Although the Roman Empire, and therefore its army, existed for many centuries it is the high point of imperial Rome, during the first and second centuries CE, that has produced the most archaeological evidence for the look of the soldier, and perhaps that is why it is this look that is most widely recognised today. This set delivers that classic look with some familiar figures and something relatively new to the hobby.
As the box states, these figures are correctly dressed for much of the first two centuries CE, although it is likely that at no time were all the legions dressed in this way. All the details of armour, clothing and weaponry are correctly shown and nicely done.
The first row above shows the general fighting troops, and a very nicely poised bunch they are too. There is plenty of animation on show here, and all the men are correctly shown fighting from behind their shields. The second figure seems to be bearing down with his pilum, yet the pilum was basically a javelin and therefore principally a throwing weapon. Nevertheless if the need arose it might have been used as a hand-to-hand weapon, although that would have been unusual. The third figure is very good, and has been achieved by having a separate sword arm as well as the separate shield all the men have. Although it sounds fiddly this actually works well and makes a secure fit, so as usual full marks to Zvezda for their engineering.
The middle row shows the officers and specialists. First we find a very nice musician with his horn (another separate piece which fits well), and beside him is a standard bearer. He too has a separate arm which allows a choice of standards as shown. Here he is pictured with the imago, an image of the emperor, and beside him the alternatives of a signum and the aquila (eagle) that was the standard of the whole legion. There is no vexillum, but we can hardly protest this as the choice on offer is already better than most. The remaining two figures are of a centurion and an optio. Both are easy to identify by the various distinctions that mark their rank as all these have been correctly done.
The third line may seem rather strange, but this is not the way Zvezda intend these figures to be seen. They form the heart of this set, namely a testudo. The testudo was a formation used mainly in siege warfare where the men were trained to form up protected by their shields so that they could advance relatively safe from missiles. MIR produced a rather unsatisfactory one-piece testudo some time ago, but this is the first serious attempt to portray one. As you can see, all the men are separate, and they have been given very small bases so that they can be placed very close together. This does mean some of the poses - those holding the shield over their head, do not stand by themselves, so the testudo must be glued to a base to make it work. Of course the burning question is, how does it look? Well, you can see here. In our view this is pretty good. Since every figure is separate you have a lot of freedom to make the formation more or less uniform - we chose a fairly ordered arrangement for this photo, but you could put the figures even closer than we have to get a tighter formation. Since we mentioned the testudo of MIR, here is a comparison. It's a nice model, and Zvezda helpfully point out that by buying more copies of the set you can expand the size of the testudo as much as you want. Inevitably the putting together of so many figures packed so tightly is not the easiest of tasks, but the plastic actually has some poseable properties so more minor adjustment is possible. The only down side is that many men in a testudo held their shields by the edge, not be the central grip as they all do here.
The sculpting is mostly excellent, with just one or two slightly flat areas. Detail too is great and for the most part the engineering is also first class. However we did struggle with some of the shields. While they fit well the bendability of the plastic made placing the shield more difficult than it could have been, as the hand tended to bend away when pressure was applied.
This is yet another very nice product from a company that always seems to deliver quality these days. The effort needed to design the testudo must have been considerable, and as we have said assembly is a little tricky too, but while we have slight niggles we think the results are well worth it and will be welcomed by most fans of this period.