The Mark of the Horse Lord
First edition cover






Young adult

Historical era



Charles Keeping


The Best of Rosemary Sutcliff

The Mark of the Horse Lord is a 1965 young adult novel published by Oxford University Press, with illustrations by Charles Keeping. An ex-gladiator is recruited to impersonate the lost heir of the patriarchal Dalriadain in their war of succession against the matriarchal Caledones.

It was the inaugural 1985 winner of the Phoenix Award.


Phaedrus, the slave son of a Greek merchant and his British housekeeper, kills his only friend and wins his Wooden Foil as the last man standing in the games given by the new governor of Britain (1). A free man for the first time, he is released to wander the streets of Corstopitum, falls in with a party of young drinkers, and is arrested when they get in a fight with the Watch (2). Phaedrus is bailed out of jail by a merchant named Sinnoch. Sinnoch and his partner Gault the Strong, a northern tribesman, offer Phaedrus a new purpose in life: to pose as their lost king Midir of the Dalriadain, whom he strongly resembles, in their planned uprising against Liadhan, the queen who usurped him seven years ago. Phaedrus is inclined to refuse, until they call in Midir himself, now a blinded craftsman in a Roman city. Phaedrus agrees to take his vengeance for him (3).

Phaedrus is tattooed with the forehead mark of the Horse Lord, and Midir spends the next month teaching him everything about his life before the coup (4). Phaedrus crosses Valentia and the Northern Wall disguised as one of Sinnoch's horse-handlers, where he meets Titus Hilarion, a Roman captain who tempts him to join the Frontier Scouts, but Phaedrus has little liking for the Romans' depopulated no man's land (5). In the Cave of the Hunter in the north of Earra-Ghyl, Gault presents Phaedrus to his five fellow-conspirators, who agree to the plan. They present him to the assembled chiefs and captains of the Dalriadain, including Conory, Midir's cousin and best friend, and the reluctant heir apparent to Liadhan's consortship. Phaedrus guesses that Conory is not fooled (6).

Just before the Midwinter feast where Conory is to kill the Old King and take his place, Phaedrus travels to Dun Monaidh, the royal capitol of Earra-Ghyl, disguised as Gault's charioteer (7). The night of the King Slaying, Conory signals the beginning of the coup by attacking Liadhan, but she is protected by her daughter Murna and escapes while Phaedrus kills her consort Logiore. Phaedrus, Conory, and the others launch a four-day search for Liadhan, but she escapes to her kin in Caledonia. Conory confronts Phaedrus with his false identity, and Phaedrus confesses who he is and why he accepted Gault's proposal (8). Upon their return to Dun Monaidh, Phaedrus is crowned king of the Dalriadain (10). The next day he is married to the princess Murna, who tries to stab him (11).

A month after the King Making and the wedding, Phaedrus goes to find a chieftain of the Little Dark People, erstwhile supporters of Liadhan, to gauge the danger they present to the Dalriadain in their inevitable war with the Caledones. The chieftain will not meddle with the Celtic tribes, nor support Liadhan since she turned away from her Call. He is suspicious that Phaedrus does not understand what he means, and that his illusion of a plover's feather does not quite work on Phaedrus. He tells him to expect another encounter with the Little Dark People in three days,and that the next time he sees the plover's feather he will be the true Horse Lord. Three days later a man of the Dark People from Caledonia is killed in the Royal Dun. Phaedrus overrules Gault for the first time in refusing to desecrate the man's body, and Murna reveals to him that the man was a messenger carrying poison from Liadhan, but that she has chosen not to use it on him (12).

An envoy of the Caledones arrives to demand Liadhan's reinstallation as ruler of the Dalriadain and Midir's exile. Murna responds with a war dance, but Phaedrus tells her that he doesn't trust her to fight against her mother (13). The Dalriads fight their first pitched battle against the Caledones in the Gap of Loch Abha, where Phaedrus has the left side of his face laid open. The women have been called up from Dun Monaidh, and Murna takes him to nurse (14). She tells Phaedrus that he is not like the frightened, cruel boy she remembers; and that she has protected herself emotionally against her mother for so long that she has been afraid of ever lowering her defences. She fights alongside Phaedrus for the rest of the summer, but at the end of it she is carrying a child, and Phaedrus sends her back to Dun Monaidh. Phaedrus is deeply unhappy that she can never know that he is not Midir, but Conory wonders if she has not also guessed. He swears an oath to protect Murna and the child if Phaedrus is killed (15).

A few days later, the depleted Dalriad forces face the final confrontation with the Caledones on the Black Crag. Discovering that Liadhan is in the camp of the Caledones, who are still far too numerous to attack, Phaedrus fires the camp (16). The Caledone king is killed, but Liadhan escapes across the firth to the Caledone queen, then turns south to claim asylum at the Roman fort at Theodosia (17). Phaedrus takes a warband after her, but Titus Hilarion, who is now the fort commander, refuses to hand Liadhan over, and Phaedrus fears that she will be able to persuade the Romans to support her claim. Withdrawing to the woods, Phaedrus is signalled by Midir, who has come to live in the town and has a plan to assassinate Liadhan with Phaedrus's help (18). Midir was followed by a priest of Liadhan's, and as Phaedrus infiltrates the dockyards, he is apprehended by the Romans (19). Meanwhile Midir has broken out of his cell and made his way to warn Phaedrus, but arriving too late, he captures Liadhan and jumps off the wall with her. For the sake of peace on the frontier, Titus Hilarion refuses to release Phaedrus to the Dalriadain except in exchange for a draught of young men for the Auxiliaries (20). Phaedrus agrees, but knowing that it would leave the Dalriadain defenseless against the Caledones, he instead stabs himself with his brooch pin and falls from the fort walls. A golden plover's feather drifts down before him as he answers his Call (21).


The Mark of the Horse Lord is set in the 180s or 190s CE, something over forty years after the construction of the Antonine Wall by Lollius Urbicus beginning in 142 CE, and a century after Agricola's Scottish campaigns of the early 80s CE. The events of the novel take place over the course of about a year.

Continuity with The Eagle of the Ninth Edit

The Epidii tribe of western Scotland, conquered three generations before the events of The Mark of the Horse Lord by Midir's great-grandfather, also appears (as the "Epidaii") in The Eagle of the Ninth, in which the protagonists witness the Feast of the New Spears at the Place of Life in the autumn of 128 CE. As the Epidii are at that period in full enjoyment of their territory, it must be presumed that the Dalriad conquest occurred no earlier than 129 CE.

Timeline Edit


  • 100 years before (5): Roman forts along the Antonine line (Agricola's Caledonian campaigns)
  • In Gault's grandfather's time (3): the Dalriadain/Gael conquered Earra-Ghyl. Midir's great-grandfather (9) marries the Epidii queen.
  • 40+ years before (5): Lollius Urbicus built the Antonine Wall and devastated Valentia.
  • 21 years before (4, 6), summer: Midir and Conory born.
  • 19 years before (1): Phaedrus born.
  • 17 or 18 years before (11): Murna born.
  • 16 or 17 years before (11): Brys born.
  • 8 years before (5): "the last time that the Dalriadain and the Caledones had joined spears, the second time that the Wall of Lollius Urbicus had gone up in flames."
  • 7 years before (3), summer: Caledones and Southern Dalriad clans join forces to attack the Northern Wall. Heavy fighting; Romans burn their pasture.
  • 7 years before (4), autumn: wet season, cattle die.
  • 7 years before (3), winter: Levin dies; Liadhan seizes power "between a winter's dusk and a winter's dawning"; Midir disappears. Midir is 14. Murna's father lately dead. Murna is 10.
  • 6 years before (1), autumn: Ulixes and Essylt die. Phaedrus is 13.
  • 4 years before (1):  Phaedrus joins the Gladiator School at Corstopitum.
  • 3 years before (3): Midir found.

Present year

  • Beltane, (3): Liadhan selects Conory as her New King.
  • June, (1): Governor Sylvanus Varus newly arrived in Britain.
  • 2 weeks after (1): Phaedrus released. Wanders about Corstopitum all day; arrested at night.
  • 6 days after (2): Phaedrus rots in jail; released at evening to Sinnoch.
  • July (4): Midir trains Phaedrus for a month in Onnum. Phaedrus tattooed at the beginning of the month.
  • Late August, 16 days after leaving Onnum (5): Phaedrus and Sinnoch reach the Northern Wall.
  • 2 days out from the Wall (6): Phaedrus and Sinnoch join up with Gault. Days of travelling & meetings through Dalriad land.
  • Autumn (6): Phaedrus & Co. settle in west coast caves. Phaedrus presented to the conspirators.
  • A month and a half before Midwinter (7): The chiefs and captains disperse from the Cave of the Hunter. Gallgoid trains Phaedrus in the hills.
  • 4 days before Midwinter (7): They leave for the Royal Dun at evening, with a young moon.
  • Midwinter's eve (the day before the day of the fires) (8): The King Slaying. Midir's coup. Logiore dies.
  • 4 days after the coup (9): Search for Liadhan. Conory confronts Phaedrus on the fourth evening.
  • 4 days (10): Ritual 3-day retreat in the Place of Life. Journey to Dun Monaidh and King Making just before dawn.
  • 1 day after King Making: Wedding of Phaedrus to Murna. Ritual marriage hunt at evening.
  • 1 month after the wedding (12): Phaedrus meets the chieftain of the Dark People. Three days later, the messenger comes to Murna.
  • Spring (13): Caledonian Envoy
  • (14): 2 months since sending the Cran-tara; 1 month since the beginning of the fighting. Three days from the South to the Loch Abha Gap.
  • Summer (15): War.
  • 2 days after Murna leaves (16): Dalriadain have taken Dun Dara. Phaedrus fires the Caledone camp.
  • 3 days after the Black Crag (17): Phaedrus's party arrives at Theodosia. That night (18): Phaedrus meets Midir.
  • The next night (19): Galley arrives for Liadhan. Phaedrus taken. Midir kills Liadhan (20).
  • The next morning (21): Phaedrus kills himself.


"Gault and the rest of you rose against Liadhan, to bring back the ways of the Sun People, and you set me up to be Lord of the Dalriadain in her place. And what have I done? I killed the Old King and married the Royal Woman, and my son will draw his right to rule after me from his mother." – chapter 15

Midir, Murna, and Conory represent the fourth generation since the Dalriad conquest. The first Horse Lord in Earra-Ghyl was their great-grandfather, who married the Royal Woman of the Epidii (9). Their son the second Horse Lord evidently married twice, to a Caledone princess who was Liadhan's mother (3) (through whom she is related to Bruide, 9), and to a Dalriad woman who was the mother of Levin, the third Horse Lord and Midir's father, and his younger sister Lorwen, Conory's mother (4). There is no indication in the text as to which of these marriages came first or Liadhan's age relative to her half-siblings. Her daughter Murna is slightly younger (11) than her (half-)cousins Midir and Conory (4, 6), and she is the Royal Woman of the Dalriadain before her usurpation (3), but as Levin's queen and Lorwen are both absent and presumably dead, it's not clear that she would take precedence of them by age or any other condition.

  • Generation 1: 1st Horse Lord m. Epidii Royal Woman
  • Generation 2: 2nd Horse Lord m. Caledone princess, Dalriad
  • Generation 3: Levin m. Midir's mother; Lorwen m. Conory's father; Liadhan m. Murna's father, then Logiore; Caledone queen m. Bruide
  • Generation 4: Midir, Conory, Murna m. Phaedrus/Midir
  • Generation 5: Phaedrus and Murna's fetus


People of Roman Britain Edit

  • Red Phaedrus (1). Slave son of Essylt and Ulixes; former charioteer; now a gladiator. "a young man with hair the colour of hot copper, lithe and hollow-flanked as a young wolf, the tanned pallor of his face slashed across by red brows and a reckless, faintly smiling mouth." Has a trained flair. (1). "slate-grey" eyes (3). Has the Royal Flower tattooed on his head by Gault. "he tied his hair back out of the he had been used to to do before putting on his helmet." "tall... walked with the braced instep of a dancer or a swordsman." (4). "My fa–my first master had me taught to read and write, though I have lost the trick of it now." (5). "he was hamstrung in this battle of wills by the fact that he had been a slave too long, trained to obey as a thing that had no right to any will of its own, and the training had left scars and weak places in him like an old wound that lets you down when you least expect it." (9).
  • Essylt (1). Phaedrus's mother, Ulixes's slave housekeeper. Stabbed herself after his death to avoid being sold (1). "His mother had been part of the spoils of some far northern battle before ever she came to a Roman slave market" (3)
  • Ulixes the Arcadian (1). Phaedrus's owner and unacknowledged father. Londinium importer of Greek wines. Absently fond of Essylt and Phaedrus. Died suddenly when Phaedrus was 13.
  • Vortimax (1). Gladiator at Corstopitum, matched against Phaedrus in the fight to the death. Big-boned, fair-haired Gaul, "the only man whom Phaedrus had ever counted as a friend."
  • Automedon (1). Captain of Gladiators at Corstopitum. "the livid scar of his own gladiator days burned in a crimson brand across his cheek"
  • Lucius the Bull (1). Gladiator at Corstopitum.
  • Ulpius (1). Arena Master at Corstopitum.
  • Sylvanus Varus (1). New Governor of Britain. Gives the Corstopitum games, "big bull-necked man", "coarse, clever face", "big fleshy nose and small shrewd eyes".
  • Quintus Tetricus (2). "the Army Contractor's son". Fights the Watch and gets Phaedrus arrested while drinking with his young sprigs of fashion.
  • Marius (2). "He didn't see old one-armed Marius who commanded up at the depot taking on an ex-gladiator."
  • Gerontius (2). Legionary of the Corstopitum Watch stabbed by Quintus and Co.
  • Florianus (4). "the old Syrian archer", breeder of fighting cocks and Midir and Phaedrus's landlord in Onnum.
  • Lollius Urbicus (5). General who built the Northern (Antonine) Wall and "made a fine clean sweep of Valentia while he was about it."
  • The Frontier Scouts (5, 20).
  • Titus Hilarion (5). Captain of Frontier Scouts. "He was a thin, very dark man, maybe in his late twenties, with a hooked nose too big for his narrow face and a pleasant pair of eyes set deep and level on either side of it." "I have been in  these parts three years now" "unusually slow to take offense." "He is a bright enough lad, our Captain–good at his job. He'll be commanding one of the outpost forts in a year or two, if he isn't broken for going too much his own way...but like most of his kind, his mind works in straight lines." (5). Buys a red mare off Sinnoch (6). Commander of Theodosia (18). Ransoms Phaedrus to the Dalriadain for a draught of Auxiliaries, knowing it will break his career (20).

The Dalriad royal family Edit

  • Conory (3). New King selected by Liadhan; unwilling (3). ""my cousin, born in the same summer to Lorwen, my father's younger sister. I know him by his having one eye set higher than the other, and a brown fleck in the apple of one eye." There were other things he knew about Conory, a great many other things, including some Midir had never told him." (4). "He is more skilled with the sword than the ways of guile." "He's no fool." "He's as unpredictable as a woman" "in Conory we have our one sure test. They were closer to each other than most brothers, those two; if Conory does not know that this is not Midir, then unless he makes some very great mistake no one will ever know."  "Not this wasp-waisted creature with hair bleached to the silken paleness of ripe barley, who wore a wild cat for a collar, and went prinked out like a dancing girl with crystal drops in his ears and his slender wrists chimimg with bracelets of beads strung on gold wires!... on the bright hazel iris was a brown fleck in the shape of an arrowhead." "whether he and Conory were going to be heart-friends or the bitterest of enemies, but knew that it must be one or the other" (6). "He must have bleached his hair freshly for the occasion, because it shone almost silver against the brown of his skin; and his odd-set eyes were painted like a woman's." "he's worth looking at, and he knows it...Ever since he came to manhood he's been one that women watch–aye, and men too–and there's times I think he makes a sport of seeing just how far he can go. He only has to come out one day with his cloak caught in a particular fold or a woman's earring in one ear, and next day half the young braves of the Tribe are doing the same." (8). Recognises that Phaedrus is not Midir (9). Takes a spear to the hip at the Black Crag. "Conory was extraordinarily light to carry, even unconscious." "He'll go lame on that leg to the end of his days." (17.)
    • Shan (6). Conory's tame wild cat. "I found Shan as a kit, before her eyes were well open. Her mother had been killed by an eagle... She bit my thumb to the bone in the hour that she first had teeth enough to bite with, but now..." (8).
    • Whitefoot (14). Conory's chariot horse. A stallion.
    • Wildfire (14). Conory's chariot horse. A stallion.
  • Levin of the Long Sword (3). King of the Dalriadain, killed at boar-hunting. Father of Midir; half-brother of Liadhan. (3). "My father went out to meet his boar... It was famine time, you see." (4).
  • Liadhan (3). "Liadhan the King's half-sister was Royal Woman of the Tribe–a woman like a she-wolf in a famine winter. The Earthling blood was in her, and the Old Ways, for her mother was a princess among the Caledones. She chose out one of the Royal Bodyguard to be her mate–for her first marriage-lord was lately dead–and seized the rule. So for seven years we have followed the Old Ways again." "She had the northern clans, where the Old Blood runs strong, behind her; she had the power of the priest-kind" (3). "She has long fair hair and a long fair face, and all her movements are slow and strong and rich... I saw her in the Royal Woman's place... but her life never touched against mine, until... The boy Midir hated and feared her always" (4). "she who was Goddess-On-Earth, the beginning of all things, without whom there could be neither sons to the Tribe nor foals to the horse herd nor barley to the fields." "Her pride, like a cat's, was huge, too complete in itself to need any outward showing. She must have been beautiful when she was young. The broad heavy bones of her face were beautiful now, framed in the braids of still-fair hair that were thick as a warrior's wrist, and her forehead was broad and serene under the tall silver headdress" (8). Kinswoman to the Caledone king (9). Present in the camp of the Black Crag (16), but escapes to the Caledone queen (17.) Claims Roman protection (18). Killed by Midir (20.)
  • Logiore (3). Liadhan's consort of 7 years, set to fight the Death Fight at Midwinter. Once of the Royal Bodyguard. "The Old King has the Old Blood in him." (3). "The dark man beside her sat very upright, his stillness tense as hers was relaxed, his brooding gaze fixed on the torches as though he would drink the light of them into his soul." "It was he who must make the next move in the ritual pattern, and Phaedrus saw that he knew it, and perhaps had a last moment of dark laughter in making them all wait. Even Liadhan for this one time. But he would make the move, all the same." Killed by Phaedrus (9).
  • Lorwen (4). Levin's younger sister; Conory's mother.
  • Midir (3). Son of Levin, rightful patrilineal heir of the Dalriadain, thought dead. Blinded and disfigured by Liadhan. Works for a leather merchant in Eburacum. "The voice was different, at all events, lighter and harder, glinting with a bright febrile fierceness" "there were only scarred hollows under the straightened brows where his eyes should have been. Saw also the great puckered scar on his forehead where something, some pattern that had been tattooed there, had been dagger-gashed across and across in a sickening savagery of destruction, a long time ago."  "had never come to any kind of terms with his fate, never for an instant accepted, never for an instant ceased to rage against the darkness, unbroken, unsubmitting, unreconciled. Knew also that he was without pity either for himself or for anything under the sky." (3). "At the next Feast it would have been my turn to go into the darkness of the Place of Life, and come out from it a man, to take my place among the Men's Side, with the warrior patterns princely thick upon me." "Midir had never been sold as a slave... He had simply been turned adrift... among the beggars of Eburacum, and his one piece of good fortune had been when the harness maker who was now his master had seen him... and noticed the skill in his hands." Irreligious. (4) "There was never a shred of respect he had for his elders!" (6). "He was always thorough." "He was alays one to take a devil's delight in seeing how far he could go in outraging the grey-muzzles and the customs of the Tribe." (9). Moves north to Theodosia after his master's death. "Long ago I ceased to feel that I belonged to them. But I still do not want to see the Dalriadain trampled into the mud." (18). Kills Liadhan (20.)
  • Murna (8). Daughter of Liadhan and her first husband. "A tall girl...her face...was like a ritual mask. There was a look of Liadhan in that mask, but it was lighter boned than Liadhan could ever have been, and the thick braids of hair...were of a very different colour, almost as fair, but warmer, with the gold softened and somehow greyed–dove-gold, he thought suddenly; dove-gold, and soft and unmanageable so that it was springing free of its that was almost living a life of its own in flat contradiction to the face that was only a mask." (8). "She was only ten–eleven summers old when it happened. A babe who will have scarcely begun her weapon training." "the Princess Murna could not be more than a year older than Brys" (11). Fights alongside Phaedrus over the summer. Becomes pregnant. Conory suspects she may guess Phaedrus is not Midir (15).

People of Earra-Ghyl Edit

  • Aluin Bear's Paw (17). Hairy survivor of the battle of the Black Crag. One of Phaedrus's party to Theodosia.
  • Andragius the Chieftain (6). One of the five conspirators at the cave of the hunter. "an oldish man with hot, clever eyes and a sour mouth with no teeth in it" "they only brought you to the Council because you were too great a Chieftain to be left outside" Midir tripped his grandson in the Spear Dance. (6).
  • Baruch the Grass Snake (11). Companion of the King, "the little dark one, probably with Earthling blood in him" (11). One of the scouting party to the Black Crag. "Have you ever known Baruch to mistake the wind?" "could be a fiend incarnate in time of fighting, but was oddly gentle before and after" "the swiftest runner of us all" (16).
  • Brys (8). Gallgoid's armour-bearer and charioteer. "A youngster with a mouth like a frog and a thatch of broom-yellow hair" "only Took Valor at the last Feast of New Spears and scarcely counts as a man yet" (8). In his first year in the Boys' House when Midir disappeared. "the good straight look of him, and the stubborn mouth." Becomes Phaedrus's armour-bearer. (11). Takes a spear to the leg in the battle of the Loch Abha Gap (14).
  • Cathal (16). King's Companion. "Nor you, Cathal, with that wound only half healed."
  • Comgal (11). Companion of the King; Domingart's brother "and seldom apart"
  • Conall (17). King's Companion. Killed with his fighting companion Diamid at the Black Crag.
  • Cuirithir (6) One of the five conspirators in the cave. "little, bright, lively eyes like a grass snake's, in a big boned, ruddy face." Deputy of his father the long-ill Chief.
  • The Dark People (7). "well clear of the trails–little bands of the Dark People loping along, with paint on their arms and faces, and their full ritual finery of dyed wild-cat skins and necklaces of animals' teeth, and here and there a girl with green woodpecker feathers in her hair."
  • Dergdian (4). "a man with a small sickle-shaped scar slicing through one eyebrow." "Son of Curoi, one of the Guard in my Grandsire's day." Midir gave him the scar (4). "An oldish man, whose hair showed brindled as a badger's pelt". Accepts Phaedrus immediately. "I am still your hound a I was your father's." (6). Commander at the Gap of Loch Abha (14). Deputy of Phaedrus's party at Theodosia (20).
  • Diamid (11). King's Companion. "Diamid of the somber eyes and devil's-quirk eyebrows" (11). Killed with his fighting partner Conall at the Black Crag (17).
  • Domingart (11) King's Companion; Comgal's brother "and seldom apart" (11). Killed in the battle of the Loch Abha Gap (15).
  • Ferdia (14). King's Companion killed in the battle of the Loch Abha Gap.
  • Finn (11). King's Companion present on the marriage-chase (11). "not you, Finn; you're as brave as a boar, and when you move you make as much noise as one." (16). One of Phaedrus's party at Theodosia. (18).
  • Gallgoid (6). One of the five conspirators at the cave. "a thickset, dark man, younger than the rest, with a gay and ugly face...crooked white teeth." The best charioteer of the Dalriadain (6). Trains Phaedrus in the skills of a Dalriad warrior (7). Killed in the coup (8).
    • Skolawn (6). A dog of Gallgoid's in Midir's boyhood.
  • Gault the Strong (3). "A man in his full prime, certainly well under forty, and of giant strength, to judge by the almost grotesque thickness of neck and shoulder and the hand clenched, as though he did not know how to hold anything lightly...His mouth was dry and ragged at the edge, as though he had a habit of chewing his lower lip; black brows almost met across the bridge of his nose, and on cheek and forehead showed the fine blue spiral lines of tattooing that had earned the far Northerners the name of the Painted People." "eyes that were tawny as a wolf's." "his body was set on strong bowlegs so short that he was almost a dwarf." "the tongue he spoke was full of odd inflections" Of a Southern clan. (3). Leader of the five conspirators in the Cave of the Hunter (6).
  • Grania (4). Dalriad woman in Midir's childhood. "begged some wound-salve from old Grania" (4). Possibly same woman is piper for the Wild Cats (13).
  • Loarne (11). Companion of the King. "Lean freckled Loarne" (11). Killed in the battle of the Loch Abha Gap (15).
  • Nial Mac Cairbre (17). One of Phaedrus's party at Theodosia. A good knife-thrower (18).
  • Old Man of the Green Hillocks (12). Chieftain and magician of the Dark People above Sinnoch's steading.
  • Oscair Mac Maelchwn (6). One of the five conspirators at the cave. "A big, freckled man with the blurred outlines of an athlete run to flesh" (6).
  • Sinnoch the Merchant (1-3). "sandy, withered-looking man with silver and coral drops in his ears" (1). "A tall man, dried and withered and toughened like a bit of old weather-worn horsehide, but with heavy drops of silver and coral swinging from his ears." "fine-wrinkled lids" (2). "there are places where the word of Sinnoch the Merchant is considered binding." (3). Son of a wandering Roman merchant and a Dalriad woman chosen to ritually sleep with a stranger for the Goddess, who died in childbirth. Not a tattooed or a warrior, but wealthy. (4). "Sinnoch was a horse trader before all else. Once a year he made the trip South with a score or more rough-broken three-year-olds" (5). Killed by stampeding cattle at the Black Crag (17).
  • Struan (7). Phaedrus's boatman across the sea loch to Dun Monaidh, singing the king's rowing song.
  • Tuathal the Wise (6). One of the five conspirators at the cave of the hunter. "slowly uncoiling his full magnificent height...He was maybe not much younger than Andragius, but of a very different kind. A man with a great curved nose...his head was shaved save for a single broad strip from forehead to nape...dark full glowing eyes", "proud arched lids"; "High Priest of the Burning One, Mouthpiece of Lugh Shining-Spear, Cupbearer, Foal of the Sun... the fifth name, the taboo name that could only be spoken between the Horse Lord and the Priests of the Sun" (6).
  • Tyrnon (17). One of Phaedrus's hunting party.
  • Vron (5). "Sinnoch's fore-rider for a score of years... his old sheepskin hat loose and easy on the back of his head." "became instantly and peacfully one with the landscape." "Grandfather" "Vron always sleeps like a hound–one ear cocked and one eye open." "Vron has only three words of Latin, and one of them is 'drink'." (5). Fore-rider of Phaedrus's hunting party (17).

Caledones Edit

  • Bruide (12). King of the Caledones by marriage to the Royal Woman. Kinsman of Liadhan. (12). Killed by the river ford at the Black Crag (17).
  • Conal Caenneth (13). Son of the previous Caledone king; presumably brother to the present queen.
  • Forgall (13). The Caledonian envoy. "Caledonian noble with the full mouth and the insolent dark eyes"
  • Queen of the Caledones (17).

Elsewhere Edit

  • Cailleach, the Great Mother (3). Goddess of the Epidii, Caledones, and Dark People. Embodied by Liadhan. "The Lady of the Forests" (9).
  • Lugh the Sun Lord (3). God of the Dalriadain. Lugh of the Shining Spear.
  • Maeve of Connacht (4). Irish queen, legendary enemy of the Gaels, compared to Liadhan.
  • The Horned God (6). Lord of Herds and the Hunting Trail. The horned figure of the cave painting. "something strange about his dying for the People whenever the Sacrifice was needed."
  • The Blue Riders of the West Wind (11).
  • Typhon. Greek monster invoked by Phaedrus.
  • Tyr (11). Thunder god invoked by Conory.
  • Cuchulain (11, 21). Legendary Irish hero.
  • Cartimandua (17). British queen, ally of the Romans.


Earra-Ghyl Edit

Argyll, the west coast of Scotland. "all that land became Earra-Ghyl, the Coast of the Gael." (3)

  • The Cave of the Hunter (6). Sea-cave well north of Dun Monaidh, with a cave painting of the Horned God, where Phaedrus is presented to the Chiefs and Captains.
  • Crinan ford (4). "the run of the river took me and carried me away, and washed me up at last, away down at the Crinan ford, where the chariot road runs South." (=Glen of the Chariot-Crossing, Eot9, The Changeling?)
  • Cruachan (3). "the Dalriadain...conquered the land and the people of the hills and the sea lochs below Cruachan" (3). "the huge mountain mass that Sinnoch said was Cruachan, the Shield-boss of the World, towering higher and higher into the northern sky." (6). Cruach Mor (16).
  • The Dun of the Red Bull (6). Gault's fort.
  • Dun Monaidh (6). The Royal Dun of the Dariadain. "the five courts" (6). "fortress hill that rose abrupt and isolated out of the waste wet mosses" "the narrow infields between fortress hill and the marsh." "The track turned sharply back on itself where a small rocky stream came leaping down to join its lowest stretch...Not a good place to attack, Phaedrus thought; no reasonable way up, seemingly, save for this one steep hillside gully that looked as though it would be as much torrent as track, after heavy rain, and which, moreover, was angled so that in the last stretch the unguarded right side of any man making for the gate must be open to the spears of the defenders." "The huge timber-framed gateway...the broad lintel-stones...the broad outer court...the tall grey pillar-stone of the Horse Lord." (7). "the outer court was cleared, then the Horse Court, and they were falling back on the gate gap of the King's Court, the Citadel itself. There were men on the crest of the rocly outcrop that formed part of the King's Court wall" "in the outer court again, over in the far angle away from the gate, ...the place wher te overflow from the spring that formed the Dun's water supply disappeared into a narrow gully and dived under a rough-cut lintel stone through the rampart wall." (8) A causeway and a paved ford. "the court next below the Citadel, where the Rock of the Footprint jutted up from the natural outcrop; the Crowning Stone of the Dalriadain." (10).
    • Mhoin Mhor (7). The Great Moss, sodden river flatlands surrounding Dun Monaidh.
  • Druim Alban (13). Divides Earra-Ghyl from Caledonia.
  • Gap of Loch Abha (8). Route to Caledonia, searched by Cuirithir and Dergdian. Site of the first pitched battle (14).
    • The Glen of the Alder Woods (8). Route to Caledonia from the Gap of Loch Abha.
    • The Glen of the Black Goddess (8). Route to Caledonia from the Gap of Loch Abha, running two days through the heart of Earra-Ghyl. Site of the first pitched battle (14).
  • Glen Croe (15). North of the Firth of the War Boats.
    • Beinn Na Locharn (15). Mountain on Glen Croe.
    • Dun Dara (15). "the old forsaken strong point...on the high shoulder of Beinn Na Locharn that commanded the pass through the mountains to Royal Water."
    • Ben Cornish (16). On Glen Croe between Dun Dara and the Black Crag.
    • Ben Dornich (16). Up-valley from Ben Cornish, where the Dalriads mass to fire the Black Crag.
    • The Black Crag (16). Craeg Dhu. On Glen Croe, the camp of the Caledones.
    • Green Head (15). Northward of Dun Dara, where the Dalriadain camp before taking Dun Dara.
  • Inshore Island (6). Off the Cave of the Hunter.
  • Loch Fhiona (8). The Royal Water.
    • Rudha-Nan-Coorach (8). Route to Caledonia via Loch Fhiona searched by Gault.
    • The Glen of Baal's Beacon (8). Across the mountains up the track from the Royal Water. Route to Caledonia, searched by Conory. Conory learns Phaedrus's true identity here. (8). Above the Firth of the War Boats (15).
    • The Glen of the Horns (8). Route to Caledonia via Loch Fhiona and the Firth of the War Boats, searched by Gault.
  • The Loch of Swans (7). Near the Cave of the Hunter.
    • Serpent's Mound (7). At the foot of the Loch of Swans.
  • The Old Woman Who Eats Ships (7). A whirlpool between two of the Western Islands.
  • The Place of Life (10). Stone burial mound where Phaedrus undergoes ritual death before his King Making. Standing stones in the forecourt. North of Dun Monaidh.

Roman Britain Edit

  • Londinium (1). Phaedrus lived in Ulixes's house there until his parents' deaths.
  • The Southern Wall (1), Hadrian's Wall.
    • Corstopitum (1). "a depot town on the frontier [Hadrian's Wall]". School of Gladiators, above the baths and lower town and below the transit camp. On a river. Amphitheatre beyond the South Gate. The Rose of Paestum (2). Street of the Trumpeter (3).
    • Onnum (4). Wall town where Phaedrus and Midir stay in the upper room of the House of the Fighting Cocks, close to the fort gate. Nearby, the Bacchus's Head. The Golden Fleece, where Sinnoch stays.
  • Valentia (5). Territory between the Northern Wall and the southern Wall, devastated over forty years earlier by Lollius Urbicus and still depopulated.
    • Caledonian Forest (5). "the great dusk-dark Caledonian Forest that lay like a thunder cloud on all the inland country." (5). Coit Caledon, the Wood of the Caledones, above the Cluta (17).
    • The Cluta (5) the Clyde. River in Valentia Sinnoch follows to the Northern Wall. Marshy. Drains in the Firth of Cluta.
  • The Northern Wall. "The Wall of Lollius Urbicus" (5), the Antonine Wall. Line first fortified by Agricola 80-83 CE: "There were forts along that line a hundred years ago, so I've heard, and there are still outpost forts... And as for keeping anything in or out. . . It serves as a check-line, by which the Red Crests can keep track–after a fashion–of who comes and who goes, and how many, and how often."
    • Credigone (5). HQ of the Commandant of Frontier Scouts.
    • Theodosia (17). Liadhan retreats to Roman protection here. Commanded by Titus Hilarion (17). "Theodosia had been a great Naval Station once, in the time of Agricola when the patrol galleys had come and gone as regularly as shuttles in a loom, up and down the Firth of Cluta; and the size of the old fort crouched on its crag above the empty docks and weed-grown slipways told its own tale of power. Now, clearly, it was no more than an outpost for the Northern Wall, but strong still." (18).
      • Are-Cluta (5). Old warship base a day beyond the Northern Wall. Theodosia.
      • Baal's Ruin (18). River running past Theodosia to the Firth of Cluta.

Europe Edit

  • Corinth (1). Greek city; Ulixes had an agent there.
  • Erin (3). Ireland, original home of the Dalriads.


References to classical literature Edit

Phaedrus quotes a famous phrase from chapter 30 of Tacitus's Agricola to Titus Hilarion while travelling through devastated Valentia. Sutcliff would repeat the point about Tacitus's authorship of Calgacus's speech in her short account of Agricola's Scottish campaign, Eagle's Egg (1981).

“The Pax Romana,” Phaedrus said. “My fa—my first master had me taught to read and write, though I have lost the trick of it now. He let me read his books. There was one, a history that a man called Tacitus wrote of the general Agricola’s campaigns, a hundred years ago. He fought a great battle, this Agricola, with a war leader called Calgacus, far to the north somewhere; and there was a fine fiery speech that Calgacus was supposed to have made to his warriors before the battle joined—no Roman could have heard a word of it and so it must have been Tacitus’ s speech really—you see that? He made Calgacus say of the Romans, ‘They make a desolation, and call it peace.’ So even Roman Tacitus could have his doubts.” (5)
The supposed maxim "two inches in the right place" Phaedrus mentions in chapter 21 probably derives from Vegetius's military handbook De Re Militari (also known as Epitoma Rei Militaris), book I, section XII, "puncta duas uncias adacta mortalis est." Sutcliff would also use the phrase in Frontier Wolf.
They had taken his dirk, of course—odd that no one ever thought of a brooch with a pin as thick as a corn stalk and longer than a man’s forefinger as a weapon, even in a camp of the eagles where they learned, just as one did in the Gladiators’ School, that two inches in the right place were enough. (21)

References to modern literature Edit

Rudyard Kipling's Kim (1901) was a favourite novel upon which Sutcliff wrote a 1982 article[1] and selected on Desert Island Discs[2]. It contains a scene in which Kim, whose education has been shared between the streets of India and a European-style school, resists an attempt to make him see an illusion:

'Look! It is coming into shape,' whispered Lurgan Sahib.
The jar had been smashed—yess, smashed—not the native word, he would not think of that—but smashed—into fifty pieces, and twice three was six, and thrice three was nine, and four times three was twelve. He clung desperately to the repetition. The shadow-outline of the jar cleared like a mist after rubbing eyes. There were the broken shards; there was, the spilt water drying in the sun, and through the cracks of the veranda showed, all ribbed, the white house-wall below—and thrice twelve was thirty-six!
'Look! Is it coming into shape?' asked Lurgan Sahib.
'But it is smashed—smashed,' he gasped—Lurgan Sahib had been muttering softly for the last half-minute. Kim wrenched his head aside. 'Look! Dekho! It is there as it was there.'
'It is there as it was there,' said Lurgan, watching Kim closely while the boy rubbed his neck. 'But you are the first of a many who have ever seen it so.' (Kim, ch. IX)
The scene in chapter 12 of The Mark of the Horse Lord, "The Golden Plover's Feather," in which the Old Man of the Green Hills tries to make Phaedrus see an illusion, appears to be modelled on Kipling's.

James Frazer's The Golden Bough (1915) is a controversial work of comparative ethnography that influenced Western popular ideas of "primitive" religion. Sutcliff is known to have read it:

I read Frazer's The Golden Bough in all its – is it eight volumes? I couldn't afford it, so I read it in a bookshop, where the keeper was a great friend of mine; I used to go back every week and sort of hurriedly skim through a little bit more. I treated myself eventually to the abridged edition, and then of course went much deeper into it. The Golden Bough is I suppose a bit dated now, but it's still the basic book on the primitive faiths.[3]
Chapter 24, "The Killing of the Divine King," may have influenced the Dalriad and Caledone rituals of the king's self-sacrifice in times of misfortune, or the replacement of the king every seven years.

References to The Mark of the Horse Lord Edit

Megan Whalen Turner's The King of Attolia (2006) opens on its protagonist considering the possibility of committing suicide using his cloak pin:

His good pin was fibula-shaped with a shaft four inches long and as thick as a cornstalk. It would be as effective as a sword, if Costis chose to use it. Even the smaller pin would do; two inches in the right place was all it took. (KOA ch. 1)[4]
Turner pointed out the borrowing in a 2017 interview with Dear Author:
In most of my books there are, I don’t know what to call them, shout-outs? Easter Eggs? Intertextual allusions? I lifted an entire sentence from a Diana Wynne Jones book and slipped it into The Thief. I stuck in a ring and a cloak pin from Sutcliff’s Roman Britain. I don’t know if anyone ever gets those references, but I put them in as a link to some of the writing that influenced mine.[5]

Adaptations Edit

"The Mark of the Horse Lord", ad. Ian Wishart, Story Time, BBC Home Service, 1966

  • Part 1: The Threshold (BBC Home Service Basic, 27 October 1966)[6]
  • Part 2: Midir of the Dalriads (BBC Home Service Basic, 3 November 1966)[7]
  • Part 3: The King Slaying (BBC Home Service Basic, 10 November 1966)[8]
  • Part 4: The King Making (BBC Home Service Basic, 17 November 1966)[9]
  • Part 5: The Last Weapon (BBC Home Service Basic, 24 November 1966)[10]
  • Part 6: The Hostage (BBC Home Service Basic, 1 December 1966)

Publication history Edit

In English:

  1. London : Oxford University Press, 1965. Illus. Charles Keeping.[11]
    • London : Oxford University Press, 1967. Illus. Charles Keeping.[12]
    • London : Oxford University Press, 1975. Illus. Charles Keeping.[13]
  2. Harmondsworth : Puffin in association with Oxford University Press, 1983.[14]
  3. New York : Puffin books, 1983.[15]
  4. New York : Dell, 1989. Afterword by Scott O'Dell.[16]
  5. Asheville, N.C. : Front Street, 2005.[17]
    • Asheville, N.C. : Front Street, 2006.[18]
  6. Random House Children's Publishers, 2014.[19]
  7. Chicago : Chicago Review Press, 2015.[20]
  8. London : The Folio Society, 2017. Illus. Felix Miall, intro. Philip Reeve.[21]

Omnibus edition:

  1. The Best of Rosemary Sutcliff. Contains Warrior Scarlet, The Mark of the Horse Lord, and Knight's Fee. London : Chancellor, 1987.[22]

In translation:

  1. Das Stirnmal des Königs: Eine Erzählung aus der Zeit der römischen Bezetsung Britanniens. German by Grit Körner. Stuttgart : Union-Verl., 1969.[23][24]
    • Stuttgart : Urachhaus, 1981.[25]
    • Stuttgart : Freies Geistesleben, 2009.[26]
  2. O no shirushi. Japanese by Yoko Inokuma. Tōkyō : Iwanamishoten, 2010.[27][28]

References Edit

  1. R. Sutcliff, "Kim." Children's Literature in Education. <time>December 1982</time>, Volume 13, Issue 4, pp 164–170.
  3. Interview with Emma Fisher in The Pied Pipers. Ed. Justin Wintle and Emma Fisher. London : Paddington Press, 1974.
  4. Megan Whalen Turner, The King of Attolia. Greenwillow Books, 2006.