In the 17th century Russia had had little to do with any but its nearest neighbours, and most rather liked it like that. However in 1689 a new young Tsar, Peter I, came to the throne determined to bring his country into the modern world, and top of the list of priorities was the army. When the opportunity presented itself in 1698 he disbanded much of the existing army and set about raising a new one along western lines. The results were initially unpromising, but given time and experience the new army performed well and shocked the world by beating the Swedes at Poltova. By the time of Peter’s death in 1725 Russia was larger, confident and a European power for the first time.
With their set of Great Northern War Swedish Infantry Zvezda took some liberties with their dates, but this set is better. Although there were ‘foreign’ regiments in the Russian army that resembled these figures before 1698, that is the year that this sort of soldier really started to prosper. All the figures wear the pre-1720 coat, with its serrated edged pockets and the lack of a collar. While a new one was introduced in that year it is likely that the old one persisted until perhaps 1725, so the dates are reasonable. The remaining items of uniform are typical of all European armies of the time, and have been properly done here. The Russian infantryman had to contend with a wide variety of weapons, but all these figures seem to have a perfectly reasonable flintlock. In most cases they also have a socket bayonet – something that became more common later in the period, although the kneeling figure in the second row has a plug sword-bayonet which is typical of the first few years of the war. All the figures have a sword, but none seem to have any scabbard for the bayonet.
The third figure in the second row is a pikeman. Most European armies had dropped such a soldier by this date, but for various reasons Russia still fielded many. This man holds a pike of 46 mm in length, which is about 3.3 metres. Pike lengths varied, but most were between 3.5 and 4 metres, so this one is a little short. He also has a large pistol tucked into his belt, which identifies him as a man from the front rank, and a powder horn since he has no cartridge box.
Next to the pikeman as a lone grenadier. He wears a soft mitre cap which is a bit droopy but authentic, and he also has a pouch on his stomach for his grenades. However his cartridge pouch should have a Russian eagle, not the large flaming grenade it has been given.
The bottom row shows a drummer, ensign, sergeant and officer. All are good, with the drummer having the single swallow’s nest epaulette on his right shoulder and a good sized drum. The ensign is also fine but his flag measures 17 mm by 14 (1.22 by 1 metre) when it should be about 2 metres wide and 2.13 metres tall, so not only is it much too small it is also of the wrong proportions. However while a design has been engraved on both sides it is typical of the period up to 1715, which means also for some years thereafter. The sergeant correctly carries a halberd, and the officer has his partisan as well as his sash to denote his rank. Regulations dictated that both these staff weapons should be on a staff 2.5 metres in length, but there is much evidence that many were rather shorter, as depicted here.
The poses are all fine but again Zvezda have tried to cover too much material with so few. Russian armies, particularly early on, could have anything up to 30% of their troops carrying a pike, so just a single pose does not represent this important arm well, and the pose itself is not particularly combative. Similarly the sole grenadier can do little by himself. Except for the Guard, grenadiers were usually brigaded together rather than with their parent regiment, but producing whole units of just one pose will be pretty boring.
Zvezda do not disappoint with the technical quality of their figures, with everything here being done to a very high standard. Detail is always crisp and clear with fine parts such as weapons suitably slender and the whole thing is just elegant. There is nothing to piece together, but the figures exhibit no flash and have avoided any ugly extra plastic anywhere. You couldn’t really ask for more.
All the men have four buttons on each cuff, when three seems to have been the norm. OK, so that really is being pedantic, and about a quarter of a second with a sharp knife will remedy that. Buttons aside our only gripe, apart from the unnecessarily poor flag, is trying to cover so many troop types with 12 poses. In PSR paradise these two figures would have been fusiliers and Zvezda would even now be working on separate sets of grenadiers and pikemen. Well, we can dream. For the Zvezda Age of Battles gaming system single representative figures such as these are adequate, but it means there is only room for a basic selection of fusilier poses. Nevertheless this is a great bunch of figures that would make the old Tsar proud.