Bucephalus: The Horse of Alexander the Great

Roman art depicting Alexander the Great riding his horse Bucephalus
Corbis via Getty Images/Getty Images

Bucephalus was the famous and well-loved horse of Alexander the Great. Plutarch tells the story of how a 12-year old Alexander won the horse: A horse dealer offered the horse to Alexander's father, Philip II of Macedonia, for the enormous sum of 13 talents. Since no one could tame the animal, Philip wasn't interested, but Alexander was and promised to pay for the horse should he fail to tame it. Alexander was allowed to try and then surprised everyone by subduing it.

How Alexander Tamed Bucephalus

Alexander spoke soothingly and turned the horse so that the horse didn't have to see its shadow, which had seemed to distress the animal. With the horse now calm, Alexander had won the wager. Alexander named his prize horse Bucephalus and so loved the animal that when the horse died, in 326 B.C., Alexander named a city after the horse: Bucephala.

Ancient Writers on Bucephalus

  • "King Alexander had also a very remarkable horse; it was called Bucephalus, either on account of the fierceness of its aspect, or because it had the figure of a bull's head marked on its shoulder. It is said, that he was struck with its beauty when he was only a boy, and that it was purchased from the stud of Philonicus, the Pharsalian, for thirteen talents. When it was equipped with the royal trappings, it would suffer no one except Alexander to mount it, although at other times it would allow anyone to do so. A memorable circumstance connected with it in battle is recorded of this horse; it is said that when it was wounded in the attack upon Thebes, it would not allow Alexander to mount any other horse. Many other circumstances, also, of a similar nature, occurred respecting it; so that when it died, the king duly performed its obsequies, and built around its tomb a city, which he named after it" The Natural History of Pliny, Volume 2, by Pliny (the Elder.), John Bostock, Henry Thomas Riley
  • "That on the further side, he nam'd Nicœa, in Memory of his Victory over the Indians; This he nam'd Bucephalus, to perpetuate the Memory of his Horse Bucephalus, which died there, not because of any Wound he had received, but meerly of old Age, and excess of Heat; for when this happen'd, he was nigh thirty Years Old: He had also endur'd much Fatigue, and undergone many Dangers with his Matter, and would never suffer any, except Alexander himself, to mount him. He was strong, and beautiful in Body, and of a generous Spirit. The Mark by which he was said to have been particularly distinguished, was a Head like an Ox, from whence he receiv'd his Name of Bucephalus: Or rather, according to others, because he being Black, had a white Mark upon his Forehead, not unlike those which Oxen often bear." Arrian's History of Alexander's Expedition, Volume 2


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Gill, N.S. "Bucephalus: The Horse of Alexander the Great." ThoughtCo, Feb. 16, 2021, thoughtco.com/bucephalus-116812. Gill, N.S. (2021, February 16). Bucephalus: The Horse of Alexander the Great. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/bucephalus-116812 Gill, N.S. "Bucephalus: The Horse of Alexander the Great." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/bucephalus-116812 (accessed May 29, 2023).