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Mares of Diomedes

File:Mosaico Trabajos Hércules (M.A.N. Madrid) 08.jpg
Heracles capturing the Mares of Diomedes. Roman mosaic, 3rd century AD

The Mares of Diomedes, also called the Mares of Thrace, were four man-eating horses in Greek mythology. Magnificent, wild, and uncontrollable, they belonged to the giant Diomedes (not to be confused with Diomedes, son of Tydeus), king of Thrace, a son of Ares and Cyrene who lived on the shores of the Black Sea. Bucephalus, Alexander the Great's horse was said to be descended from these mares.

The Eighth Labour of Heracles

One of the Twelve Labours of Heracles or Hercules was to steal the Mares. In one version of the story, Heracles brought a number of youths to help him. They took the mares and were chased by Diomedes and his men.

Heracles was not aware that the horses, called Podagros (the fast), Lampon (the shining), Xanthos (the blond) and Deinos (the terrible), were kept tethered to a bronze manger because they were wild; their madness being attributed to an unnatural diet of human flesh.[1] Some versions say that they expelled fire when they breathed, they were man-eating and uncontrollable, and Heracles left his favoured companion, Abderus, in charge of them while he fought Diomedes, but that the boy was eaten. In revenge, Heracles fed Diomedes to his own horses, then founded Abdera next to the boy's tomb.

In another version, Heracles stayed awake so that he didn't have his throat cut by Diomedes in the night, and cut the chains binding the horses. Having scared the horses onto the high ground of a peninsula, Heracles quickly dug a trench through the peninsula, filling it with water, thus making it an island. When Diomedes arrived, Heracles killed him with an axe (the one used to dig the trench), and fed the body to the horses to calm them.

Both versions have eating make the horses calmer, and Heracles took the opportunity to bind their mouths shut, and easily took them back to King Eurystheus, who dedicated the horses to Hera. In some versions, they were allowed to roam freely around Argos, having become permanently calm, but in others, Eurystheus ordered the horses taken to Olympus to be sacrificed to Zeus, but Zeus refused them, and sent wolves, lions, and bears to kill them.


  1. Horse madness (hippomania) and hippophobia, Yiannis G. Papakostas, Michael D. Daras, Ioannis A. Liappas and Manolis Markianos, History of Psychiatry 2005; 16; 467

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