monarchs went by this name. The specific Antiochus of the Chanukah story is Antiochus IV, also known as Antiochus Epiphanes.

Read: The Hanukkah Story

4. He Was Known as “Antiochus the Mad”

The title “Epiphanes” means “the gods’ beloved.” Apparently, though, not everyone thought this was an appropriate epithet. Antiochus might have been powerful, but he was far from a mentch. He was a harsh and cruel tyrant with a rash and impetuous nature, leading some of his contemporaries to dub him Antiochus Epimanes, or “Antiochus the Mad.”

Take our Chanukah Heroes and Villains Quiz

5. His Capital Was Antioch

The capital of the Seleucid empire was the city of Antioch, presently known as Antakya and located in southern Turkey just north of Syria. The city was inhabited by Jews in Talmudic times and is mentioned frequently in the Talmud.1

6. He Tried to Get the Jews to Assimilate

Antiochus was a strong proponent of the Greek way of life, spreading Hellenistic culture throughout his empire. Unfortunately, a notable segment of the Jewish population was attracted to this hedonistic and degrading lifestyle, becoming known as Hellenists (or mityavnim in Hebrew). Many others, however—among whom the Hasmoneans played a leadership role—resisted the temptation to assimilate and held fast to their beliefs.2

Read: Why Couldn't the Jews and Greeks Just Get Along?

7. He Outlawed Jewish Life

Encouraged by the Hellenists, Antiochus instituted harsh decrees aimed at destroying the Jewish religion. He forbade the observance of Shabbat, Rosh Chodesh, and circumcision, and had a swine sacrificed in the Holy Temple. Thousands of Jews were tortured and murdered for resisting Antiochus’s edicts.3

Read: Chanah and Her Seven Sons

8. The Maccabees Defeated Him

Led by Matityahu the Priest and his son Judah, the Maccabees waged a successful campaign to rid the Land of Israel of the Greeks and their evil rule. Although they were greatly outnumbered and underarmed, G‑d granted them a miraculous victory, delivering “the mighty in the hands of the weak and the many in the hands of the few.”4

Read: Who Were the Maccabees?

9. According to One Tradition, the First Day of Chanukah Commemorates His Defeat

Here’s a classic Chanukah question: If the flask had enough oil to burn for one day, yet burned for eight, it was technically a seven-day miracle. Why is Chanukah an eight-day celebration? One answer is that the first day of Chanukah commemorates the victory of the Jews over their enemies, while the next seven days recall the miracle of the oil.5

Read: Why Is Chanukah Eight Days Long?

10. His Death Wasn’t the End of the Story

The wars fought by the Maccabees continued for 25 years until the land was freed of the Greek grip. Interestingly, most of these battles were fought after Antiochus’s death (and the Chanukah miracle), with his successors continuing to engage in unsuccessful combat with the heroic Jews.

Read: The Events Before and After the Chanukah Miracle

11. There Is a “Megillah of Antiochus”

An unfamiliar piece of Chanukah trivia: Purim is not the only holiday with a megillah; Chanukah has one too! There is an ancient text known as “Megillah of Antiochus” that describes the events of the Chanukah narrative. However, this work—attributed by some to the five sons of Matityahu, and by others to an author of the Mishnaic period—was never inducted into the Tanach, the 24 books of Scripture.

Read the Megillah of Antiochus in English

There were communities in centuries past that read the Megillah of Antiochus in the synagogue on Chanukah (albeit without a blessing),6 and some Yemenite communities still keep this custom today.

Read: Why Don’t We Read a Megillah on Chanukah?