Pushed to the brink of defeat by besieging Roman armies, Jewish independence movements from the first century B.C. until the second century A.D. effectively established governments-in-exile in the Judean Desert, where they continued their rebellion against Rome. Protected by steep cliffs and deep ravines in parched rocky terrain, the rebel forces were able to regroup and launch guerrilla attacks against their powerful foes.
The earliest such redoubt was at Hyrcania on a hilltop 9 miles southeast of Jerusalem. The first-century historian Josephus recounts that after Herod defeated the Hasmoneans and killed their leader, Antigonus, in 37 B.C., Antigonus’s sister—unnamed by Josephus—led the surviving Hasmonean forces to Hyrcania. There she and the rebels held out for five or six years before Herod finally conquered her stronghold and ended Hasmonean rule forever. Visible in this view are the later remains of a Byzantine monastery and, surrounding them, at the crest of the hill, the siege wall built by Herod in his final effort to dislodge the Hasmonean holdouts.