The streltsi were Muscovy’s first standing army. Formed in 1550, they were initially only 3,000 strong but grew in numbers and proved themselves formidable on the field of battle. They quickly became an elite, but as time went on they became more concerned with their prestige and influence than military effectiveness, and by the late 17th century they did not perform well in combat. They were also a very conservative body, and both these factors provoked the animosity of Tsar Peter I (‘the Great’), who used their attempted revolt in 1698 to massively reduce their numbers and power. Nonetheless until that time they could be considered the backbone of the Muscovite Russian armies during their many wars with Poland, Sweden and the Turks amongst others.
Although they existed for over 150 years their appearance did not change greatly for most of that time. The figures in this set wear the traditional costume of a heavy kaftan-coat with lacing on the chest, plus a fur-trimmed cap and long boots. Over the left shoulder they have a leather belt (‘berendeyka’) which supports the small wooden containers full of powder, plus another powder flask on the right hip. Finally they also have a bullet bag and spare match cord. The officers are more finely attired, as you might expect, with gloves and in the case of the senior commander the coat with long false sleeves. In all respects these figures are accurately done.
Despite their name meaning ‘musketeers’, only two are so armed. They have matchlocks (‘pishal’), which were used for most of the period until phased out around the end of the 17th century. These are nicely done, including the match wound round the support. The men carry a sabre of traditional style, but their most obvious weapon is the bardiche, the long-hafted axe with the crescent-shaped blade which also served as a rest for the musket. The more junior officer has a partisan, which could be used in anger but was primarily a mark of his rank.
11 poses is not a great deal these days, and of these only six are of ordinary troops, which we felt was disappointing. The poses are perfectly good (some being achieved with separate arms, as for example the marching man), but we would have liked to have seen a few more of the ordinary men. The officers, musicians and flag-bearer are all very good however, and certainly add to the appeal of the set. The flag is engraved with a simple cross design, which is appropriate for these troops, and even has the ‘lump’ on the flagstaff which was unique to the streltsi.
The sculpting and production values of this set are of the usual excellent Zvezda standard. Detail is crisp and clear, although the flag bearer has lost some detail on his front as he is moulded from the side. Where parts have to be put together, as in some of the arms, the join is perfect, requiring no glue for a solid connection. Proportions etc are all first rate, the faces are nice and expressive and there is no flash or excess plastic to trim away.
The company Strelets have been producing bonus figures in many of their sets which portray these troops, so that certainly adds a lot of variety, although Zvezda clearly have a different style and quality (see comparison below). This set is very nicely done and maintains the high standards Zvezda have set for themselves.