The Story of Bucephalus

Statue of Alexander and Bucephalus by John Steell                                                                               photo Stefan Schäfer via Wikimedia Commons



The Story of Bucephalus (Bucephalas) and Alexander The Great became a romanticized story handed down over the centuries of historical recounting and story telling. There is some uncertainty to the exact dates of Bucephalas’ birth, meeting of Alexander and Bucephalas and Bucephalas’ death. Here is what I found among the several history sources found in books and websites when you Google Bucephalas.

 Did Bucephalas and Alexander Really Exist?

Yes. Here are the dates generally agreed upon.

  • Bucephalas born 355 BCE died 326 BCE age 29
  • Alexander  born 356 BCE died 323 BCE age 32
  • Alexander and Bucephalas met during 344 BCE
    • Alexander was 13 or 14 years old
    • Bucephalus was an 11 year old stallion

Fun Facts about Alexander the Great (Alexander III of Macedon)

  • Father was King Phillip II of Macedon
  • Aristotle was Alexander’s tutor until he turned 16
  • Alexander succeeded his father to the throne at the age of 20 when his father was assassinated
  • During his 13 year reign with Bucephalus as his war horse, he overthrew Persian KingDarius III and conquered the Achaemenid Empire in its entirety. At that point, his empire stretched from the Adriatic Sea to the Indus River. (Wikipedia)
  • Alexander died (possibly of typhus) at the age of 32

What’s in a name?

Bucephalus: bous, “ox” and κεφαλή kephalē, “head” meaning “ox-head” (wikipedia)

However in a book by /N._G._L._Hammond The Genius of Alexander the Great

Bucephalus was named after a branding mark depicting an ox’s head on his haunch. (wikipedia)

Hammond writes a description of Bucephalus:

“A massive creature with a massive head, Bucephalus is described as having a black coat with a large white star on his brow. He is also supposed to have had a “wall eye” (blue eye), and his breeding was that of the “best Thessalian strain”.

Other sources conjecture that Bucephalus was a dark bay and not black.

The website

offers more information on the possible bloodline of Bucephalus.

“Few horses have captured the imagination like Alexander’s horse Bucephalus. Though not much is known about him, we do know he was a dark stallion, somewhat temperamental. Though he is described as black, it is likely he was the more common standard bay, which is usually described as “black”. And though most people imagine a tall stallion, the truth is probably somewhat less grand.

Breeding Stock

The best breeding of Greek horse stock took place in Thessaly, where prime existing stock was often crossed with Scythian, Persian (Nisean) and Ferghana horses. Philip of Makedon (who built on-going cavalry developments enough to be considered by many to be responsible for developing the cavalry as an effective fighting unit) is said to have imported 20.000 Scythian mares to Makedon. His son, Alexander, claimed a tribute of 50.000 Persian horses, which continued the infusion of Scythian, Nisean, Jaf, Ferghana and possibly Caspian and other blood into the Makedonian horses. Since the Persian Arab is thought to have been introduced into Persia around 2000 BC, it is likely that this bloodline was included.

Few of these horses were tall by modern standards, averaging 13.2 – 14.2 hands, with the possible exception of the Ferghana crosses and some of the Iberian stock. We know that the Iberian horses mentioned by Homer were famed for their movement, size and spirit; the Nisean horses were known for speed and stamina, the Ferghana was noted for stamina, endurance and the ability to withstand hard conditions in desert lands. Along with imported stock, Philip had access to the native breeds such as the Pindos, Skyros, Pineias, Messara and Andravidas, horses known to be small but tough. Looking at the stock Philip used in breeding programs, one can easily imagine a hardy horse with stamina, endurance and longevity. It was from these bloodlines that Bucephalus may have been bred, in the fertile pastures of Thessaly.”

Read more here:

Fun Fact: Horses at that time were shorter. This made “leaping lightly up” with out a saddle a little easier especially when you are in a tunic and underwear (loincloth) was not common and tunics were common.

 How did Bucephalas come to King Phillip II?

Here is one account from the website

“Bucephalus was brought to Macedonia and presented to King Phillip II (Alexander’s father) in 346 BCE by Philoneicus of Thessaly.  With a price tag almost three times the norm (13 talents), the beautiful black horse stood taller than the normal Macedonian steed but was considered too wild and unmanageable, rearing up against anyone who came near him. Phillip ordered him led away.

But Alexander bargained with his father for the horse. When Alexander successfully rode Bucephalas in front of his father and the crowd of attendants, Alexander demonstrated the true character of one of the greatest generals in all of history.”

What happened when Alexander and Bucephalus met?

Here is one account:

“Feeling the bit gently with the reins, he (Alexander) restrained him (Bucephalas), without whipping or hurting him, until he saw that the horse had given up all threatening behavior, and was only hot for the course; then he let him go, and urged him on by raising his voice and using his heel. The attendants of Philip (Alexander’s father) were anxious and silent at first; but when he turned and came back full of just pride and pleasure, they all raised a cheer, except his father. But he, they say, wept for joy; and after Alexander had dismounted, said, ‘You must go look for a kingdom to match you, my son; Macedonia is not large enough for you.’

Quote from Plutarch recounted in the book The Art of Horsemanship translated and edited by M.H. Morgan. Page 101.

Bucephalus and Alexander, ten years together. continues the tale:

“Bucephalus and Alexander were inseparable; only Alexander could ride him, and indeed he did, into every battle from the conquest of the Greek city-states and Thebes through Gaugamela and into India. After the final defeat of Darius, Bucephalus was kidnapped while Alexander was away on excursion. Upon returning and learning of the theft, Alexander promised to fell every tree, lay the countryside to waste, and slaughter every inhabitant in the region. The horse was soon returned along with a plea for mercy.

Although historians disagree on the cause of the horse’s death – some claim he died from battle wounds – most agree he died of old age after the Battle of Hydaspes River (326 BCE). While Plutarch spoke of both possible causes of death, he cites Onesicritus, a historian who accompanied Alexander on his conquests, as stating the horse died of old age. However Bucephalus died, in mourning, Alexander founded a city in his beloved horse’s memory and named it Bucephala. It is also interesting that Alexander built another city after his favorite dog Peritas.”

Another possibility of Bucephalus’ death is reported in the website

“Others debate that Bucephalus was of a younger age and died of severe battle wounds he received at the Battle of the River Hydaspes, 326 BCE. What is known, however, is that Alexander gave him a state funeral and founded a new city, Bucephala (now modern day Jhelum/Djemoul) in Bucephalus’ honor.”


One thing is certain.

…The man loved his horse.

blogBucephalus paid

“The Alexander Mosaic, dating from circa 100 BC, is a Roman floor mosaic originally from the House of the Faun in Pompeii.[1] It depicts a battle between the armies of Alexander the Great and Darius III of Persia and measures 2.72 by 5.13 metres (8 ft 11 in × 16 ft 10 in).[2] The original is preserved in the Naples National Archaeological Museum. The mosaic is believed to be a copy of an early 3rd-century BC Hellenistic painting.[3] ”  wikipedia


Ten Books for Every Rider’s Library

A list of books I value as Riding Manuals.

This list is for books that I consider Riding Manuals. The “How To” of the book world. This is not a complete list of books that I find valuable. These are the ones that are the most dog eared and highlighted ones in my library. In the future I will talk about “Art Book” types of horse books. Maybe you have suggestions on books that you value? Tell me your recommendations in the comments below.

BlogPodhajsky 1.The Complete Training of Horse and Rider By Alois Podhajsky

This was my first serious book on riding that I owned. My parents gave it to me when I was 19 years old for Christmas (It was at the top of my Christmas list). Eva Podhajsky and Colonel V.D.S. Williams translated this English language edition from the original German. This basic riding manual has chapters that are well organized for looking up a topic of interest i.e. the principles of training, definitions of the aids, lunging the horse, lunging the rider, information on saddles and bridles plus a section on The Spanish Riding School. The text is enlivened with 38 photographs of famous horse and riders as well as examples of horses in various stages of training. The line drawings of schooling figures and rider positions make clear the discussion in text on the subject. This is a manual with advice that has stood the test of time.

BlogMuseler2. Riding Logic by Wilhelm Müseler

Dorita Konyot recommended this book as a very succinct and useful manual. First translated to English from the original German in 1937 and now in its fifth edition. Chapters are also well organized with titles such as: “How does the rider learn to sit?” and “How does the rider learn to feel?” as well as “How does the rider learn to influence?” With 90 pictures and illustrations of every topic this riding manual gives the reader a clear example of each topic of interest. Simply paging through the pages and inspecting the photographs or illustrations will spark a further study into the topic.

BlogMicklem3. Complete Horse Riding Manual by William Micklem

In 2003 I was asked to have a photo shoot at my farm. The result was a cover photo of a student cantering a horse in training on my neighbor’s Lake Nellie beach. This 400-page manual modernized the riding manual by using colorful graphic blocks, pie charts, flow charts and comparison chart grids to organize valuable information. Topics covered range from advice to beginner riders on how to grasp the basics of riding (and safety) to mastering advanced techniques in dressage, show jumping, cross-country. Advice on mental and physical preparation for the rider as well as trouble shooting grids offer easy to find and understand help for riders of all levels. William Micklem is a highly regarded international equestrian coach and trainer now famous for the invention of the popular Micklem Bridle.


BlogGermanAdvanced 4. Advanced Techniques of Riding the Official Instruction Handbook of the German National Equestrian Federation

This slim book is another go-to riding manual favorite of mine. The line drawings and succinct text are separated into three sections; dressage, jumping and cross-country. The first section is a short History of the Art of Riding. This manual is good book for quick reference and solid advice.

BlogKlimkeYoung5. Basic Training of the Young Horse by Reiner Klimke

The year I opened my training business and took in horses to put under saddle I bought this book. Paging through the volume I see that I have highlighted parts throughout the little volume. How you start a horse will determine how the rest of his/her life will go. It’s important to do it right. Read this book. Think about what Reiner says about training the young horse. You won’t regret it.

BlogKlimkeCavalletti6. Cavaletti by Ingrid and Reiner Klimke

I still have the original Cavaletti book written by Reiner Klimke published in English in 1969, which I purchased as a paperback book in 1983. This new version published in 2011 expands on the original book with photographs on every page. There are many exercises and tips that are easy to incorporate into daily training. When I bought the first little book I spent the whole year setting up the cavaletti as shown in the book and using them with every horse in training as well as in lessons. The new version is a great guide and a joy to read.

BlogLindgren 7. Teaching Exercises by Major Anders Lindgren

I was fortunate to ride in clinics with Major Lindgren in 1990’s at Tina Drake’s Pas de Cheval farm in Sorrento, Fl. Over a ten-year period almost 1000 participating instructors learned from Major Lindgren’s systematic, structured approach to teaching dressage. He greatly impacted and improved my teaching skills. This book clearly presents and defines developmental exercises to be used specifically from Training Level through Second Level. Small but mighty, this book should be in every rider’s library.

BlogvonDietze 8. Balance in Movement by Susanne von Dietze

Do you want more in depth and technical about developing an educated and influential seat on a horse? Well, then, add this book to your library. The latest edition of this popular book features 250 full-color images.

Susanne von Dietze is a physiotherapist, riding instructor, and active dressage competitor. I needed more specific information if I was to improve my seat and overcome some “aging in the saddle” problems that were cropping up in my 60’s. There is an accompanying DVD (buy separately) for even more help.

BlogWalterZettl9. Dressage in Harmony by Walter Zettl

I had the honor of auditing several clinics by Walter Zettl and immediately purchased this book. This comprehensive training manual with its helpful line drawings covers everything from The Seven Elements of Riding (the Training Scale) to Schooling Figures to Piaffe and Passage. The tone of this book reflects the tone of the man. His Chapter 2 is The Goals of Dressage Riding whose sections are titled; Harmony, Why Dressage is Difficult, How the Horse Learns, The Nature of the Rider, and Trust and Respect. The manual offers valuable information with an emphasis on compassionate horsemanship.


.blogxenophon.jpg 10. On the Art of Horsemanship by Xenophon

This book earns a place in every rider’s library if only to remind us that the tenants of horsemanship (or as Xenophon writes, horseman’s art) are centuries old. This first extant treatise on horsemanship is short but remarkably applicable to today. There are a few translations from the original Greek to English to choose from. Xenophon instructs on varied topics such as; how to mount properly (without a saddle because saddles were not invented until 365 AD), how to select a good horse, who should break young horses (young men because old men should be looking after family and government), to the grooming, feeding and care of the horse. Xenophon’s overarching theme is “be kind to your horse and he will do as you desire”.

More to come in future posts…