Big, bold and massively over-budget, the controversial city-wide improvement project “Skopje 2014,” forever changed the look of the Macedonian capital. A revitalized river walk and new, flashy museums and government buildings were the main focus.
But a third emphasis was the construction of what seems an almost unlimited number of monuments depicting historical figures from Macedonia’s past.
After looking at a plethora of these statues, we’re convinced that most of these dignitaries did their work on horseback. It’s hard to walk a block without seeing a mounted patriot with his sword unsheathed, hat doffed or hand raised high in salute.
It would take a Macedonian historian to figure out who all these characters were, and we made a stab at it on the internet. But the best we could come up with was an urban legend about equestrian statues. According to the legend, the number of raised legs in an equestrian statue indicates the way the rider died.
Supposedly: if the horse has all four hooves on the ground then the rider died of natural causes.
One hoof raised means death caused by battle injuries.
Both hooves raised means the rider died directly in battle.
And given the bronze posse, where better to check the veracity of this theory than Skopje’s beautiful main square? Because dominating this beautiful plaza is a colossal statue of Macedonian’s favorite son Alexander the Great and his rearing war horse Bucephalus?
With Alexander’s brandished sword and Bucephalus’ raised forelegs, the pair must have been a fearsome opponent in battle. And because both legs were pawing the air, according to the legend, Alexander died in battle. This would have been an honorable end for one of the best military leaders of all time, but according to historians, it just didn’t happen that way.
The actual cause of Alexander’s death has been debated for centuries; the most popular being poison, malaria, or typhoid fever. But conspicuously absent from this list is being killed in battle.
Of course, this is only one example of a sculptor that doesn’t follow the rules, but this tradition has been investigated in both the US and Europe, and proven to be false.
So the next time that you see an equestrian statue there’s a good chance that the rider is dead. But you’ll have to look at the history books to find the cause of death, not how many of the horse’s legs are in the air.
Do you know of an equestrian statue that confirms or negates the myth? We’d love to hear.
James & Terri