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Bucephalus - Alexander the Great's Black Horse

Updated on August 25, 2014

Bucephalus in the movie, Alexander

Bucephalus, the horse of Alexander the Great.
Bucephalus, the horse of Alexander the Great. | Source

Who was Bucephalus?

Bucephalus was one of the most famous horses in history. He belonged to Alexander the Great.

Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) was a great general and king of Macedonia. He conquered many countries around the Mediterranean Sea, and traveled as far east as India. Alexander was the son of Phillip of Macedon, also a general. His mother was Olympias, princess of Epirus.

When he was young Alexander's mother told him he was descended from Achilles on his mother's side and Hercules on his father's side. He memorized the Iliad and idolized Achilles.

When he was twelve he saw the beautiful wild horse he later named Bucephalus. His father didn't want to buy Bucephalus because the horse was uncontrollable, but Alexander had a plan to tame the wild horse.

What did Bucephalus look like?

Bucephalus was described as exceptionally large with a huge head. He was all black except for a large white star on his forehead. He was said to be of the best Thessalian strain.

In the movie, Alexander , the horse that played the part of Bucephalus was a Friesen. Friesens are large black horses that originally came from the Netherlands. Despite their size they are graceful and quick, and were used as war horses for many centuries, so perhaps Alexander's horse could have been a Friesen. That is unknown.

A Horse with blue eyes

Bucephelus was said to have had blue eyes. Blue eyed horses are rare, but they see as well as horses with brown eyes.

Blue eye in horses is also called “glass eye”, “moon eye”, “China eye”, “wall eye”, or “Night eye”.

A Friesen horse

A Friesen horse.
A Friesen horse. | Source

What does the name Bucephalus mean?

Alexander named his steed Bucephalus, a noble name indeed.

Bucephalus is derived of two ancient Greek words: 'bous', meaning 'ox', and 'kephale' meaning 'head'.

Because his head was so large, he was named “Ox-Head”!

When did Bucephalus live?

Bucephalus lived from 355 BC to 326 BC. He lived to the age of 30 years, according to Plutarch. In horse terms, this was a long time.

The life expectancy of most horses is from 20 to 30 years, so Bucephalus served Alexander the Great as long as he could, and died at an advanced age.

Thessaly, Greece - the probable birthplace of Bucephalus

Thessaly, Greece:
Thessaly, Greece

get directions

How did Alexander the Great get Bucephalus?

Alexander won Bucephalus from a horse dealer by taming him. I could tell you the story myself, but thought you might like to hear it from the horse's mouth, so to speak. I found the following text by a Greek historian, Plutarch (46-120 AD) on the Project Gutenberg website.

Alexander Taming Bucephalus

Alexander Taming Bucephalus by F. Schommer
Alexander Taming Bucephalus by F. Schommer | Source

Bucephalus - History's Greatest Horse - here are some clips of the gorgeous Friesen horse who played the part of Bucephalus in the movie, Alexander.

Bucephalus, a battle horse

For many years Alexander rode Bucephalus in battle. During his later years Alexander often rode other horses to give Bucephalus a break, but when it was time for battle, he wanted Bucephalus with him.

The death of Bucephalus

Bucepahlus died shortly after the Battle of the Hydaspes in 326 BC in a northern section of India that is now in Pakistan. He's buried in Jalalpur Sharif outside of Jhelum, Pakistan.

Bucephalus was thirty years old.

Plutarch states the cause of death was 'fatigue and age'. Others have stated there were battle wounds.

In memory of his beloved Bucephalus, Alexander founded a city named Bucephalia, also known as Alexandria Bucephalus, next to the Hydaspes River, also known as the Jhelum River. The city no longer exists and the exact location is not certain.

Only a few years later, in 323 BC, Alexander the Great also died. He had spent 2/3 of his life with Bucephalus at his side.

Burial place of Bucephalus

Jhelum, Pakistan:
Jhelum 49600, Pakistan

get directions

A historical fiction version of the life of Bucephalus

Your comments are welcome!

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    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 

      8 years ago from North Carolina

      Cool! I love horses. I didn't know this about Alex the Great's horse. Thanks.

    • equinelover909 profile image


      8 years ago

      Thanks for the great article! I just read "I Am The Great Horse", so I found this article very interesting.

    • daybreak profile image


      8 years ago from Atlantic Coast of North America

      The artwork really brings this page to life.


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