The life of a Cossack was rarely dull. By tradition and temperament they were always fighters, and in the 17th century the Ukrainian Cossacks had plenty of reasons to fight. Raiding each other or more distant neighbours of any nationality seemed like natural behaviour, but many also took service in the armies of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth of which they were subjects. They also frequently rebelled against this rule, and ended up under the rule of the Tsar of Muscovy instead. One way or another they seem to have been constantly under arms, and while during this period many fought as infantry the Cossack equestrian tradition was by no means lost, which brings us to this set from Ukrainian company Orion.
Today the Cossacks have a rather romantic image in many minds, but in the 17th century (and beyond) ‘barbarian’ was a more common description. They gained much of their material needs from raids on neighbours and merchants, not least from the Ottoman Empire, and as a result their appearance was extremely mixed and often contained many eastern silks. Furs of all kinds were another important commodity both for wear and trade, but for the most part anything that came to hand would be used. The figures in this set display exactly the kind of assortment that we would expect, with plenty of baggy trousers and fur caps in evidence. Two wear mail armour, which was indeed still worn at this time by some wealthier Cossacks, and two others have a cuirass. This all conforms to both the romantic and actual appearance of these fearsome warriors, and is very well done.
Several of these men bear firearms, which is fine, but the majority have swords, which was a main weapon of the Cossacks. The figure that may very well be the leader (last pose in third row) carries a mace as a sign of his authority, but we were rather surprised that there are no lances on show as this too is a traditional Cossack weapon.
On the poses we would say that this set contains what you might expect from a set of mounted swordsmen, with all the usual examples on show. However these have been very well animated, with plenty of life and excellent proportions that look very natural. Those with firearms have also been very nicely done, so no complaints on the poses as delivered.
The four horse poses are not of the same quality in our view. To begin with these are far more impressive beasts than most Cossacks could hope to own. Cossack mounts were rather shabby-looking ponies but nonetheless very hardy and perfect for the task, but these animals are large and attractive looking horses which any cavalryman would love to ride. The poses are not quite so realistic either, and two have a very strange flat object running along their right side. Our best guess is this is supposed to be a holster for a musket, but it is virtually featureless and much too crude to properly identify, yet has been pressed deep into the animal. Whatever it is it really should not be here.
Over the years Orion’s standard of sculpting has varied enormously, but here at least it is from the top drawer, with superb detail and excellent realisation of the fall of clothing. The expressive faces are a joy, with the moustaches and in some cases the characteristic top-knot hairstyle being perfectly rendered. Flash is at an absolute minimum, and the riders fit the horses wonderfully well – tight enough to stay put without gluing yet not so tight as to make the figure ride high.
Even if Cossacks are not of particular interest this is a very attractive set that has been very well executed. The horses are a real letdown given the quality of the riders, which is a great shame for any cavalry set, but overall this set has far more positives than negatives and we can only bemoan the fact that not all Orion output is of a similar high standard.