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Bar Kokhba (Hardback)

The Jew Who Defied Hadrian and Challenged the Might of Rome

Ancient History > Rome & the Roman Provinces Colour Books Military

By Lindsay Powell, Foreword by Eric H Cline
Imprint: Pen & Sword Military
Pages: 336
Illustrations: 45 colour plates, 46 black and white illustrations, and 5 black and white maps
ISBN: 9781783831852
Published: 13th October 2021


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Dan Snow's History Hit podcast, with Lindsay Powell: 'Bar Kokhba: Hadrian's Worst Nightmare'

An article written by the author now live on History Hit.

An article by the author for Aspects of History.

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The outcome of a brutal war, which took place 1,885 years ago, continues to reverberate in the Near East today. It is a tale largely unknown outside Israel, and yet it helps explain why the region continues to be engulfed by strife.

“As a historian I learned about the Bar Kokhba War, but the explanations for why and how it happened seemed confused,” said historian and author Lindsay Powell. “As with King Arthur, fact and myth have become muddled. To establish the truth, I travelled across three continents. BAR KOKHBA: The Jew Who Defied Hadrian and Challenged the Might of Rome is the result.”

This amazing and consequential story involves an epic struggle between the two strong-willed leaders over who would rule a nation. One protagonist was Hadrian, the cosmopolitan ruler of the vast Roman Empire, then at its zenith, who some regarded as divine. He is best known today for the famous wall he built in northern Britain. The other was Shim’on, a Jewish military leader in a district of a minor province; some believed him to be the ‘King Messiah’ after sage Rabbi Akiba allegedly saw him fulfilling biblical prophecy and named him ‘Bar Kokhba’ (‘Son of a Star’).

It is also the tale of the clash of two ancient cultures. One was the conqueror, seeking to maintain control of its hard-won dominion they called Judaea; the other was the conquered, seeking to break free and establish a new nation. Shim’on called his new country Israel.

Several causes for the war have been suggested, such as bans on circumcision or studying Torah which Powell evaluates in his book. Most likely it was the decision by Hadrian to rebuild then ruined Jerusalem as a pagan city for retired Roman soldiers. He called it Aelia Capitolina after his own family and the triad of Roman gods whose shrine may have been erected over the remains of the Second Temple. It may or may not have been Hadrian’s intention, but the Jews took it as a direct insult.

During the ensuing conflict – called the ‘Second Jewish War’ (AD 132-136) – the highly motivated Jewish militia sorely tested the highly trained – and normally invincible – professional Roman army.

Powell said: “Amazingly, the Jewish rebels withstood the Roman onslaught for three-and-a-half years. They established an independent nation with its own administration led by Shim’on as its president (nasi). They minted their own coins by overstriking Roman coins with Jewish iconography, cheerfully obliterating the image of the emperor and pagan gods with every strike of the hammer.”

Found in caves in the Judaean Desert in the 1950s and 1960s, letters from Shim’on to his lieutenants survive revealing how deeply involved he was in day-to-day actions, and his increasing frustration with their laziness.

For reasons Powell explains in his book, the Jews ultimately lost. In retribution, Hadrian expelled the Jews from Judea and barred them from entering Aelia Capitolina and its holy sites. He even changed the name of the Roman province to Syria Palaestina – the origin of Palestine.

“The outcome of that David and Goliath contest was of great consequence, both for the people of Judaea and for Judaism itself,” said Powell. “Centuries of bloodshed followed.”

In death, Bar Kokhba became a legend. Over the ages, this flawed rebel with a cause become a hero for the increasingly persecuted Jews in the Diaspora longing to found a new Jewish homeland. Across Europe in the early twentieth century, there were athletic teams competing in sports events under the moniker ‘Bar Kochba’ as part of a movement to create the image of the ‘Muscular Jew’. The last games were held in Berlin in 1936, just two years before Kristallnacht.

Eric H. Cline, Professor of Classical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies and Anthropology, George Washington University, writes in the foreword of the book: “There are a very limited number of people whose life, and death, still impact other centuries after they have shuffled off this mortal coil. There are fewer still who inspire entire movements, and migrations, such as the return to what is now modern Israel by the Zionists, after that same length of time.”

In the interwar years in Palestine, armed Jewish resistance groups championed Bar Kokhba as a figure of inspiration in their own struggle against the British and Palestinian Arabs to establish a new State of Israel; it finally came into being in 1948. Today modern Israelis still celebrate Bar Kokhba with bonfires and songs on the annual Lag B’Omer holiday.

In researching his book, Powell went on a journey stretching from Hollywood to London, Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and Caesarea, and Herodium to Ein Gedi. He drew upon archaeology, art, coins, inscriptions, militaria, as well as secular and religious documents, to produce a compelling and complete account of the people and events at a crucial time in world history.

Commenting on the new book, Cline said: “Let it be said that Powell’s researches have resulted in an enthralling journey through history. It is a marvelous search for the man behind the myth, which is well worth reading. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.”

You cannot ask for much more in a narrative history book.

Read the Full Review Here

Beating Tsundoku

Review as featured in

Highlight: For those individuals who seek a basic introduction to the Bar Kokhba rebellion, as well as to this conflict’s continuing relevance to Jewish history, one could not do better than to pick up a copy of Powell’s fascinating book.

David Rodman, Israel Affairs February 2023

"Lindsay Powell’s book is an excellent account about Hadrian, Bar Kokhba and Jewish history. His travels around Israel, visits to museums, discussions with curators, detailed research of ancient chronicles, documents, artefacts, and Rabbinic sources has produced a worthy contribution to Jewish and Roman history. His visits to museums and archaeological sites, was thought provoking and cause for careful reflection about Jewish history. The information contained in the book is absorbing and page turning. Included in the book are a list of illustrations, list of colour plates, black and white photographs, drawings, maps, chronology of events from 44 CE, brief explanation of Roman and Jewish names, glossary of terms, places to visit, place names, extensive bibliography, and index. Apart from a fascinating history this book is helps to understand the struggle, prejudice, oppression, and atrocities Jews have had to endure over thousands of years."

Roger Coleman

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I was extremely impressed by this book - and the huge effort the author has clearly gone to to write and research it. It tells the story of Simon Bar Kokhba -the legendary figure in Jewish history who led the Second Jewish rebellion against the Roman Empire in 132- 136 CE. With such figures it’s always difficult to separate myth from reality but here the author does a great job.. the book is well researched, and grounded in established facts.

NetGalley, Rebecca B

"Bar Kokhba: The Jew Who Defied Hadrian and Challenged the Might of Rome" deftly draws upon on archaeology, art, coins, inscriptions, militaria, as well as secular and religious documents as historian Lindsay Powell impressively and knowledgeably presents a truly fascinating and exceptionally informative account of the people and events at a crucial time in Roman and Jewish history. Of special note is a Foreword specially written by Eric H. Cline. Enhanced for academia and non-specialist general readers with the inclusion of Illustrations, Plates, Maps, a Chronology, a listing of Roman and Jewish Names, a five page listing of Places to Visit, a seven page Glossary, a three page listing of Place Names, thirty-seven pages of Notes, a two page Bibliography, and a fourteen page Index, "Bar Kokhba: The Jew Who Defied Hadrian and Challenged the Might of Rome", which is also available in a digital book format will prove to be a welcome and enduringly appreciated addition to personal, community, college, and university library Roman History and Jewish History collections.

Read the full review here

Midwest Book Review

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

What a thoroughly researched account of the life of one of Israel's most revered rebels. My love for the Roman era history of the land of Israel prompted me to request this book and I wasn't disappointed.

NetGalley, Beth Shulam

Deep and fascinating research into a man who became an inspiration for the Jewish nation, and whose origins inspired a resistance against the might of Rome unlike anything else...

Books Monthly

The book contains a a wealth of photos and diagrams from the author's research. I would recommend this book to both military and theological students. It poses some interesting questions both for the Christian and the Jew.

Highly recommended, four out of five.

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ARRSE (Army Rumour Service)

It’s a genuine pleasure to read, striking that fine balance between accessible and highly-researched. I really enjoyed it, and I recommend it to those interested in ancient history. It’s also a strong read for anyone wanting to understand current events, to help explain the extremely long history of this part of the world.

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Icy Sedgwick

As featured in NRC:

Read full review here

Jona Lendering, NRC Handelsblad

As featured in: On the trail of an emperor, a rebel, and a lion


Lindsay Powell, has a new work of investigative history, “Bar Kokhba, The Jew Who Defied Hadrian and Challenged the Might of Rome”. Like Lindsay’s other books on Agrippa, Augustus, Drusus the Elder and Germanicus, this new book peels away the layers hidden in the dust of history to help us understand the motivations of the people who were central to the events.

Read the full review here

Life of Caesar

Lindsay Powell has done a fantastic job at making Bar Kokhba a very accessible, engaging and thoroughly enjoyable read. I couldn’t put it down!

The book describes the epic struggle between two fascinating, strong-willed leaders and who should rule a nation. One of course is the charismatic Hadrian, ruler of the vast Roman Empire who seeked to maintain control. The other was the military Jewish ruler, Shim’on Ben Kosiba or Bar kokhba, ‘Son of a Star’ who some believed to be a messiah. He seeked to found an independent nation for his people, instead of being ruled by a foreign leader. The war lasted three and a half years. We don’t have as much biographical information about Bar Kokhba, as we do Hadrian. There are no surviving busts or paintings, and he has been turned into a legend. It was fascinating to learn more about him, as Lindsay continued his quest across three continents for more information about the real Bar Kokhba, Hadrian, and two different cultures at war. This is the sort of book you can read again, and again and find something new each time. It is packed full of information!

The amount of research that the author undertook to write this book, blew me away. I very much enjoyed how Lindsay Powell weaved his own research travels into the book. I sometimes struggle when reading Roman history, because understanding all the names makes it hard for me to keep up, but a helpful section on Roman and Jewish names was provided. I also very much appreciated the Chronology at the start, as I mentioned before, I had no knowledge of the events of the book and the Chronology details everything right into the modern era. I found the glossary at the back extremely helpful too. There are also places to visit and place names sections. As well as the impeccable research and writing, the quality glossy pages, illustrations, maps, and plates make this book a real treat to look at and read.

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Lifelong History Lover

This book is extremely well written, and I love the contrast between the Roman story and Lindsay's own experiences and modern references. The first chapter of the book frames the style perfectly, and really kept me captivated to read more insights and research from Lindsay. It was easy to follow, sometimes with books about the Roman period you get lost in the names and dates but I found this book simple and enjoyable to read, and I came away knowing a whole lot more about the subject. As well as being enjoyable to read, the pictures and illustrations included just add even further to the richness of the book- you are able to connect with the story by seeing these and it really ties the whole book together. I think the subject matter of this book is also hugely important, personally I didn't know about any of the Jewish revolts against the Roman Empire, and as someone who has studied modern history more frequently it really helped build my knowledge and put some of the things I know from studying the 19th and 20th centuries in to wider context.

Overall I would highly recommenced this book and with the awesome blue cover it will definitely look good on your book shelf!

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History with Rosie

I really enjoyed Bar Kokhba because Powell combines a personal journey with scholarly research, something I can easily identify with. To bring to life the ancient Jewish hero, Powell journeyed across three continents to visit ancient sites, museums and exhibitions, interview experts and ask questions... The result of ‘Bar Kokhba: The Jew Who Defied Hadrian and Challenged the Might of Rome’ is an engaging narrative that gives readers a unique perspective on the last struggle between the Jews and Rome and sheds light on a lesser-known aspect of Hadrian’s principate.

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Following Hadrian Blog

It has to be said that as well as this excellent story/events between these two men, this book contains so much more for the reader, for a start there are numerous plates and pictures. Plus there is a wide range of charts, tables and indices such as names, places, timelines, maps, glossary and further reading. All this really does do the book justice in being a thoroughly excellent read, one I would happily recommend to others. Although those with a little knowledge of the background are likely to find it more engrossing. I most definitely praise Lindsay Powell, for writing a great book I have fully enjoyed the amount of research, work and writing in this all-around excellent book.

Read the full review here

UK Historian

Fully annotated illustrations, lush colour plates and maps bring the era to vivid life, while a chronology charts the history up to the modern era. There is also a section on relevant places to visit, a glossary of terms, a list of place names, both ancient & their modern equivalent, a bibliography and a comprehensive index. Lavishly produced with a striking cover, this is a heavyweight volume to treasure.

In his preface, author Lindsay Powell freely admits that his book cannot be the last word on the subject due to the limitations in the interpretation and quality of surviving research material, but I think he is being too modest. His book is scholarly and immensely readable; he has reinvigorated an important historical figure for the modern age. This is accessible history suitable for everyone; there’s even a Monty Python reference! The mark of a good history book is how well it tells you something you didn’t know, in which case this book is one of the best I’ve ever read.

Read the full review here


Lindsay Powell wrote a successful history of a complex Jewish revolt against the Romans. ... Bar Kokhba is a masterpiece.

Read the full review here


Captivating and passionate, Bar Kokhba combines a personal journey with a scholarly investigation. Lindsay Powell tells an absorbing tale of the clash between the Jewish rebel and the Roman emperor, a story that still resonates today.

Barry Strauss, author of The War that Made the Roman Empire: Antony, Cleopatra, and Octavian at Actium.

Let it be said that Powell’s researches [into Bar Kokhba] have resulted in an enthralling journey through history. It is a marvelous search for the man behind the myth, which is well worth reading. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did.

Eric H. Cline, Professor of Classical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies and of Anthropology; Director of the GWU Capitol Archaeological Institute, George Washington University and author of Jerusalem Besieged.

In this very engaging book, we follow Lindsay Powell’s remarkable journey through archaeological sites and museums searching for the enigmatic character of Bar Kokhba, the leader of the Jewish rebellion that overshadowed the end of Hadrian’s reign. In the light of new evidence and recent research, Powell’s insightful study sheds light on one of the most dramatic and bloodiest episodes in Jewish history.

Carole Raddato, Following Hadrian blog

Most people I encounter have heard of the First Jewish Revolt, the war in which the Romans famously destroyed the temple in Jerusalem and captured the fortress rock known as Masada to end hostilities in 73/74 CE. Few know, however, that some sixty years later a second war broke out between the same antagonists. This one focused on what the Jews of Palestine had lost the first time around, Jerusalem and its thousand-year-old temple. Known as the Bar Kokhba Revolt, surviving historical evidence for it is maddeningly sparse.
In this fast-paced volume, military historian Lindsay Powell stitches the together the evidence of the Bar Kokhba Revolt in a detective story cum adventure travelogue. He frames the war in terms of its two primary leaders, Hadrian the Roman emperor and Simon bar Kosiba, “prince” (Hebrew nasi) of the Jewish insurgents. After interviewing British experts on Hadrian, prodding Israeli curators of the archaeological remains, and scrambling around the key sites in Israel, Powell admixes his own expertise on Roman warfare to produce a coherent and insightful narrative. His discussion investigates all the main issues and leaves us informed but properly cautious about what really happened and why. Be advised, however: leave yourself plenty of time when you first pick up Bar Kokhba, because you will not want to put it down until you have turned the last page. I didn’t.

Michael Owen Wise, University of Northwestern—St. Paul and author, Language and Literacy in Roman Judaea

Lindsay Powell’s latest work of investigative history, Bar Kokhba, is an electrifying examination of the lesser-known Jewish messiah who fought a bloody war against the forces of the Roman Emperor Hadrian for control of Judaea in the second century. The Second Jewish War, which had sweeping consequences for Judaism, as well as the other embryonic messianic movement, Christianity, is cracked wide open by Powell, like a slab of perfectly chilled beer at a backyard party on a hot summer day.

Cameron Reilly, Director, Marketing the Messiah.

Lindsay Powell, noted researcher and military analyst, has given us another fine book. This time he has turned his efforts to a prodigious research project to unlock the story of Simon Bar Kokhba, the Israelite hero of the Second Jewish Revolt against Rome, the first significant evidence of whom was discovered by Yigael Yadin more than six decades ago. Since that discovery, few important works about Bar Kokhba have emerged. Now, using information gathered from literary and archeological discoveries that have come to light since the original discovery, Powell presents a detailed and complete account of Bar Kokhba and the Second Jewish Revolt that will surely become the definitive work on the subject. Well-written, organized, and color illustrated, Powell’s book is a solid contribution to our knowledge of this important historical event.

Richard A. Gabriel, formerly at the Royal Military College of Canada and author of On Ancient Warfare.

This book is as engaging as it is informative, shedding light on the obscure leader of a Jewish revolt against Rome that marked a turning point in Jewish history. Lindsay Powell presents a fascinating and highly readable account of this revolt and its leader by interweaving evidence from archaeology and historical sources against the background of the modern State of Israel.

Jodi Magness, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and author of Masada.
 Lindsay Powell

About Lindsay Powell

Lindsay Powell is a historian and writer who has a passion for the history of the Roman Empire. He is news editor of Ancient History and Ancient Warfare magazines. His appearances include BBC Radio, Dan Snow’s HistoryHit, and History Channel. He is the author of AUGUSTUS AT WAR, EAGER FOR GLORY, GERMANICUS and MARCUS AGRIPPA from Pen and Sword Books. A graduate of the University of Aston in Birmingham, he is a veteran of The Ermine Street Guard re-enactment society. He divides his time between Austin, Texas and Wokingham, England.

About Eric H Cline

Professor of Classical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies and Anthropology, George Washington University.

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