The kingdom of Mitanni gradually rose to power during the 17th and 16th centuries BCE, and by the first decades of the 15th century was a major power, an achievement often attributed in part to their innovative use of the chariot. However their location (roughly northern Syria today) meant they were on the edges of the spheres of influence of the Hittites, Egyptians and Assyrians, which inevitably meant they were either allied to or fought against all these powers at different times. Mitannian glory was brief. By around 1360 BCE it was a vassal kingdom of the Hittite Empire, contributing warriors to their fight against Egypt, and it eventually disappeared between the Hittites and Assyria.
The Mitannians are often credited with perfecting the chariot as a weapon of war. They took the heavy, slow chariot of the Sumerians and created a lighter, two-wheeled design pulled by two horses to give it great mobility. The typical chariot had a driver and at least one other warrior, usually an archer. It was used both as a mobile firing platform for the archer and as an impact weapon to charge and disorder an enemy before the crew engaged in hand-to-hand combat. Precious little evidence exists concerning these vehicles, but the model in this set seems a very plausible design. It has two wheels, with the axle towards the rear to allow good maneuverability, and cases on either side for bows and arrows. Although as usual no one can say for sure, this model seems perfectly reasonable.
As can be seen from the pictures there are a good many crew figures. The first is clearly the charioteer, and with him we find two archers and two spearmen. Any of these would be appropriate for the chariot, and all have a peg under their foot to fit into holes in the floor of the vehicle. For those poses that are not placed in the chariot Caesar have thoughtfully provided bases so they can all be used as infantry instead – a good move. We are told that all the Mitannian chariot crews were well armoured, and all the crew here have long tunics of scale armour and a variety of helmets.
It is believed that the horses too were armoured, and the two in this set have scale armour on both the body and neck. They attach via a peg from the yoke that fits into their back, and look pretty good.
The usual high standard of Caesar sculpting is in evidence here, with plenty of sharp detail and no trace of flash. Where parts need to be assembled, as in the chariot, they fit together firmly and well. On our example the central pole of the chariot was a little twisted, and as can be seen one of the spears was considerably bent. Since the soft plastic is not poseable this is only really fixed by heating the figure briefly in steam so it returns to its original shape. We thought that the second spearman pose was uncharacteristically flat, but all the other animation is well done.
With such a technological advantage the chariot was the mainstay of Mitannian power, and in time they were to be copied by all their neighbours. The word ‘Mariyannu’ in the set title refers to the aristocratic nobles who drove the chariots and were the elite of the army. These figures can be put up against or alongside many Caesar sets of ancient warriors, and this set adds another element to the complex jigsaw of nations and peoples in the region in the late Bronze Age. Perhaps one day we will have a set of Mitannian infantry as accompaniment.