Hasmonean was the family name of the rebel leader and priest, Mattathias, who began to throw off Seleucid rule. Upon his death his sons continued the rebellion and were eventually successful in gaining Jewish autonomy under the Seleucids and then, with the disintegration of the Seleucid Empire, full Jewish independence. Simon (brother of Judah Maccabee and son of Mattathias) was the first Hasmonean ruler of an autonomous state. The Hasmoneans are also called Asmoneans. The name Hasmonean comes from the Hebrew word chashman (“wealthy”). According to Josephus, a priest named Chashman, from the family of Jehoiarib (cf. 1 Chronicles 24:7), was the ancestor of the Hasmoneans. Their history is found in the works of Josephus and the apocryphal books of 1 and 2 Maccabees.
Under Hasmonean rule, the kingdom expanded its borders, covering an area almost as large as the nation had under King Solomon. John Hyrcanus captured Transjordan, Galilee, Samaria and Idumea (Edom). His son Aristobulus I was the high priest and the first Hasmonean to take the title “king.” However, political intrigue and infighting followed, and finally civil war erupted.
The Hasmonean dynasty lasted about 80 years from about 140 to 63 BC.
In 63 BC, Judea (as the Jewish state was then called) was conquered by the Roman Republic. The Idumean Herod the Great was installed by Rome as king, and he tried to make his rule seem legitimate in the eyes of the Jewish people by marrying Mariamne, a Hasmonean princess. Herod, always paranoid, executed all possible rivals to the throne from the Hasmonean line. He executed his two sons through Mariamne and drowned Aristobulus III, Mariamne’s brother whom he had made high priest at her insistence. He eventually executed Mariamne as well.
The Hasmoneans were renowned for their leadership and skill in warfare. They providentially came to power during a dark time of Israel’s history. The Hasmoneans fought off Hellenizing influences and paganism, defeated the evil Antiochus Epiphanes, secured Israel’s independence from the Seleucids, rededicated the temple to the worship of God, and, at least temporarily, restored the glory of Israel as a nation.