The last years of the second century BCE were a time of great change for the army of the Roman Republic. For centuries the Latin power had raised armies from those citizens that qualified, and then discharged them when the campaign was over. However the gradual increase in the size of Rome’s domains was making this militia-style system less workable, and during these few years Rome turned to having a full-time, professional army of heavy infantry, for whom the name Gaius Marius will always be associated. For model figures this change is significant because as a militia the Roman troops wore whatever they could afford, which probably created plenty of variation in what was actually seen on the battlefield. With the professional army the state provided the basics – armour and weapons – so a new consistency of appearance was achieved.
That new standard was the mail shirt, an item previously mainly seen on those wealthy enough to afford one. All these figures have such a garment, so while they could still be seen much earlier than the time of Marius the look of the set as a whole suggests a date during or after the change to professionalism. In addition all the figures wear the common but by no means universal Montefortino helmet, each with a horsehair plume from the top. From a single belt they carry a sword on the right hip and a dagger on the left, although here the dagger is almost the same size as the sword, which makes the dagger rather too big. The single figure is actually remarkably little different. His sword scabbard is supported by a baldric rather than his waistbelt, and he has greaves on both legs, which mark him out as more wealthy, plus of course he carries no shield. It is not clear what sort of an officer, if any, he is supposed to be, but the lack of a shield is a surprise and a mistake.
As can be seen from the different coloured plastics the shields and some weapons come as separate items. The shields are accurate and fit onto pegs on the figure quite well, with gluing only optional on many. The box includes a large number of the short sword and two types of spear – straight and the classic pilum. As you can see we have given spears to some and swords to others, but in fact both types of weapon work just as well on virtually every pose, which gives the customer a lot of excellent flexibility. Everything fits the ring hands well, and Caesar’s oft-used ability to create ring hands hidden from a normal two-piece mould mean there is no gluing into cupped hands here.
On the whole we liked the poses. When you have armies that usually fought in close formations then there is an argument for a small number of quite similar poses, and the Romans must fit into that category. Many of the poses here seem to be in open order and engaged in individual combat, which makes for great poses but not entirely typical of these men. The middle figure in the bottom row is a case in point. The usual fighting method was to use your shield as a battering device, striking from behind it with your weapon, so this dashing figure with his shield behind him is attractive but far from authentic. He also suffers from another problem often seen in Roman sets. Not only is his shield not to his front, it is also held very high. Modern reconstructions of these shields suggest they could weigh as much as 10kg, making this kind of flamboyant use very difficult as well as pointless.
This is the point in the review when we usually say what great sculpting Caesar has delivered. Well, these are certainly very good, with the multi-part mould making for poses that are anything but flat, but for once we will stop short of ‘great’. The mail shirts have been done as a texture rather than a real attempt to show the small rings, which is fine, but that texture does not really work well, making them look more like fur than mail. Detail is still very good but not quite as sharp as some previous output, which admittedly is a high standard to maintain. As always there is no flash on these figures, so once they are given their shield and weapon of choice they are ready to go.
While we have reservations about this set they are pretty minor and by any standards this is a very worthwhile set of figures. Some may find little use for a few of the poses but there are still plenty that are useful, so this remains a useful boost to the available range of figures for Rome’s republican period.