War horse (356 BC – 326 BC)
No other animal in world history has ever had the distinction Bucephalus had of sharing part of his rider’s eternal glory and subsequently being immortalized in the world of myth. As the most loyal companion of Alexander the Great in battle, Bucephalus accompanied him throughout the entirety of the campaign to Asia, being present in every major battle. He is widely regarded as the greatest and most glorious horse in history.
The story of how Bucephalus and Alexander met is recalled by Plutarch. In 346 BC, Philip II, Alexander’s father, was in Pharsala, Thessaly when he was offered Bucephalus as a horse for 13 talants. Unlike any other horse, he was wild and untamable, causing Philip to decline. Alexander, then aged 13 accepted his father’s challenge that if he tamed him, he would pay for the horse. Alexander, seeing that the horse was afraid and running away from its own shadow, turned him towards the sun, took the reins on his hands and mounted him amidst an awe-struck crowd. To his amazement, Philip told Alexander “O my son, look thee out a kingdom equal to and worthy of thyself”. Alexander named him Bucephalus, meaning having the head of a bull. From that point onward, the two became inseparable companions in war.
Bucephalus accompanied Alexander throughout the entire campaign to Asia and fought in every battle together with him, from the conquests of the Greek city-states to the battles of Gaugamela, Issus and Aornos Rock. He saved Alexander’s life countless times in battle, most notably from drowning when Alexander and his army were crossing Granicus river. Bucephalus’ final battle was the Battle of Hydaspes. He died from injuries after the battle according to some historians, while others state that he died of old age from natural causes. He was 30 years old. In his honour, Alexander built the city Bucephalia, named after Bucephalus, which is situated in modern-day Pakistan. Coins were minted which bore his head and his name, in his memory.
As did Alexander after his death, Bucephalus was immortalized, serving as a source of inspiration to many writers and artists. He is depicted on the now famous Alexander Mosaic with Alexander battling against Darius and is the subject of numerous paintings illustrating his taming by Alexander, among them those of Benjamin Robert Haydon, Nikos Eggonopoulos and Andre Castaigne. Alexander and Bucephalus’ exemplary friendship is beautifully portrayed by Giambattista Tiepolo’s painting Alexander and Bucephalus while Bucephalus’ bravery is immortalized in Charles le Brun’s painting The Passage of the Granicus. Other than paintings, Bucephalus is commemorated as a statue in Edinburg and has been listed in multiple catalogues as the most famous and heroic animal companion in history. As his rider, Bucephalus passed to the world of legend, becoming a mythical hero equal to the horses of Achilles.
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- Σαατσόγλου-Παλιαδέλη, Χρυσούλα. Ο Βουκεφάλας του Αλεξάνδρου. Ελλήνων Δίκτυο. www.hellinon.net. October 26, 2018. Web.