It is perhaps hardly surprising that we tend to think of an empire at its peak when it is mentioned today. That of Rome reached its greatest extent geographically, and perhaps in many other ways, around the end of the first century and early second, after which emperors generally followed a path of consolidation rather than expansion. If the glory days of huge conquests were in the past then at least the second century was relatively stable and comfortable. The third century was by contrast a time of many civil wars and political instability, which brings us to the period covered by this set, the fourth and fifth centuries. While matters had improved these centuries still saw Roman fighting Roman, as well as the increasing ‘barbarisation’ of the Roman army as outsiders, particularly Germans, were invited to help defend the crumbling empire. Central authority diminished and external pressures increased, but the Roman soldier that faced those challenges was very different from that of 300 years earlier.
By the start of the fourth century the familiar lorica segmentata was long gone and Rome’s warriors had a simpler look to them – a look that is reflected well in these figures. They wear a tunic over trousers, and many still wear armour, although now it is scale or mail. Many of the figures wear a helmet, with several styles on show including an old-fashioned imperial-gallic type, a more curved sort with a brow protector (which is often illustrated but no actual example has ever been found) and probably the most common, a ridge type made of two or sometimes more parts with a ridge along the centre. All seem to have cheek pieces, which is fine, but none have a nasal guard which was not uncommon at the time. One man wears a pannonian cap, which was a common piece of headgear and even adorned emperors on occasion. The men carry their sword on their left hip, either from a waist belt or a baldric, and the familiar sandals have been replaced by covered shoes or boots. Everything looks OK and the lack of uniformity is also entirely authentic.
By this period the men were using a longer sword, called a spatha, which seems to be the sword on show here. However fully half of the poses are of men wielding a spear or javelin, which is fine. There are also more archers than we would expect in previous centuries, plus quite a nice slinger. The mix of weapons is fine, and they all look quite reasonable. Shields include flat and curved ovals and flat round examples, which again is reasonable for this subject.
The poses are all reasonable, but every man is standing with left foot forward and roughly side on to his enemy. This makes the whole set seem, well, a bit boring. True it is quite correct that the missile troops should be in this pose, but some of the swordsmen could have been changed to add some variety.
In the past MiniArt have not produced the most beautiful of figures and it is fair to say this set shows no improvement. The detail is a little soft and there is rather more flash than we are used to seeing these days. The most obvious weak spots are the faces, which are vague or even largely missing, while some liberties have been taken such as scabbards that are much too short, even for the swords the figures have in their hands! Apart from the figures in the middle row all the shields you see above are separate items. These fit onto pegs on the arm in the traditional way, but the fit is variable and we would recommend gluing. On the positive side each sprue of 12 figures has 12 shields of all types, so since only seven figures per sprue require shields there is some spare to play with. The shields are not decorated, and are entirely plain on the reverse, so none have the darts sometimes seen on the real thing.
As we have said some of the men have no armour, and debate continues as to how common this was even in battle, so providing both levels of equipment is a good idea. Another good possibility is that some troops acted as light infantry, and may well have had no body armour, so that option too is to be found with these figures.
This is not a great set by any means but it does at least deliver what it promises in a basic way, and so offers something of value.