Although we tend to think of the Roman Empire as a military construction, were you to visit you might be surprised at the apparent lack of anything military. Unless there was an uprising or civil war, most of the empire would have little need of troops so frequently portrayed in TV and film scenes of civilian life, so most of the legions were actually deployed relatively close to the border, particularly that in Germany. Yet it was not the legionaries that took most of the burden of guarding the border; that role went to the auxilia, the auxiliary infantry who played second fiddle to the legions, yet actually did much of the mundane patrolling and guarding. The legions were used as shock troops on a campaign, or at a trouble spot, but even then the auxilia would also be present and play an important role, so were you to meet a body of Roman troops on the road then they would very likely be auxiliaries such as are to be found in this set.
Despite the good numbers of sets already produced for auxiliary infantry such as these, this is the first set devoted entirely to those purely on the march, and as such will be welcome by both gamers and modellers. Essentially there is just the one pose here, which is of a man marching with spear in right hand and shield carried in the left. The differences between the eight actual poses are subtle, and serve only to make a very natural and believable collection of men on the march when grouped together. These eight poses, randomly arranged, are enough to achieve this effect quite well, so no problems at all with the suitability or appearance of the pose. A few command figures to match would have been nice, but as this is from the Strelets Mini series, ordinary soldiers is all we get.
As has been mentioned before on this site, evidence for appearance is far less complete than we would like, though the debate often revolves around what differences, if any, there were between full legionaries and auxiliary troops. That question remains unresolved, but it has become a convention (for the early imperial period) to depict the auxilia wearing mail shirts and carrying flat oval shields, which is what we have here. This is certainly as good a choice as any, and everything here has been correctly done. Points to note include the mail, which has no shoulder reinforcement (perfectly reasonable), and all the men wear the military belt with ‘apron’ strips over the groin. The mail shirts vary in length to a degree, but all at least partially cover the groin, so the protective value of this ‘apron’ would seem to be minimal at best. However the belt was an important symbol of a soldier, so perhaps it is worn here for that reason than for any practical advantage. Under the mail each man wears breeches reaching to below the knee, and boots or sandals (hard to say which). The helmet is of the classic Imperial-Gallic style, with no crest, and one man has cross-pieces across the crown for extra protection (so may be a later manufacture). Other small variations, such as the straight or scalloped edging to the bottom of the mail, add small but very plausible deviations to the mix, so everything here is perfect.
As auxiliaries the men have no dagger but their long sword (spatha) rests on the right hip, suspended by a baldric. Their spears (hasta) are for thrusting, and again are correctly done here. Both weapons are significantly different from the legionary gladius and pilum, as they should be. The other major difference is of course the flat, oval shield. Each shield here is of a good size and shape, and is being carried by a single grip behind the boss in the centre. While this was not the only way of holding shields, it is perfectly common so good here. So again, absolutely no problems with the weaponry.
Strelets have made many sets of auxilia such as this, and while they have their admirers, we have never been fans of the chunky, quite basic style they have used in the past. This set could hardly be more different. Detail is excellent throughout, weapons are slim and properly proportioned, faces are natural and pleasing, and the general anatomy is absolutely spot on. The down side is they really put their earlier sets to shame, but on the plus side these are very attractive figures that easily bear comparison to the best from HaT or Zvezda. The texture of the mail is very good, and even fine detail such as the ‘aprons’ is really well done. Every figure comes in one piece, so there are no separate weapons or shields, yet all look great just as they are, so there is no need for separate parts here. There is hardly any flash either, which makes this set as good a quality as anyone could ask.
With this set and others in the same batch Strelets have really raised the bar on quality with a natural and detailed look that rivals anything their competition has ever produced. It is always exciting when a company makes such a leap in quality, and the results here are fantastic. True the simplicity of the subject matter makes life fairly easy in several ways, but that does not detract from a small but very useful set that delivers what it promises with complete accuracy and not a little beauty, and that is something we have never said of Strelets before. If you want large numbers of marching auxiliary infantry for the first or second century CE then this set will be both a required and an enjoyable purchase.