The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana

by Jess Nevins

The Lion's Brood (1901)

copyright © Jess Nevins 2022

The Lion’s Brood was written by Duffield Osborne. Samuel Duffield Osborne (1858-1917) wrote widely on subjects from precious stones to Roman history. He was best-known in his lifetime for his historical romances and was compared to H. Rider Haggard and Jules Verne. The Lion’s Brood is a colorful and enjoyable historical romance.

The setting of The Lion’s Brood is Rome at the time of Hannibal’s war. The city is reeling from the defeats which the Carthaginian has inflicted on the Roman armies. Spirits are low. The patrician Lucius Sergius Fidenas and his friend Caius Manlius Torquatus watch as the people of the city grow angry with the patricians who they feel have led the city and its armies into disasters. The spirit of riot is close. For Lucius, the situation is particularly distressing. He is in love with Marcia Torquatus, the sister of Caius, but she does not return his love. She teases and taunts him, mocking him for having previously been carried wounded off the field of battle and in so doing dishonoring himself. Marcia knows that Lucius cares for her, and she toys with his emotions, not allowing her father to give her in marriage to Lucius. When she is alone she acts honestly and admits to herself that she does care about Lucius, but to him she is only cruel and scornful. When a new co-dictator is elected, and new legions are formed, Lucius enlists, keeping himself away from the malicious Marcia. Before he marches off, however, she sends for him, and tells him, in a taunting way, that she dreamt of him the night before, lying in a field of battle with a javelin through him. She tells him this to warn him of the omen, and he is overjoyed that she cared enough about him to warn him. He presses her for some sign that she cares about him and she tells him that she will marry him “when Orcus sends back the dead from Acheron.”1 (She is, indeed, that cruel).

Lucius marches with the legions, and eventually they come within striking range of Hannibal, but difficulties develop. One of the co-dictators, Quintus Fabius Maximus, wants to fight a war of attrition against the Carthaginians and their allies, to wear them out in skirmishes and cut off their foragers and reduce their supplies. The other co-dictator, Marcus Minutius Rufus, feels this is cowardly and wants to engage the Carthaginians as soon as possible. The men support Marcus’ position, but Fabius is the general–Marcus is only the master of horse–and his orders are obeyed. Lucius is unhappy with Fabius’ tactics but trusts his general, and Fabius rewards his faithfulness with an assignment to take a group of men and follow Hannibal’s men and cut off his stragglers, but not to engage any large group of the enemy. This proves to be difficult, since the Carthaginians despoil the land and slaughter the innocent natives. Lucius follows the Carthaginians for a long time, until he comes across a band of Numidians, the allies of the Carthaginians, burning a farm. This is too much for Lucius, and he sends his men after the enemy. They cut up the Numidians, but Lucius, goaded by another Roman officer, launches another attack on a group of Numidians, who trap the Romans and massacre them. Only Lucius and his friend Marcus Decius, who served with him, escape, though both are wounded, and they return to the Roman camp. Lucius is sent back to Rome in shame for having disobeyed orders.

Time passes, and Lucius heals, but Varro, the evil praetor and the son of a butcher–his ignoble birth means much to the patrician Lucius–is elected consul, which overjoys the mob and depresses the patricians. Lucius sees Marcia again, but their meeting goes poorly. Varro levies more new legions, and Lucius accompanies them, but Varro’s foolishness and bad military decisions leads the legions into the massacre of Cannæ, and Lucius is struck down in the battle, although he fights valiantly to the end. Some time later Marcia goes to the Carthaginian camp in Capua. Her heart is broken from the deaths of Caius and Lucius, and with the defeat of the legions there is no hope for Rome unless the Carthaginian armies delay until the onset of winter, when they will make camp and not set out until spring. By spring the city will have raised and trained new legions, but there is no way Hannibal will wait that long. Marcia, however, sees a way to make him wait. She goes to Capua to make Hannibal fall in love with her, for she is beautiful and knows that she can make herself alluring to even such a devoted general as Hannibal. Once she has him entranced with her, she reasons, she can make him delay until the winter. To do this she will have to marry him, but she is willing to suffer the shame of this if it will save Rome.

Hannibal does not notice Marcia, but Iddilcar, the priest of Baal Melkarth, does and falls in love with her. Iddilcar discovers her plot, but he is so smitten with her that he agrees to do it, if only she will be his. She loathes the distasteful priest, but agrees to be his if the Carthaginian armies are delayed. Iddilcar dutifully alters the omens of the Baal-Melkarth so that the Carthaginians are forced to stay in Capua, lest the gods curse them. Just before winter arrives, however, Hannibal and the other generals have become sufficiently suspicious of Iddilcar that he is forced to flee the city. Marcia, who is honorable, agrees to go with him, since he did live up to his end of the bargain. But just before they are to leave, Iddilcar’s newest slave attacks and kills him. The slave is Lucius, who was wounded at Cannæ but recovered and was taken as a slave. Lucius and Marcia express their love for each other, and Marcia agrees to be Lucius’ wife, for Orcus has, after all, sent back the dead, in a manner of speaking. Lucius and Marcia escape from Capua and elude their pursuers for long enough to reach Rome. As they do the first flakes of snow begin to drop, and they know that winter has arrived, and Hannibal will be forced to set up winter quarters.

The Lion’s Brood is closer to the style of Robert E. Howard, the author of the Conan pulp fantasy stories, than that of Stanley J. Weyman (see: A Gentleman of France, From the Memoirs of a Minister of France). This is not a negative, however. Osborne is a good writer, and if he does not have the economy, subtlety, or wit of Weyman, his work has several other virtues. Osborne is a good stylist, apt if not epigrammatical, and his descriptions are vivid. The recreation of Rome and the Romans and the Carthaginians is colorful and accurate. Everything from culture to society to the details of day-to-day life is presented accurately but not in such a way as to flaunt Osborne’s learning. The pace of The Lion’s Brood is neither too leisurely nor too rapid, and there is a good balance between action scenes and characterization. The battle scenes are well done, especially Cannæ, and Osborne deliberately shows the blood and pain of violence. Osborne has some manly dialogue in the Howard way–Osborne does not have Weyman’s faculty for wit, but still gets off some good lines–and honor is a central concern for his characters, but no reader of The Lion’s Brood would get the idea that war was a lark. The novel is prejudiced against the Carthaginians and the lower classes of Romans, and the idea that the patricians are innately superior may jar the modern reader’s sensibilities, and some knowledge of Roman culture, if not history, will help the reader better enjoy the novel, but that shouldn’t take away from the great enjoyment to be had in The Lion’s Brood.

Recommended Edition

Print: Duffield Osborne, The Lion’s Brood. London: Forgotten Books, 2015.



1 Duffield Osborne, The Lion’s Brood (New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1901), 40.