The Maccabees were a group of rebel warriors in Judea (the land between Egypt and Syria) that led the Jews to independence during the 2nd and 1st centuries BC. In the year 175 BC Judea came under power of the neighbouring Hellenic kingdom of Seleucid, ruled by Antiochus. He attempted to change the name of Jerusalem to Antioch, eradicate the Jewish religion, and force the Jews into subservience. In this image we see dead children at the foot of Seleucid authorities, who show Antiochus’ decree to the Jews, some of whom cower, faint, or appear defiant. What followed was a Jewish uprising led by Judah Maccabee that turned into a national war of independence. The festival of Hanukkah celebrates the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem and Maccabees’ victory over the Seleucids.
Polish artist Stattler began this painting in 1830 at the time of the November Uprising, the Polish revolt against the Russian Empire. After the Napoleonic Wars, part of Poland came under the rule of the Russian Empire; it had its own constitution, but Russian authorities slowly began to place Russians in positions of power and censor the press. In 1824 Nicolas I crowned himself king. On November 29, 1830 an armed uprising took place in Warsaw and Nicolas was dethroned in January. This kicked off the Russo-Polish War, which the Poles ultimately lost.