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Bucephalus (Greek: Βουκέφαλος, from βοός and κεφαλή, meaning "ox-head")(ca. 355 BC? - June, 326 BC) was Alexander the Great's horse and arguably the most famous horse in history.

The taming of Bucephalus

Bucephalus, at the time about 11 years old, was a terror, unable to be ridden and devouring the flesh of all who tried. Alexander, however, managed to tame him. Plutarch tells the story of how in 344 BC, a 10-year old Alexander won the horse. Philonicus the Thessalian, a horse dealer offered the horse to King Philip II for the sum of 13 talents. Since no one could tame the animal, Philip was not interested, but his son Alexander was and promised to pay for the horse should he fail to tame it. Alexander was allowed to try and surprised everyone by subduing it. Alexander spoke soothingly and turned the horse away so that the horse didn't see its own shadow, which seemed to distress it, and so tamed the horse. Plutarch says the incident so impressed Alexander's father, that he told the boy "O my son, look thee out a kingdom equal to and worthy of thyself, for Macedonia is too little for thee."

The Alexander Romance presents a mythic variant of Bucephalus' origin. In this tale, Philip is presented with a colt bred on his own estates, the heroic attributes of the animal surpasses Pegasus. The mythic attributes of the animal are further reinforced by the Delphic Oracle, which tells Philip that the destined king of the world will be the one who rides Bucephalus, a horse with the mark of the ox's head on his haunch.

Though it is probably not possible to determine his precise origins, some believe Bucephalus was possibly of Akhal-Teke breed, others argue he may have been an Arabian. In a recent movie, Bucephalus was portrayed by a Friesian.

Alexander and Bucephalus

As one of his chargers, Alexander rode Bucephalus in many battles. The legend of Alexander's magnificent horse struck many an artists imagination, from the ancient to the modern world. Paintings of Labrum's Alexander subjects survive in the Louvre Museum. One in particular, The Passage of the Granicus, depicts the warhorse contesting the difficulties of the steep muddy river banks, biting and kicking all foes. Like his hero and ancestor Achilles, Alexander viewed his horses as "known to excel all others-for they are immortal. Poseidon gave them to my father Peleus, who in his turn gave them to myself."

Arrian states Bucephalus died sometime between the age of 28 to 30, in June of 326 BC after being fatally wounded at the Battle of Hydaspes, and Alexander promptly founded a city in honour of the horse, Bucephala. The city lay on the west bank of the Hydaspes river (thought to be modern-day Jhelum in Pakistan).


  • Arthur Hugh Clough (editor), John Dryden (translator), Plutarch's 'Lives', vol. II, Modern Library, 2001. ISBN 0375756779
  • Rolf Winkes, "Boukephalas", Miscellanea Mediterranea (Archaeologia Transatlantica XVIII) Providence 2000, pages 101-107.

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