Emperor Heraclius’ Warhorse, Antelope

Antelope was the name of a horse that Emperor Heraclius (r. 610-641) brought to battle with him during his campaigns against the Persian Empire of Khosrow II (r. 591-628). The horse was roan in its looks—a speckled visual created by a horse naturally having white hairs evenly mixed into a fur coat of another color. Unfortunately, the particular roan color scheme that Antelope had is uncertain, but he likely had colors that matched his animal namesake. Whatever the fur may have looked like, much of it would have been obscured by gear and armor, for Antelope was a warhorse that Emperor Heraclius personally rode into battle. Antelope was known to have participated in a battle that occurred near the Great Zab River around December 12, 626, in which Heraclius dealt a decisive defeat to a Persian general known to the scholars of Constantinople as Rhazates. The chronicler, Theophanes (c. 750-818), wrote of Emperor Heraclius and the warhorse, Antelope, in the battle, writing, “Once the battle was well under way, infantryman wounded the Emperor’s roan horse (which was called Antelope): it took a spear in its thigh. There were also many sword strokes at its face but, as it was wearing leather armor, it was not harmed, nor were the blows effective” (Theophanes, Chronographia, entry for Annus Mundi 6118). Antelope, therefore, was thankfully said to have survived the battle, despite suffering a wound to the leg. Perhaps injured Antelope was allowed to retire to calmer pastures after the battle. Whatever the case, Theophanes never again mentioned this particular warhorse of Emperor Heraclius after its role in the battle at the Great Zab River on December 12, 626.

Written by C. Keith Hansley

Picture Attribution: (Emperor Heraclius Denied Entry into Jerusalem, by a 15th-century Dutch painter, [Public Domain] via Creative Commons and the Art Institute of Chicago).


  • Theophanes, The Chronicle of Theophanes, translated by Harry Turtledove. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982.

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