Betar (fortress)

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Walls of the Betar fortress.
Betar (fortress) is located in the West Bank
Betar (fortress)
Shown within the West Bank
LocationWest Bank
Coordinates31°43′48″N 35°08′08″E / 31.73°N 35.135556°E / 31.73; 35.135556

Betar fortress (Hebrew: בֵּיתַּר) was an ancient, terraced farming village in the Judean highlands.[1][2][3] The Betar fortress was the last standing Jewish fortress in the Bar Kokhba revolt of the 2nd century CE, destroyed by the Roman army of Emperor Hadrian in the year 135.

The site of historic Betar (also spelled Beitar or Bethar), next to the modern Palestinian village of Battir, southwest of Jerusalem, is known as Khirbet al-Yahud in Arabic (meaning "ruin of the Jews"). Today, the Israeli settlement and city Beitar Illit is also located nearby.


Bet tar in ancient Hebrew means the place of the blade.


Early mentions[edit]

The origins of Betar are likely in the Iron Age Kingdom of Judea. It is not mentioned in the Bible, but is specified in the Septuagint as one of the cities of the Tribe of Judah. The location produced archaeological finds of pottery beginning from 8th century BCE and until late period of the Kingdom of Judah and again from early Roman period. In the early second century the town was a major stronghold and urban center in the Bethlehem area.

Fall of Betar[edit]

Siege of Betar
Part of Fourth Phase of Bar Kokhba Revolt
Fortifications of ancient Betar
DateSummer 135 CE
Result Roman victory
Jews Roman Empire
Commanders and leaders
Simon Bar Kokhba
Units involved
Legio V
Legio XI
c.10,000 c.20,000
Casualties and losses
all slain Unknown
A single survivor recorded out of estimated 28,000 residents during the siege

The city was the stronghold of Bar Kokhba, the leader of the Jewish Revolt against Hadrian. Hadrian sent against several of his Roman legions to capture the city. According to historical records, the city was besieged for three and a half years before it finally fell,[citation needed] and its defenders (including children who were found in the city) were put to death. According to Jewish tradition, the fortress was breached and destroyed on the fast of Tisha B'av, in the year 135, on the ninth day of the lunar month Av, a day of mourning for the destruction of the First and the Second Jewish Temple. The horrendous scene after the city's capture could be best described as a massacre.[4]

Opposing forces[edit]

A stone inscription bearing Latin characters and discovered near the city shows that the Fifth Macedonian Legion and the Eleventh Claudian Legion took part in the siege.[5]

The defense of Betar was held by remains of the Bar Kokhbah army and thousands of followers of the Rabbinic leaders of the revolt.


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.[6]

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.[7]

According to Jewish tradition, the fortress was breached and destroyed on the fast of Tisha B'av, in the year 135, on the ninth day of the lunar month Av, a day of mourning for the destruction of the First and the Second Jewish Temple. 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."[8] The horrendous scene after the city's capture could be best described as a massacre.[9] The Romans killed all the defenders except for one Jewish youth whose life was spared, viz. Simeon ben Gamliel.[10]


Hadrian had prohibited their burial, and so all the bodies remained above ground. Miraculously, they did not decompose.[11] Many years later Hadrian's successor, Antoninus (Pius), allowed the dead to be afforded a decent burial.

The destruction of Betar in 135 put an end to the last great Jewish revolt against Rome, and effectively quashed any Jewish hopes for self-governance in that period. Following the Fall of Betar, the Romans went on a systematic campaign of wiping out the remaining Judean villages, and hunting down refugees and the remaining rebels, with the last pockets of resistance being eliminated by the spring of 136.[12]


Accounts of the Fall of Betar in Talmudic and Midrashic writings thus reflect and amplify its importance in the Jewish psyche and oral tradition in the subsequent period. The best known is from the Babylonian Talmud, Gittin 57a-b:

Roman Inscription found near Battir mentioning the 5th and 11th Roman Legions

"Through the shaft of a litter Bethar was destroyed." It was the custom when a boy was born to plant a cedar tree and when a girl was born to plant a pine tree, and when they married, the tree was cut down and a canopy made of the branches. One day the daughter of the Emperor was passing when the shaft of her litter broke, so they lopped some branches off a cedar tree and brought it to her. The Jews thereupon fell upon them and beat them. They reported to the Emperor that the Jews were rebelling, and he marched against them.

[In explanation of the verse] "He hath cut off in fierce anger all the horn of Israel." R. Zera said in the name of R. Abbahu who quoted R. Johanan: These are the eighty thousand battle trumpets which assembled in the city of Bethar, when it was taken and men, women and children were slain in it until their blood ran into the Great Sea [=Mediterranean]. Do you think this was near? It was a whole mile away.

It has been taught: R. Eleazar the Great said: There are two streams in the valley of Yadaim, one running in one direction and one in another, and the Sages estimated that [at that time] they ran with two parts water to one of blood.

In a Baraitha it has been taught: 'For seven years [after the massacre at Beitar] the gentiles fertilized their vineyards with the blood of Israel without using manure.'

...Rab Judah reported Samuel as saying in the name of Rabban Simeon b. Gamaliel; What is signified by the verse (Lamentations 3:51), "Mine eye affecteth my soul, because of all the daughters of my city?" There were four hundred synagogues in the city of Bethar, and in every one were four hundred teachers of children, and each one had under him four hundred pupils, and when the enemy entered there they pierced them with their staves, and when the enemy prevailed and captured them, they wrapped them in their scrolls and burnt them with fire.

The Jerusalem Talmud relates that the number of slain was so enormous, that the Romans "went on killing until their horses were submerged in blood to their nostrils,"[13] and that the flow of blood overturned large stones in its course, and that when the flow of blood travelled along a riverine brook at a distance of 40 biblical miles to the Mediterranean sea, the red hue from the blood of the slain could still be seen in the sea at a distance of 4 biblical miles. Such hyperbolic speech was used to emphasize the horrendous scene after the capture of the city, and the ensuing massacre of its inhabitants.[citation needed] The same account reports that the corpses were collected and used to make a hedge around the vineyard belonging to Hadrian, and which hedge stretched many long biblical miles and was as high as a man's stature.

Rabbi Yohanan has related the following account of the massacre:[14] “The brains of three-hundred children were found upon one stone, along with three-hundred baskets of what remained of phylacteries (Hebrew: tefillin‎) were found in Betar, each and every one of which had the capacity to hold three measures (three seahs, or what is equivalent to about 28 liters). If you should come to take [all of them] into account, you would find that they amounted to three-hundred measures.” Rabban [Shimon] Gamliel said: “Five-hundred schools were in Betar, while the smallest of them wasn’t less than three-hundred children. They used to say, ‘If the enemy should ever come upon us, with these metal pointers [used in pointing at the letters of sacred writ] we’ll go forth and stab them.’ But since iniquities had caused [their fall], the enemy came in and wrapped up each and every child in his own book and burnt them together, and no one remained except me.”


The name for Betar (בית"ר) movement refers to both the last Jewish fort to fall in the Bar Kokhba revolt (136 CE) and to the altered Hebrew name of "Brit Yosef Trumpeldor" ( ברית יוסף תרומפלדור ).

The Mevo Betar village was established on 24 April 1950 by native Israelis and immigrants from Argentina who were members of the Beitar movement, including Matityahu Drobles, later a member of the Knesset.[15] It was founded in the vicinity of the Betar fortress location, around a kilometre from the Green Line. it was a border settlement until the Six-Day War.

Beitar Illit, (lit. Upper Beitar) is named after the ancient Jewish city of Betar, whose ruins lie 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) away. It was established by a small group of young families from the religious Zionist yeshiva of Machon Meir. The first residents settled in 1990.[16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ David Ussishkin, "Soundings in Betar, Bar-Kochba's Last Stronghold"
  2. ^ D. Ussishkin, Archaeological Soundings at Betar, Bar-Kochba's Last Stronghold, Tel Aviv 20, 1993, pp. 66-97.
  3. ^ K. Singer, Pottery of the Early Roman Period from Betar, Tel Aviv 20, 1993, pp. 98-103.
  4. ^ Palestinian Talmud, Taanit 4:5 (24a); Midrash Rabba (Lamentations Rabba 2:5).
  5. ^ C. Clermont-Ganneau, Archaeological Researches in Palestine during the Years 1873-74, London 1899, pp. 263-270.
  6. ^ Charles Clermont-Ganneau, Archaeological Researches in Palestine during the Years 1873-1874, London 1899, pp. 463-470
  7. ^ Jerusalem Talmud Ta'anit iv. 68d; Lamentations Rabbah ii. 2
  8. ^ Ta'anit 4:5
  9. ^ Palestinian Talmud, Taanit 4:5 (24a); Midrash Rabba (Lamentations Rabba 2:5).
  10. ^ Palestinian Talmud, Taanit 4:5 (24a–b)
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ Mohr Siebek et al. Edited by Peter Schäfer. The Bar Kokhba War reconsidered. 2003. P160. "Thus it is very likely that the revolt ended only in early 136."
  13. ^ Ta'anit 4:5 (24a-b); also repeated in Midrash Rabba (Lamentations Rabba 2:5)
  14. ^ Midrash Rabba (Lamentations Rabba 2:5)
  15. ^ About Mevo Beitar
  16. ^ Tzoren, Moshe Michael. "Some Talk Peace, Others Live It". Hamodia Israel News, November 21, 2018, pp. A18-A19.

Further reading[edit]

  • David Ussishkin, "Archaeological Soundings at Betar, Bar-Kochba's Last Stronghold", in: Tel Aviv. Journal of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv University 20 (1993) 66ff.

External links[edit]