The history of Eastern Europe in the pre-modern era is dominated by waves of peoples migrating across the Steppe from the East, with the Goths and the Huns being perhaps the most famous. The first such peoples, at least in recorded history, were the Scythians, who began to appear in Europe around the 10th century BCE. By the time they are documented by the Greeks many years later they were already well established in an area which is approximately defined today as much of the Ukraine and southern Russia, displacing the Cimmerians in that region. Their civilisation prospered from around the seventh to the third centuries BCE, then declined as they were gradually overwhelmed by the Sarmatians.
Their location and power brought them into contact with many of the great civilisations of the day. They were instrumental in the destruction of the Assyrian Empire and successfully avoided a full-scale invasion by the Persians, but were past their peak when they were defeated by Phillip II of Macedon in 339 BCE. As a nomadic steppe people they originally conformed to the usual pattern of principally being mounted archers of great skill, although as time passed their lifestyle became less nomadic, and they began fielding larger numbers of infantry, as represented in this set.
The dates on the box are an error – they should read seventh to second centuries BCE, which covers most of the Scythian period. As we have said, early in this period warriors would have mostly been mounted archers, but as time went by more warriors like these figures appeared. Scythians had long known of body armour, and much has been found in burials in recent decades, but this was inevitably mostly concentrated on the elite mounted members of society, at least until late in the period. None of the figures here have any armour, making them the ordinary infantry of the day. Instead they wear typical Scythian costume of a kaftan-like tunic wrapped around them, trousers and short boots. Those that are not bareheaded wear the characteristic stiffened cap rising to a point, and all the men have long hair and beards.
Even when dismounted the bow remained their main weapon, and all the figures here are so armed. All have the combined bow and arrow quiver, named a gorytos by the Greeks, suspended on their left hip, and several are actively using their bow. The rest have an assortment of spears, javelins, swords and axes – all perfectly normal weapons and properly sculpted here – although it would have been nice to see a sling too. Shields are in various shapes, and again all are easily verifiable against the good amount of available evidence today, so in total there are no accuracy problems at all.
The poses too are pretty good, with all being quite active and lively. Hardly any of the men are actually defending themselves with their shield, which is the price often paid in sets for having the man and shield as one piece as here. It must be said that the poses are quite flat, which makes them less impressive than they might appear in our pictures, but again this is hardly unusual in figure sets.
Although the white plastic does not flatter these figures the sculpting is very good. Clearly detail is not a major feature of the costume but the faces are very attractive and such items as the texture on the shields and the weapons are very nicely done. Flash is a very mixed story, with some areas being completely flash free while others suffer from quite considerable amounts of it.
We would have liked to have seen at least one armoured figure – perhaps representing an officer, but we can’t complain about the accuracy here, since these figures probably reflect the appearance of the majority of dismounted Scythian warriors. The worthwhile poses are rather let down by the tendency to make them too flat, and some removal of flash must be anticipated, but these are otherwise attractive figures which, when partnered with the mounted Scythians, allowed a major ancient power to be represented for the first time.