The Vikings were amazing seafarers. In an age when ships rarely went beyond sight of land or the relatively safe arena of the Mediterranean, the Vikings regularly crossed the wild North Sea and the equally unwelcoming North Atlantic, reaching as far as North America with open boats and navigating by the stars. Several Viking ships have been excavated and reconstructed in modern times, and several models exist of varying accuracy. Emhar recently produced a model of the Gokstad ship, now on display in Oslo, and this set of figures is intended primarily to provide a crew, and therefore life, to that model.
We must speak first of all of the first three figures on the top row - the oarsmen that form the bulk of this set. They all have arms held out to the side in a manner the human anatomy cannot achieve, but of course this is not the intended pose. These figures are all made in the poseable plastic Emhar and others have used recently, which is extremely good at moving without having any memory. Emhar have used this property to make rowers in one piece that only require that their arms are bent forward to produce the desire pose. Exactly what that pose is will depend on several factors, but our rather lonely example gives you the idea. The position of the arms will vary depending on the position in the ship (particularly whether on the starboard or port side) and on the required angle of the oar, but with these blank figures any arrangement can be achieved.
Despite being titled as 'oarsmen' this set includes much more. The standing man on the top row is pulling on a rope, while the first two on the lower row are leaving the ship by walking down the gangplank (both are leaning back slightly to correct for the slope of the gangplank). The next guy is on lookout and beside him is the man holding the tiller (to control the rudder). This man obviously works the same way as the oarsmen and needs arms bending to grasp the tiller. Finally we find the captain, doing what it seems most 'officers' in this hobby do, which is pointing at something to show he is in command.
All the men wear reasonable clothing for Vikings, with some having a quilted tunic and some wearing fur. Apart from the captain and the second figure in the lower row all are unarmed (all have a knife at their belt but this was a normal everyday utensil and nothing to do with warfare). The two walking figures wear mail and helmet, suggesting they may feel a fight is imminent, but the rest are in ordinary clothing as would befit traders or warriors still journeying to their intended target.
Emhar is one of those companies that are very consistent in the quality of the sculpting, and here again we find great detail and great proportions. The faces are nice and expressive with the beards well picked out, while the clothing has a natural feel to the folds and highly detailed areas like the mail are beautifully done. There is absolutely no flash and thanks to the poseable arms there is no excess plastic or awkward compromise poses.
It is not often that we have the chance to review a subject that is not overtly military, but when we do the criteria are rather different. The set is entitled oarsmen, and the 32 oarsmen are sufficient to fully man a typical 16-bencher such as the late 9th century Gokstad ship, so it delivers what it promises. The extra figures are something of a bonus and do much to deliver a complete ship’s complement. Viking ships had no thwarts, so the rowers sat on their sea chests, so it is good to see that these too have been included in this set, which seems to cover pretty much everything you would need to set sail. No accuracy problems and a high standard of sculpting and production make this a stand-out set in the world of historical miniatures.