After the death of Judah the Maccabee in 160 BCE, his brother Simon assumed the position of both high priest and king—establishing the Hasmonean dynasty that ruled over Israel until 40 BCE. In a burial site adjacent to an ancient cistern in Jerusalem, archaeologists have now found evidence to support existing accounts of the war and civil strife that characterized the Hasmonean period. They believe the site dates to the reign of King Alexander Yannai, Simon’s grandson, who ruled from 103-76 BCE and is depicted by the ancient historian Josephus and the Talmud as cruel and ruthless. Amanda Borschel-Dan writes:
“We removed from the pit more than twenty neck vertebrae which were cut by a sword,” said Yossi Nagar, an anthropologist at the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). “In the pit we discovered bodies and body parts of infants and adults, women and men, who were probably victims of a brutal slaughter.” Embryonic bones discovered in the excavation indicate that among victims were even pregnant women. . . .
The reign of Alexander Yannai (or Jannaeus) . . . was marked by court intrigue and seemingly endless military campaigns in which he conquered—and lost—swaths of territory.
It was a time of violent power struggles between the Jewish sects known as the Sadducees and Pharisees, [Alexander Yannai supported the former], which led to a six-year civil war that, according to Josephus, left some 50,000 Jews dead. . . . According to the commentary on the book of Nahum discovered as part of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran, after the war’s end Alexander Yannai punished some 800 of his political enemies, sentencing them to crucifixion. Others, such as those discovered in the courtyard [in Jerusalem], were beheaded and dismembered.
During excavations, the archaeologists discovered broken human bones, which were randomly discarded together in a water cistern and covered in ash, rocks, and boulders.