For most of the 13th century people from Poland to Japan had good cause to fear the coming of the Mongol, as their terrifying armies swept across thousands of miles of Asia, the Middle East and Europe, creating the largest land empire mankind has ever seen in what was often an orgy of killing. These nomad horsemen, armed with bow and sword, constantly defeated armies much larger than themselves, causing many to think the end of the world was at hand, and who could blame them. This apocalyptic vision is hard for us to relate to today, but a fine display of such warriors in miniature would be a great start, yet looking at the figures in this set you are hardly filled with awe, so what has happened?
Well, there are already two sets of Mongols in the world, one of which was made by Italeri themselves. Both sets are very nice without being wonderful, but they make a fair stab at depicting the Steppe warriors as they rode into battle, even if they do rather over-emphasise the heavy cavalry. A glance at the title of this set might suggest Italeri have chosen to update their first effort, but from the poses it is clear that the title is deceptive - this is not a set of pure Mongol cavalry, but what is often termed a command set, with only officers and other peripheral troops.
Here at Plastic Soldier Review we often open a new box of figures and have a sense of déjà vu as we recognise figures we have never seen before. In older sets this was often because the figures were taken from the Funcken books, but these days that is more likely to be the Osprey series, as in this case. Four of the figures are well armoured with high quality helmets, and are clearly officers and an elite. Armour of this class was rare in the ranks of the Mongols, although the heavy cavalry could have been so dressed, but these men are best used as officers. The man with the falcon on his arm is wonderful, and would have made a great hunter figure (hunting being a favourite Mongol pastime) were it not for the fact that he is wearing armour - a pointless encumbrance for a hunt. Since he is clearly expecting battle, we must ask why he has brought his falcon along.
The fourth figure in our picture is different. He is a drummer, and is mounted on the camel pictured above. The Mongols were very well organised, and made extensive use of drums to control their armies, so this figure is an important element of any Mongol army. He wears a large hat and a mail shirt, although whether the latter was a common item of clothing is open to debate.
A stand out element of this set is the animals. The most numerous pose is a great representation of the small but hardly steppe pony that most Mongols would have ridden. Past sets have tended to portray Arab-type horses too much, so this is a very welcome new addition. Of course officers were better placed to please themselves with regard to mounts, and many doubtless chose the more elegant animals they found on their conquests, so the rest of the horses are also appropriate here. Camels were used as baggage and draft animals and could easily have also carried drummers such as this, so again this animal is a welcome addition.
Italeri had a rough spell some time ago when their output was very poor, but happily that is long behind them and these figures are uniformly excellent. All the delicate detail of the armour is beautifully done and the proportions are perfect, while there is not the slightest hint of any flash. The only excess plastic is between the two drums, which are moulded with the camel when they could have been made separately, but that is the only negative observation. The riders do not grip their horses, but they fit their saddles well.
While these are technically Mongol cavalry they are not what most people will be expecting when they see the title, although the box artwork does give a good clue as to the contents. Italeri could have better described them as Mongol Command, which is how they should be seen. Everything is perfectly authentic, although of course the Mongols would have had quite a diverse appearance anyway, particularly late in the 13th century as officers in the western Ilkhanate absorbed local influences while those in southern China did the same. It would have been great to see the man with the falcon dressed for the hunt rather than battle, but there is no denying these are fabulous figures and well worth obtaining.