Bucephalus the Untamable Juliette Malaniak

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Bucephalus the Untamable
Juliette Malaniak

Ancient World History

Professor Kimberly Dyer

27 February 2015


For many heroes, it is their comrades that make them so glorious. Alexander the Great was no different. Of course, Hephaestion was his best friend, but he also had a famous animal sidekick. Bucephalus is well-known for the story of his taming; however, his intelligence and friendship with Alexander extends far past this.

Bucephalus had originally been intended for Philip II, Alexander’s father. As history goes, this horse would scarcely allow anyone to look at it, let alone mount and ride it. Alexander was present when Bucephalus was being presented to his father and remarked on the horse’s exceptionality. He also mentioned the lack of effort to train him. Philip and Alexander made a deal: if Alexander could not tame the horse, he would pay for it personally. Alexander led the horse so that it was facing into the sun so that it would not see his shadow as he swiftly mounted and took gentle but firm control of the reins and set into a controlled gallop. Philip reportedly told his son, “Seek another kingdom, my son, that may be worthy of thy abilities; for Macedonia is too small for thee” (“Plutarch”) and purchased the animal for thirteen talents. Although Bucephalus was regarded as “untamable,” as a horse that could only have one rider, this is an overexaggeration. No horse is limited to a single human. Regardless, this is where the incredible friendship began between Alexander and his new horse, which he named Bucephalus.

The meaning of “Bucephalus” is “ox-headed”; the reason why Alexander chose this name is contested. Some say it came from the brand on his shoulder shaped like the head of an ox (“Bucephalus”). Others suggest that it was the horse’s actual ox-like head that inspired the name (Tozier, 54). Bucephalus was likely “quite a tall horse, coal-black, with a good shoulder and small ears” with “a white star in the middle of his forehead... characteristic of certain Libyan breeds of old” (Tozier, 54).

Sturdy and tough enough to be an accomplished warhorse, Bucephalus still cared about his owner greatly. When Alexander wanted to mount him, Bucephalus would simply bend down so that Alexander could sit easily (Tozier, 59). He knew Alexander on sight as well. There was a painting of him, and it was said to be so lifelike that Buceplaus neighed at it the first time he saw it, recognizing Alexander (Tozier 61).

The affection was not one-sided. Once, while Alexander was away, Bucephalus was kidnapped. “Alexander promised to fell every tree, lay the countryside to waste, and slaughter every inhabitant in the realm” (Wasson). Bucephalus was more than an animal to ride into battle; he was one of Alexander’s best friends.

In 326 BCE, Bucephalus passed away. The exact cause of death is unknown. Many historians say that he died of old age. It is also possible, but less likely, that he perished as a result of wounds sustained in battle. That tale has a bit more romance to it: Bucephalus clung to life, taking arrows and lances to deliver Alexander to safety, then collapsed and died knowing he kept his owner safe (Tozier, 60). In any case, Bucephalus loved Alexander in an undoubtedly devoted way. Alexander then founded a city in honor of his horse, naming it Bucephala.

Bucephalus meant more to Alexander than many would think. He was a clever companion and faithful ally. Not only did Alexander trust his horse but he respected him so much that he named a city after him. Bucephalus is easily one of the most famous horses in history.

Annoted Bibliography


"Bucephalus." World History: Ancient and Medieval Eras. ABC-CLIO, 2015. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.

This is a very short decription of Bucephalus’ life, referenced for the information on the city named after Bucephalus.



"Plutarch: Alexander the Great tames Bucephalus, Life of Alexander." World History: Ancient and Medieval Eras.ABC-CLIO, 2015. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.

This article details the events that transpired when Alexander tamed Bucephalus.



Tozer, Basil. The Horse in History. C. Scribner, 1908. 54, 59, 60, 61. Print.

Although it’s quite an old book, it provides unique information. Most sources repeat the same information in different ways but this one gives unechoed historical insight.

Wasson, Donald L. "Bucephalus." Ancient History Encyclopedia. 6 Oct. 2011. Web. 28 Feb. 2015.

This is a good general overview of Bucephalus without going into excruciating detail.


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