Myth: The Jews fought a war against the Yevanim, who are the Greeks.
Bonus Myth: The Yevanim were the mightiest empire in the world at the time.
The Jews fought against the Seleucids (Artsrcoll uses the term Syrian Greeks). To understand the Seleucids we must go back to Alexander. In 334 BC Alexander the Great, greatest conquerors of them all, invaded Persia. He began by crossing the Hellespont into Asia with his army—never to look back. A year later he defeated the Persian King Darius III at Issus. Eventually, he would thoroughly defeat the Persians, and conquer their whole empire. When Alexander died in 323 he had conquered the greatest expanse of land (2,000,000 square miles) conquered by one man, in history. Legend (as recorded by Greek historian Diodorus Siculus) has it that Alexander was asked on his death bed, “To whom do you leave the kingdom?” and that he answered, “To the strongest”. That is in fact how it played out.
For forty years, there was a great struggle for power between Alexander’s would-be successors. Eventually matters solidified: the Ptolemy’s took Egypt, the Attalid’s took Anatolia, the Antigonid’s took Macedon, and the Seleucid’s took the rest. Seleucus I had been an officer of Alexander’s, and went about acquiring territories for his empire, which began in 312 BC. The Greek historian Appian writes, “he [Seleucus] acquired Mesopotamia, Armenia, ‘Seleucid’ Cappadocia, Persis, Parthia, Bactria, Arabia, Tapouria, Sogdia, Arachosia, Hyrcania, and other adjacent peoples that had been subdued by Alexander, as far as the river Indus, so that the boundaries of his empire were the most extensive in Asia after that of Alexander. The whole region from Phrygia to the Indus was subject to Seleucus.” He established his capitol at Antioch; the villain of the Chanukah story is named Antiochus after the city’s namesake: Selucus’ father.
The Jews revolted in 167 BC in a weakened empire. By the time Antiochus IV Epiphanes became emperor in 175 BC, the empire was in serious decline. Fifteen years prior, the Seleucids had been humiliated by the Romans in war and peace. In war, they were severely defeated at Thermopylae (yes that old Thermopylae of Spartan fame) and at Magnesia. In peace, they were forced to sign a humiliating treaty (Treaty of Apamea). By the time Antiochus IV Epiphanes died in 164 BC (several years after the start of the Jewish revolt) the Seleucids would be furthered weakened by the Romans and Parthians. Thus Jewish revolt at this juncture in history found the empire feeble and over-stretched, a far cry from the might of previous ages. His successor, Antiochus V Eupator, was a nine-year-old boy, obviously out of depth and unable to stem the bleeding. He was killed in 161 BC. Demetrius I Soter (reigned 161–150 BC) was incapable of stemming the tide, and Alexander Balas (reigned 150–146 BC) was another youngster in charge of an empire. The ever-interfering Romans wanted the Seleucids to be ruled by boys rather than men, and they had increasing influence on the internal machinations of the empire. The empire continued in burst and sputters for another century. Finally, Pompey put it out of its misery in 63 BC, a hundred years after the Jewish revolt and the story of Chanukah.