Bar Kokhba revolt
The Bar Kokhba revolt (Hebrew: מֶרֶד בַּר כּוֹכְבָא; Mered Bar Kokhba) was a rebellion of the Jews of the Roman province of Judea, led by Simon bar Kokhba, against the Roman Empire. Fought circa 132–136 CE, it was the last of three major Jewish–Roman wars, so it is also known as The Third Jewish–Roman War or The Third Jewish Revolt. Some historians also refer to it as the Second Revolt of Judea, not counting the Kitos War (115–117 CE), which had only marginally been fought in Judea.
The revolt erupted as a result of ongoing religious and political tensions in Judea following on the failure of the First Revolt in 66−73 CE. These tensions were related to the establishment of a large Roman presence in Judea, changes in administrative life and the economy, together with the outbreak and suppression of Jewish revolts from Mesopotamia to Libya and Cyrenaica. The proximate reasons seem to centre around the construction of a new city, Aelia Capitolina, over the ruins of Jerusalem and the erection of a temple to Jupiter on the Temple Mount. The Church Fathers and rabbinic literature emphasize the role of Rufus, governor of Judea in provoking the revolt.
In 132, the revolt led by Bar Kokhba quickly spread from central Judea across the country, cutting off the Roman garrison in Aelia Capitolina (Jerusalem). Quintus Tineius Rufus was the provincial governor at the time of the erupting uprising, attributed with the failure to subdue its early phase. Rufus is last recorded in 132, the first year of the rebellion; whether he died or was replaced is uncertain. Despite arrival of significant Roman reinforcements from Syria, Egypt and Arabia, initial rebel victories over the Romans established an independent state over most parts of Judea Province for over two years, as Bar Kokhba took the title of Nasi ("prince"). Simon bar Kokhba, the commander of the revolt, was regarded by many Jews as the Messiah, who would restore their national independence. This setback, however, caused Emperor Hadrian to assemble a large scale Roman force from across the Empire, which invaded Judea in 134 under the command of General Sextus Julius Severus. The Roman army was made of six full legions with auxiliaries and elements from up to six additional legions, which finally managed to crush the revolt.
The Bar Kokhba revolt resulted in the extensive depopulation of Judean communities, more so than during the First Jewish–Roman War of 70 CE. According to Cassius Dio, 580,000 Jews perished in the war and many more died of hunger and disease. In addition, many Judean war captives were sold into slavery. The Jewish communities of Judea were devastated to an extent which some scholars describe as a genocide. However, the Jewish population remained strong in other parts of Palestine, thriving in Galilee, Golan, Bet Shean Valley and the eastern, southern and western edges of Judea. Roman casualties were also considered heavy - XXII Deiotariana was disbanded after serious losses. In addition, some historians argue that Legio IX Hispana's disbandment in the mid-2nd century could also have been a result of this war. In an attempt to erase any memory of Judea or Ancient Israel, Emperor Hadrian wiped the name off the map and replaced it with Syria Palaestina. However, there is only circumstantial evidence linking Hadrian with the name change and the precise date is not certain. The common view that the name change was intended to "sever the connection of the Jews to their historical homeland" is disputed.
The Bar Kokhba revolt greatly influenced the course of Jewish history and the philosophy of the Jewish religion. Despite easing the persecution of Jews following Hadrian's death in 138 CE, the Romans barred Jews from Jerusalem, except for attendance in Tisha B'Av. Jewish messianism was abstracted and spiritualized, and rabbinical political thought became deeply cautious and conservative. The Talmud, for instance, refers to Bar Kokhba as "Ben-Kusiba," a derogatory term used to indicate that he was a false Messiah. It was also among the key events to differentiate Christianity as a religion distinct from Judaism. Although Jewish Christians regarded Jesus as the Messiah and did not support Bar Kokhba, they were barred from Jerusalem along with the other Jews.
After the First Jewish–Roman War (66-73 CE), the Roman authorities took measures to suppress the rebellious province of Roman Judea. Instead of a procurator, they installed a praetor as a governor and stationed an entire legion, the X Fretensis, in the area. Tensions continued to build up in the wake of the Kitos War, the second large-scale Jewish insurrection in the Eastern Mediterranean during 115-117, the final stages of which saw fighting in Judea. Mismanagement of the province during the early 2nd century might well have led to the proximate causes of the revolt, largely bringing governors with clear anti-Jewish sentiments to run the province. Gargilius Antiques may have preceded Rufus during the 120s. The Church Fathers and rabbinic literature emphasize the role of Rufus in provoking the revolt.
Historians have suggested multiple reasons for the sparking of the Bar Kokhba revolt, long-term and proximate. Several elements are believed to have contributed to the rebellion; changes in administrative law, the diffuse presence of Romans, alterations in agricultural practice with a shift from landowning to sharecropping, the impact of a possible period of economic decline, and an upsurge of nationalism, the latter influenced by similar revolts among the Jewish communities in Egypt, Cyrenaica and Mesopotamia during the reign of Trajan in the Kitos War. The proximate reasons seem to centre around the construction of a new city, Aelia Capitolina, over the ruins of Jerusalem and the erection of a temple to Jupiter on the Temple mount. One interpretation involves the visit in 130 CE of Hadrian to the ruins of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. At first sympathetic towards the Jews, Hadrian promised to rebuild the Temple, but the Jews felt betrayed when they found out that he intended to build a temple dedicated to Jupiter upon the ruins of the Second Temple. A rabbinic version of this story claims that Hadrian planned on rebuilding the Temple, but that a malevolent Samaritan convinced him not to. The reference to a malevolent Samaritan is, however, a familiar device of Jewish literature.
An additional legion, the VI Ferrata, arrived in the province to maintain order. Works on Aelia Capitolina, as Jerusalem was to be called, commenced in 131 CE. The governor of Judea, Tineius Rufus, performed the foundation ceremony, which involved ploughing over the designated city limits. "Ploughing up the Temple", seen as a religious offence, turned many Jews against the Roman authorities. The Romans issued a coin inscribed Aelia Capitolina.
A disputed tradition, based on the single source of the Historia Augusta, regarded[by whom?] as 'unreliable and problematic,' states tensions rose after Hadrian banned circumcision, referred to as mutilare genitalia  taken to mean brit milah. Were the claim true it has been conjectured that Hadrian, as a Hellenist, would have viewed circumcision as an undesirable form of mutilation. The claim is often considered suspect.
Jewish leaders carefully planned the second revolt to avoid the numerous mistakes that had plagued the first Great Jewish Revolt sixty years earlier. In 132, the revolt, led by Simon bar Kokhba and Elasar, quickly spread from Modi'in across the country, cutting off the Roman garrison in Jerusalem. Although Rufus was in charge during the early phase of the uprising, he disappears from the record after 132 for unknown reasons. Shortly after the eruption of the revolt, Bar Kokhba's rebels inflicted heavy casualties to Legio X Fretensis, based in Aelia Capitolina (Jerusalem). At that point, Legio VI Ferrata was sent to reinforce the Roman position from Legio base in Yizrael Valley, fielding altogether some 20,000 Roman troops, but was unable to subdue the rebels, who nearly conquered Jerusalem.
Given the continuing inability of Legio X and Legio VI to subdue the rebels, additional reinforcements were dispatched from neighbouring provinces. Gaius Publicus Marcellus, the Legate of Roman Syria, arrived commanding Legio III Gallica, while Titus Haterius Nepos, the governor of Roman Arabia, brought Legio III Cyrenaica. Later on it is assumed that Legio XXII Deiotariana was sent from Arabia Petraea, but was ambushed and massacred on its way to Aelia Capitolina (Jerusalem), possibly disbanding as a result. Legio II Traiana Fortis, previously stationed in Egypt, may have also arrived in Judea in this stage. By that time the number of Roman troops stood at nearly 80,000 in the area, a number still inferior to rebel forces, who were also better familiar with the terrain and occupied strong fortifications.
Many Jews from the diaspora made their way to Judea to join Bar Kokhba's forces from the beginning of the rebellion, with the traditional assumption being that hard tests were imposed on recruits due to the inflated number of volunteers. From some documents evidence was also found for non-Jews enlisting in Bar Kokhba's forces, though it is not conclusive. According to Jewish sources some 400,000 men were at the disposal of Bar Kokhba at the peak of the rebellion, though historians tend to more conservative numbers of 200,000.
The outbreak and initial success of the rebellion took the Romans by surprise. The rebels incorporated combined tactics to fight the Roman Army. According to some historians, Bar Kokhba's army mostly practiced guerrilla warfare, inflicting heavy casualties. This view is largely supported by Cassius Dio, who wrote that the revolt began with covert attacks in line with preparation of hideout systems, though after taking over the fortresses Bar Kokhba turned to direct engagement due to his superiority in numbers. Only after several painful defeats in the field did the Romans decide to avoid open conflict and instead methodically besiege individual Judean cities.
Simon Bar Kokhba took the title Nasi Israel and ruled over an entity that was virtually independent for two and a half years. The Jewish sage Rabbi Akiva identified Simon Bar Kosiba as the Jewish messiah, and gave him the surname "Bar Kokhba" meaning "Son of a Star" in the Aramaic language, from the Star Prophecy verse from Numbers : "There shall come a star out of Jacob". The name Bar Kokhba does not appear in the Talmud but in ecclesiastical sources. The era of the redemption of Israel was announced, contracts were signed and a large quantity of Bar Kokhba Revolt coinage was struck over foreign coins.
With the slowly advancing Roman army cutting supply lines, the rebels engaged in long-term defense. The defense system of Judean towns and villages was based mainly on hideout caves, which were created in large numbers in almost every population center. Many houses utilized underground hideouts, where Judean rebels hoped to withstand Roman superiority by the narrowness of the passages and even ambushes from underground. The cave systems were often interconnected and used not only as hideouts for the rebels but also for storage and refuge for their families. Hideout systems were employed in the Judean hills, the Judean desert, northern Negev, and to some degree also in Galilee, Samaria and Jordan Valley. As of July 2015 some 350 hideout systems have been mapped within the ruins of 140 Jewish villages.
Following a series of setbacks, Hadrian called his general Sextus Julius Severus from Britain, and troops were brought from as far as the Danube. In 133/4, Severus landed in Judea with a massive army, bringing 3 Legions from Europe (including Legio X Gemina and possibly also Legio IX Hispana), cohorts of additional legions and between 30 and 50 auxiliary units. He took the title of provincial governor and initiated a massive campaign to systematically subdue Judean rebel forces. Severus' arrival almost doubled the number of Roman troops facing the rebels.
The size of the Roman army amassed against the rebels was much larger than that commanded by Titus sixty years earlier - nearly one third of the Roman army took part in the campaign against Bar Kokhba. It is estimated that forces from at least 10 Legions participated in Severus' campaign in Judea, including Legio X Fretensis, Legio VI Ferrata, Legio III Gallica, Legio III Cyrenaica, Legio II Traiana Fortis, Legio X Gemina, cohorts of Legio V Macedonica, cohorts of Legio XI Claudia, cohorts of Legio XII Fulminata and cohorts of Legio IV Flavia Felix, along with 30-50 auxiliary units, for a total force of 60,000–120,000 Roman soldiers facing Bar Kokhba's rebels. As noted above, it is plausible that Legio IX Hispana was among the legions Severus brought with him, and that its demise occurred during Severus' campaign, as its disappearance during the second century is often attributed to this war.
According to some views, one of the crucial battles of the war took place near Tel Shalem in the Beit She'an valley, near what is now identified as the legionary camp of Legio VI Ferrata. Next to the camp, archaeologists have unearthed the remnants of a triumphal arch, which featured a dedication to Emperor Hadrian, which most likely refers to the defeat of Bar Kokhba's army. Additional finds at Tel Shalem, including a bust of Emperor Hadrian, specifically link the site to the period. The theory for a major battle in Tel Shalem implies a significant extension of the area of the rebellion - while some historians confine the conflict to Judea proper, the location of Tel Shalem suggests that the war encompassed the northern Jordan Valley as well, some 50 km north of the war's minimal boundaries.
Simon bar Kokhba declared Herodium as his secondary headquarters. Archaeological evidence for the revolt was found all over the site, from the outside buildings to the water system under the mountain. Inside the water system, supporting walls built by the rebels were discovered, and another system of caves was found. Inside one of the caves, burned wood was found which was dated to the time of the revolt. The fortress was besieged by the Romans in late 134 and was taken by the end of the year or early in 135. Its commander was Yeshua ben Galgula, likely Bar Kokhba's second in command.
The last phase of the revolt is characterized by Bar Kokhba's loss of territorial control, with the exception of the surroundings of the Betar fortress, where he made his last stand against the Romans. The Roman Army had meanwhile turned to eradicate smaller fortresses and hideout systems of captured villages, turning the conquest into a campaign of annihilation.
After losing many of their strongholds, Bar Kokhba and the remnants of his army withdrew to the fortress of Betar, which subsequently came under siege in the summer of 135. Legio V Macedonica and Legio XI Claudia are said to have taken part in the siege. According to Jewish tradition, the fortress was breached and destroyed on the fast of Tisha B'av, the ninth day of the lunar month Av, a day of mourning for the destruction of the First and the Second Jewish Temple. Rabbinical literature ascribes the defeat to Bar Kokhba killing his maternal uncle, Rabbi Elazar Hamudaʻi, after suspecting him of collaborating with the enemy, thereby forfeiting Divine protection. The horrendous scene after the city's capture could be best described as a massacre. The Jerusalem Talmud relates that the number of dead in Betar was enormous, that the Romans "went on killing until their horses were submerged in blood to their nostrils."
According to a Rabbinic midrash, the Romans executed eight leading members of the Sanhedrin (The list of Ten Martyrs include two earlier Rabbis): R. Akiva; R. Hanania ben Teradion; the interpreter of the Sanhedrin, R. Huspith; R. Eliezer ben Shamua; R. Hanina ben Hakinai; R. Jeshbab the Scribe; R. Yehuda ben Dama; and R. Yehuda ben Baba. The Rabbinic account describes agonizing tortures: R. Akiva was flayed with iron combs, R. Ishmael had the skin of his head pulled off slowly, and R. Hanania was burned at a stake, with wet wool held by a Torah scroll wrapped around his body to prolong his death. Bar Kokhba's fate is not certain, with two alternative traditions in the Babylonian Talmud ascribing the death of Bar Kokhba either to a snake bite or other natural causes during the Roman siege or possibly killed on the orders of the Sanhedrin, as a false Messiah. According to Lamentations Rabbah, the head of Bar Kokhba was presented to Emperor Hadrian after the Siege of Betar.
Following the Fall of Betar, the Roman forces went on a rampage of systematic killing, eliminating all remaining Jewish villages in the region and seeking out the refugees. Legio III Cyrenaica was the main force to execute this last phase of the campaign. Historians disagree on the duration of the Roman campaign following the fall of Betar. While some claim further resistance was broken quickly, others argue that pockets of Jewish rebels continued to hide with their families into the winter months of late 135 and possibly even spring 136. By early 136 however, it is clear that the revolt was defeated.
According to Cassius Dio, 580,000 Jews were killed in the overall operations, and 50 fortified towns and 985 villages were razed to the ground, with many more Jews dying of famine and disease. The Jewish communities of Judea were devastated to an extent which some scholars describe as a genocide. Schäfer suggests that Dio exaggerated his numbers. On the other hand, Cotton considered Dio's figures highly plausible, in light of accurate Roman census declarations. In addition, many Judean war captives were sold into slavery.
The revolt was led by the Judean Pharisees, with other Jewish and non-Jewish factions also playing a role. Jewish communities of Galilee who sent militants to the revolt in Judea were largely spared total destruction, though they did suffer persecutions and massive executions. Samaria partially supported the revolt, with evidence accumulating that notable numbers of Samaritan youths participated in Bar Kokhba's campaigns; though Roman wrath was directed at Samaritans, their cities were also largely spared from the total destruction unleashed on Judea. Eusebius of Caesarea wrote that Jewish Christians were killed and suffered "all kinds of persecutions" at the hands of rebel Jews when they refused to help Bar Kokhba against the Roman troops. The Greco-Roman population of the region also suffered severely during the early stage of the revolt, persecuted by Bar Kokhba's forces.
Cassius Dio also wrote: "Many Romans, moreover, perished in this war. Therefore, Hadrian, in writing to the Senate, did not employ the opening phrase commonly affected by the emperors: 'If you and your children are in health, it is well; I and the army are in health.'" Some argue that the exceptional number of preserved Roman veteran diplomas from the late 150s and 160 CE indicate an unprecedented conscription across the Roman Empire to replenish heavy losses within military legions and auxiliary units between 133 and 135, corresponding to the revolt.
As noted above, XXII Deiotariana was disbanded after serious losses. In addition, as also noted above, some historians argue that Legio IX Hispana's disbandment in the mid-2nd century could have been a result of this war. Previously it had generally been accepted that the Ninth disappeared around 108 CE, possibly suffering its demise in Britain, according to Mommsen; but archaeological findings in 2015 from Nijmegen, dated to 121 CE, contained the known inscriptions of two senior officers who were deputy commanders of the Ninth in 120 CE, and lived on for several decades to lead distinguished public careers. It was concluded that the Legion was disbanded between 120 and 197 CE - either as a result of fighting the Bar Kokhba revolt, or in Cappadocia (161), or at the Danube (162). Legio X Fretensis sustained heavy casualties during the revolt.
After the suppression of the revolt, Hadrian's proclamations sought to root out Jewish nationalism in Judea, which he saw as the cause of the repeated rebellions. He prohibited Torah law and the Hebrew calendar, and executed Judaic scholars. The sacred scrolls of Judaism were ceremonially burned on the Temple Mount. At the former Temple sanctuary, he installed two statues, one of Jupiter, another of himself. In an attempt to erase any memory of Judea or Ancient Israel, he wiped the name off the map and replaced it with Syria Palaestina. By destroying the association of Jews with Judea and forbidding the practice of the Jewish faith, Hadrian aimed to root out a nation that had inflicted heavy casualties on the Roman Empire. Similarly, he re-established Jerusalem as the Roman pagan polis of Aelia Capitolina, with Jews forbidden to enter, except on the day of Tisha B'Av.
Modern historians view the Bar Kokhba Revolt as having decisive historic importance. They note that, unlike the aftermath of the First Jewish–Roman War chronicled by Josephus, the Jewish population of Judea was devastated after the Bar Kokhba Revolt, being killed, exiled, or sold into slavery, and Jewish religious and political authority was suppressed far more brutally than before. The Jews suffered a serious blow in Jerusalem and its environs in Judea, but the Jewish communities thrived in the remaining regions of Palestine—e.g., Galilee, Bet Shean, Caesarea, Golan and along the edges of Judea The massive destruction and death in the course of the revolt has led scholars such as Bernard Lewis to date the beginning of the Jewish diaspora from this date. Hadrian's death in 138 CE marked a significant relief to the surviving Jewish communities. Some of the Judean survivors resettled in Galilee, with some rabbinical families gathering in Sepphoris. Rabbinic Judaism had already become a portable religion, centered around synagogues.
Judea would not be a center of Jewish religious, cultural, or political life again until the modern era, although Jews continued to sporadically populate it and important religious developments still took place there. Galilee became an important center of Rabbinic Judaism, where the Jerusalem Talmud was compiled in the 4th-5th centuries CE. In the aftermath of the defeat, the maintenance of Jewish settlement in Palestine became a major concern of the rabbinate. The Sages endeavoured to halt Jewish dispersal, and even banned emigration from Palestine, branding those who settled outside its borders as idolaters.
Relations between the Jews in the region and the Roman Empire continued to be complicated. Constantine I allowed Jews to mourn their defeat and humiliation once a year on Tisha B'Av at the Western Wall. In 351–352 CE, the Jews of Galilee launched yet another revolt, provoking heavy retribution. The Gallus revolt came during the rising influence of early Christians in the Eastern Roman Empire, under the Constantinian dynasty. In 355, however, the relations with the Roman rulers improved, upon the rise of Emperor Julian, the last of the Constantinian dynasty, who, unlike his predecessors, defied Christianity. In 363, not long before Julian left Antioch to launch his campaign against Sassanian Persia, he ordered the Jewish Temple rebuilt in his effort to foster religions other than Christianity. The failure to rebuild the Temple has mostly been ascribed to the dramatic Galilee earthquake of 363, and traditionally also to the Jews' ambivalence about the project. Sabotage is a possibility, as is an accidental fire, though Christian historians of the time ascribed it to divine intervention. Julian's support of Judaism caused Jews to call him "Julian the Hellene". Julian's fatal wound in the Persian campaign put an end to Jewish aspirations, and Julian's successors embraced Christianity through the entirety of Byzantine rule of Jerusalem, preventing any Jewish claims.
In 438 CE, when the Empress Eudocia removed the ban on Jews' praying at the Temple site, the heads of the Community in Galilee issued a call "to the great and mighty people of the Jews" which began: "Know that the end of the exile of our people has come!" However the Christian population of the city saw this as a threat to their primacy, and a riot erupted which chased Jews from the city.
During the 5th and the 6th centuries, a series of Samaritan revolts broke out across the Palaestina Prima province. Especially violent were the third and the fourth revolts, which resulted in near annihilation of the Samaritan community. It is likely that the Samaritan revolt of 556 was joined by the Jewish community, which had also suffered brutal suppression of their religion under Emperor Justianian.
In the belief of restoration to come, in the early 7th century the Jews made an alliance with the Persians, joining the Persian invasion of Palaestina Prima in 614 to overwhelm the Byzantine garrison, and gaining autonomous rule over Jerusalem. However, their autonomy was brief: the Jewish leader was shortly assassinated during a Christian revolt and, though Jerusalem was reconquered by Persians and Jews within 3 weeks, it fell into anarchy. With the subsequent withdrawal of Persian forces, Jews surrendered to the Byzantines in 625 CE or 628 CE, but were massacred by Christian radicals in 629 CE, with the survivors fleeing to Egypt. Byzantine control of the region was finally lost to Muslim Arab armies in 637 CE, when Umar ibn al-Khattab completed the conquest of Akko.
In the post-rabbinical era, the Bar Kokhba Revolt became a symbol of valiant national resistance. The Zionist youth movement Betar took its name from Bar Kokhba's traditional last stronghold, and David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, took his Hebrew last name from one of Bar Kokhba's generals.
The disastrous end of the revolt also occasioned major changes in Jewish religious thought. Jewish messianism was abstracted and spiritualized, and rabbinical political thought became deeply cautious and conservative. The Talmud, for instance, refers to Bar Kokhba as "Ben-Kusiba," a derogatory term used to indicate that he was a false Messiah. The deeply ambivalent rabbinical position regarding Messianism, as expressed most famously in Maimonides "Epistle to Yemen," would seem to have its origins in the attempt to deal with the trauma of a failed Messianic uprising.
A popular children's song, included in the curriculum of Israeli kindergartens, has the refrain "Bar Kokhba was a Hero/He fought for Liberty," and its words describe Bar Kokhba as being captured and thrown into a lion's den, but managing to escape riding on the lion's back.
It is generally accepted that the Bar Kokhba revolt encompassed all of Judea, namely the villages of the Judean hills, the Judean desert, and northern parts of the Negev desert. The minimalistic approach limits the borders of the war to these areas, but there are also significant findings which may support a wider view of the extent of the revolt. Among those findings are the rebel hideout systems in the Galilee, which greatly resemble the Bar Kokhba hideouts in Judea, and though are less numerous, are nevertheless important. Several historians theorize that the Tel Shalem arch depicted a major battle between Roman armies and Bar Kokhba's rebels in Bet Shean valley, thus extending the battle areas some 50 km northwards from Judea. The 2013 discovery of the military camp of Legio VI Ferrata near Tel Megiddo, and ongoing excavations there may shed light to extension of the rebellion to the northern valleys. A 2015 archaeological survey in Samaria identified some 40 hideout cave systems from the period, some containing Bar Kokhba's minted coins, suggesting that the war raged in Samaria at high intensity. There is also evidence to support war operations on the coastal plain and as far as Transjordan. The fact that Galilee retained its Jewish character after the end of the revolt has been taken as an indication by some that either the revolt was never joined by Galilee or that the rebellion was crushed relatively early there compared to Judea.
Until 1951, Bar Kokhba Revolt coinage was the sole archaeological evidence for dating the revolt. These coins include references to "Year One of the redemption of Israel", "Year Two of the freedom of Israel", and "For the freedom of Jerusalem". Despite the reference to Jerusalem, recent archaeological finds, and the lack of revolt coinage found in Jerusalem, supports the view that the revolt did not capture Jerusalem.
The revolt is mostly still shrouded in mystery, and only one brief historical account of the rebellion survives. The best recognized source for the revolt is Cassius Dio, Roman History (book 69), even though the writings of the Roman historian concerning the Bar Kokhba revolt survived only as fragments. The Jerusalem Talmud contains descriptions of the results of the rebellion, including the Roman executions of Judean leaders. The discovery of the Cave of Letters in the Dead Sea area, dubbed as "Bar Kokhba archive", which contained letters actually written by Bar Kokhba and his followers, has added much new primary source data, indicating among other things that there was a pronounced foreign contingent among Bar Kokhba's forces, accounted for by the fact that his military correspondence was, in part, conducted in Greek. Several more brief sources have been uncovered in the area over the past century, including references to the revolt from Nabatea and Roman Syria. Roman inscriptions in Tel Shalem, Betar fortress, Jerusalem and other locations also contribute to the current historical understanding of the Bar Kokhba War.
The Cave of Letters was surveyed in explorations conducted in 1960-61, when letters and fragments of papyri were found dating back to the period of the Bar Kokhba revolt. Some of these were personal letters between Bar Kokhba and his subordinates, and one notable bundle of papyri, known as the Babata or Babatha cache, revealed the life and trials of a woman, Babata, who lived during this period.
In 2014, one half of a Latin inscription was discovered in Jerusalem during excavations near the Damascus Gate. It was identified as the right half of a complete inscription, the other part of which was discovered nearby in the late 19th century and is currently on display in the courtyard of Jerusalem's Studium Biblicum Franciscanum Museum. The complete inscription was translated as follows:
The inscription was dedicated by Legio X Fretensis to the emperor Hadrian in the year 129/130 CE. The inscription is considered to greatly strengthen the claim that indeed the Emperor visited Jerusalem that year, supporting the traditional claim that Hadrian's visit was among the main causes of the Bar Kokhba Revolt, and not the other way around.
The ruins of Betar, the last fortress of Bar Kokhba, destroyed by Hadrian's legions in 135 CE, is located in the vicinity of the towns of Battir and Beitar Illit. A stone inscription bearing Latin characters and discovered near Betar shows that the Fifth Macedonian Legion and the Eleventh Claudian Legion took part in the siege.