Ancient Greece Horses
Ancient Greece Horse

In Ancient times, horses remained unknown to the people of a Mediterranean region. Archeological excavations show that horses appeared on the territory of Greece together with conquerors in the middle of the Bronze Age (after the XVIII century B.C.). At that time, ancestors of Homer’s Achaeans ruled the future Hellene.

The earliest horse pictures were found in “mine tombs” of Mycenae, where the dynasty that ruled nearly 1650-1550 B.C. rests in peace. Among other scenes, there is a picture of an archer hunting a deer. The archer is drawn on a chariot taken by two ponies with long manes and tails. Mycenae tombstone reliefs showing heroes riding chariots were possible to be seen by explorers, too. These horse pictures are much different from little ponies that look wild. They have long legs, beautiful tails and manes, and a smooth coat. There can also be noticed the feature of classic Greek horses: heads held high.


Pegasus was one of the outstanding horses of Ancient Greece mythology: a horse with wings, it was loved by the Muses. One of legends explains its genealogy by a connection between Poseidon and gorgon Medusa. After Perseus cut gorgon’s head off, Pegasus jumped out of her body. According to another version, Pegasus rose from Medusa’s blood that hit the ground at that moment.

Pegasus, born from Ocean, could fly faster than winds and carved sources out of the ground with just one hit of its hoof. He had a stall in Corinth, but still spent most of the time in the mountains, on the Parnassus and Helicon. The source of inspiration for poets – Hippocrene – appeared in Helicon near the grove of Muses exactly because of Pegasus.

Pegasus helped heroes to make their deeds multiple times. As a result, this horse became an assistant for Hephaestus to carry his thunders and lightings directly to the Olympus, for Zeus. For these deeds, gods placed Pegasus to the sky as the constellation. 

Xanthus and Balius

Xanthus and Balius were two other glorious undying horses of the hero named Achilles. They used to be Titans who took Zeus’s side in the battle. The ruler of gods changed them according to their own request and turned them into horses, but still they could talk. Xanthus and Balius were Poseidon’s gifts to Peleus, the father of Achilles.

After Achilles died, Poseidon took Xanthus and Balius back again.


When coming from myths and legends directly to the Greek history, it is impossible to omit one particular representative of the noble animals.

The most famous horse of all that ever carried a human on their backs was Bucephalus, the favorite horse of Alexander the Great. The name of this animal refers to a white spot on its face: that spot looked like a bull’s head. The horse itself had a black coat, and, as the legends say, was born from a barb horse and a Thessalian mare. Alexander himself was convinced that his horse’s bloodline comes back to the undying horses of his ancestor Achilles.

Bucephalus was offered to Alexander’s father, Philip II by a Thessalian merchant named Philonicus for a remarkably high price of 13 talents (nearly 750 lbs. of silver). Philip wanted to buy a horse for games organized by him in Dion as the alternative for the Olympic Games. The animal had a notorious biography and was often beaten by its previous owners because of its temper. As a result of all the abuses, the horse was scared not only of humans, but of its own shadow.

It is worth mentioning that the appearance of this horse was far from being the best. In addition to the spot on the face, the animal had some more critical appearance issues.

As nobody could tame that tempered stallion, Philip refused to buy it and ordered to give the horse up for meat. When the fate of Bucephalus was almost done, 10-year old prince Alexander defended the animal. He said the horse in fact was excellent, and it would be very silly to lose such an ally just because some people don’t have enough agility to tame it. The boy stated to go for that personally and said that he would pay for the horse himself even if he failed, but totally refused to let the animal be killed.

Alexander was absolutely sure about success, as he understood the trouble of Bucephalus. It was about the total refusal to perceive aggressive riders and shadows dancing before its eyes. The prince approached the horse carefully, petted it a bit, then turned its face towards the sun and walked nearby for some distance. He waited till the animal would get totally calm while talking with it silently about something.


After a few minutes, Bucephalus developed a great trust towards the boy, so the horse allowed the prince to climb up on its back. Philip was impressed with the first victory of his son Alexander, and told him to look for a kingdom of his own, as the Macedonia was too small for his greatness.

The famous oracle of Delphi shared the opinion of Philip. According to the prophecy given by him several years before that event, a human who would be able to tame the stallion with a mark of a bull’s head from the king’s stall, was called by gods to rule the world.

After that case, Bucephalus came into the king’s stall, where he still couldn’t change its habits. The horse refused to allow humans approaching it for the first few months, so all the responsibilities concerning feeding, cleaning and maintaining the new pet were put on Alexander himself.

Bucephalus had an honor to witness Alexander’s triumph in the battle of Chaeronea that became the end of Greek independence and the beginning of Macedonian rise.

Ten years later, the horse came to conquer Asia together with its rider. Alexander used Bucephalus in battles exceptionally rarely, as he was bothered with the fate of his favorite horse.

Bucephalus could recognize his master by the sound of his steps and greeted him with a silent neighing. Alexander was the first and the only human who could ride it.

Bucephalus carried Alexander on its back to India, sharing with the master all the glory and all the difficulties of a campaign. According to one version, the horse died of its age (30 years mean the old horse). Another version says that it died in battle with the Indian king Porus in 326 B.C. According to the third version, the horse died of wounds gotten in this battle.

To honor the memory of his favorite horse, Alexander founded the city named Bucephalia (all the cities had been named only after himself before). The city on the territory of Pakistan exists nowadays, despite the fact it is named Jalalpur.

Alexander made Bucephalus a part of his own myth. From Ancient times till our days, the picture of an undefeatable warlord can’t be imagined without his trusty steed. 

Dick Pieper
3524 New Hope, Marietta, OK 73448
Dick: 580-221-3412
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