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The Dolphin Ring
2010 omnibus edition

No. of novels





Young adult, adult (1 novel)

Historical era

Roman Britain – Norman England


Three Legions, The Eagle of the Ninth Chronicles

The dolphin ring is a signet ring passed down through a Roman-British and later Norse family, which appears in eight of Rosemary Sutcliff’s historical novels. “The Dolphin Ring” is a non-canonical name for the series, which takes place in the same general continuity as Sutcliff’s other historical fiction. The novels are set from the 2nd to the 12th century CE, and were written out of chronological order, not planned as a sequence.[1] They appeared through three different publishers, and the complete eight novels have never been published as a series. Three have also been packaged as "the Roman Britain Trilogy."

The ring[]

The dolphin ring is a man’s heavy gold signet ring set with a large, flawed emerald of unspecified shape. The stone is engraved with a dolphin, the badge of Marcus Flavius Aquila’s family. The ring is implied to be of Roman make, but its exact origins are not explained. It is battered by the time of its second appearance in The Silver Branch (290s CE). Sometime before its final appearance in The Shield Ring (1090s CE), the shank is enlarged to fit a Norse hand.

Despite large gaps in the family tree, the ring is implied to pass through an unbroken male line of descent from Marcus Flavius Aquila in The Eagle of the Ninth to Angharad in Sword Song, a female heir who carries the ring into a Norse family. Though in several novels the ring temporarily passes to a non-relative, it invariably returns to the possession of a direct descendant in the course of the story.


Setting Title Publication Note
2nd century CE The Eagle of the Ninth Oxford University Press, 1954 Roman Britain Trilogy
3rd century CE The Silver Branch OUP, 1957 Roman Britain Trilogy
4th century CE Frontier Wolf OUP, 1980
5th century CE The Lantern Bearers OUP, 1959 Roman Britain Trilogy
5th century CE Sword at Sunset Hodder & Stoughton, 1963 For adult readers
6th century CE Dawn Wind OUP, 1961
9th century CE Sword Song The Bodley Head, 1997 Posthumous
11th century CE The Shield Ring OUP, 1956

Collected editions[]

The three novels set in Roman Britain written in the 1950s were marketed as "the Roman Britain Trilogy" by Oxford University Press. When Frontier Wolf was inserted into the series chronology in 1980, the three earlier novels were re-issued in the omnibus Three Legions.

Title Publication Contents
Three Legions Oxford University Press, 1980
  • The Eagle of the Ninth
  • The Silver Branch
  • The Lantern Bearers
The Eagle of the Ninth Chronicles OUP, 2010 Same as Three Legions

Family line[]

This section lists the known members of the dolphin ring family and their in-laws, as well as other characters who possess the ring. Roman characters whose names are not mentioned in the text are given as [Flavius] or [Flavia], the male and female forms of the family name. Names of the ringbearers are in bold.

The Eagle of the Ninth[]

  • Marcus Flavius Aquila
  • [Flavius] Pilus Prior of the Ninth Legion, Marcus's father (d.)
  • Marcus's mother (d.)
  • Uncle Aquila, Marcus's father's elder brother
  • [Flavia], Marcus's paternal aunt
  • Tullius Lepidus, Marcus's aunt's husband


  • Cottia, Marcus's future wife
  • Aunt Valaria, Cottia's mother's sister
  • Cornelius Kaeso, Valaria's husband
  • Cottia's mother, brother, late father and step-father
  • Tradui, Epidi warrior who looted the ring from Marcus's father

The Silver Branch[]

  • Lucius Tiberius Justinianus "Justin"
  • Marcelus Flavius Aquila, Justin's distant cousin
  • Great Aunt Honoria, Flavius's great aunt
  • Justin's father
  • Justin's mother, (d.)
  • Flavia, Justin's grandmother
  • Justin's grandfather, Flavia's husband
  • Justin's grandfather, moved from Calleva to Nicaea (may be identical with above)
  • Flavius's parents, (d.)

Frontier Wolf[]

  • Alexios Flavius Aquila
  • Alexios's mother, half-Greek
  • Uncle Marius, Alexios's mother's half-brother
  • [Flavius], Alexios's father (d.)
  • Alexios's British grandmother
  • Shared parent of Alexios's mother and uncle
  • Greek parent of Alexios's mother

The Lantern Bearers[]

  • Flavius Aquila "Dolphin"
  • Flavius, Aquila's father
  • Flavia, Aquila's younger sister
  • Ness, Aquila's wife
  • Flavian "Minnow", Aquila's son
  • Mull, Flavia's son


  • Rhyannidd, Ness's elder sister
  • Cradoc, Ness's father
  • Wiermund, Flavia's father-in-law
  • Wiermund's eldest son, Flavia's husband
  • Wiergyls, Wiermund's brother

Sword at Sunset[]

  • Flavius Aquila "Dolphin"
  • Flavian "Minnow"
  • Ness, Dolphin's wife
  • Teleri, Flavian's wife
  • "Minnow", Flavian and Teleri's son
  • Younger children of Flavian and Teleri
  • Teleri's father, a Deva merchant

Dawn Wind[]

  • Owain
  • Owain's father (d.)
  • Ossian, Owain's elder brother (d.)
  • Regina, Owain's presumptive future wife

Sword Song[]

  • Angharad
  • Iorwen, Angharad's father (d.)
  • Nectan, Iorwen's father, "of the line of Erin" (d.)
  • Angharad's brother (d.)
  • Rhywallan, Angharad's cousin


  • Bjarni Sigurdson, Angharad's future husband
  • Gram Sigurdson, Bjarni's elder brother
  • Ingibjorg, Gram's wife
  • Gram and Ingibjorg's baby
  • Sigurd, Bjarni and Gram's father
  • Bjarni and Gram's grandfather

The Shield Ring[]

  • Bjorn Bjornsson
  • Bjorn, his father (d.)
  • Haethcyn, Bjorn's foster-father
  • Frytha, perhaps Bjorn's future wife


In a 1991 interview with John Withrington in Quondam et Futurus, Sutcliff explained that rather than being planned out, the series grew organically.

JW Sword at Sunset is one of a series in which you use a leitmotif, that of the flawed emerald signet ring, to trace the history of a family from Roman Britain right through to Norman times. The first novel in which you used this was Eagle of the Ninth in 1954, but it appears later in Frontier Wolf in 1980. Was it your intention to construct a magnum opus, an epic from start to finish, in which Arthur appeared in the middle?

RS No, it just happened. It did that of its own accord.


  1. John Withrington, "Interview with Rosemary Sutcliff." Quondam et Futurus, Vol. 1, No. 4 (winter 1991).