A poor, semi-literate shepherd, Akiva (Akiba) ben Joseph became one of Judaism's greatest scholars. He developed the exegetical method of the Mishnah, linking each traditional practice to a basis in the biblical text, and systematized the material that later became the Mishnah.
Rabbi Akiva was active in the Bar Kokhba rebellion against Rome, 132-135 C.E.. He believed that Bar Kokhba was the Moshiach (messiah), though some other rabbis openly ridiculed him for that belief (the Talmud records another rabbi as saying, "Akiva, grass will grow in your cheeks and still the son of David will not have come.") When the Bar Kokhba rebellion failed, Rabbi Akiva was taken by the Roman authorities and tortured to death.
Sources: Judaism 101