The Roman soldier of the last decades of the Western Roman Empire presented a very different spectacle to his famous early imperial ancestor. The ‘classic’ Roman look has been modelled many times, but HaT have been gradually producing a range for the later years, when the Empire was in decline and migrations were occurring which shaped the Europe of today. This set is described as ‘unarmoured medium infantry with large shields and spears who can form a shield wall’.
As unarmoured infantry these figures are entirely accurate. They wear long tunics tied with a belt, trousers or leggings and closed shoes or short boots. Although described as unarmoured nearly all have helmets, mostly the Romano-Sassanian ridge helmet which was much the most common by this time. With a central ridge and hinged ear and neck flaps this close-fitting item looks far from impressive, which is probably why the officer in the second row has the taller spangenhelm with a large plume. The cornucen has a ridge helmet with a crest, and one of the spearmen has the Pannonian or pillei cap that was usually worn when off duty.
As the description tells us these are spearmen who would only draw their sword once their spear was lost or broken. All carry a large circular shield held by a central handle (both one and two handle versions were used), inside which we find several darts or plumbatae with which the men could harass their enemy as they approached contact. The last figure is meant to be a standard-bearer, and has a cupped hand into which the pictured standard can be placed. As shown and with the bottom cut off this is a vexillum, but reverse it and cut off the flag and you have a draco, which covers the basic standards and provides some useful choice for the customer.
The poses are not particularly inspiring but do a fair job. The figure with left leg touching his right knee looks awkward and some of the poses such as the man to his left are a bit flat. However we would argue with the contention that these figures can form a shield wall. Three of the poses are holding their shield against their body, which is not how you form a shield wall, and the rest are holding their shields with rim pointing to the enemy, offering no protection whatsoever. Forget the shield wall idea and just use these in open battle and they work OK, although we would much prefer at least some soldiers actively protecting themselves with their shield.
The sculpting is fairly good with all the detail these men require, although this is not particular sharp or clear. The figure with the ring hand (fourth man on top row) needs to have it slightly enlarged to take the separate spear, but the signifer’s raised hand makes no attempt to hold the pole so gluing is essential. The draco tail is remarkably short and the area behind the vexillum is just a confused blob. Flash is limited to a very few tabs, and for the most part the join is invisible. Where items are carried such as the shields and cornu (trumpet) there is inevitably some filler plastic but this too is minimal.
Historians continue to debate to what extent unarmoured troops went into battle, and the concept of ‘medium’ infantry may not be one recognised by commanders of the time, but these are nicely turned out troops that will make a rubbish shield wall but will further extend the growing range of troops for this period and are therefore most welcome.