For the latter part of the Archaic and most of the Classical periods warfare in the various Greek city states was dominated by the hoplite. Literally meaning armed or armoured men, the hoplites were heavy infantry which formed up in a phalanx and moved as a single body to try and force the enemy from the field. For much of this time there seems to have been little or no light infantry, nor cavalry, so the hoplite has become synonymous with ancient Greek warfare. While hoplites famously faced Persian foes on numerous occasions, their most common opponent would have been other Greeks as the cities fought one another for supremacy.
The usual battle tactic was simple. The hoplites formed up, perhaps eight ranks deep, with shields at the ready and spears pointing forward. At a signal the body moved forward, and when within close range of the enemy would charge to contact. Frequently this imposing formation caused the enemy to flee before contact was even made, but if the two sides did meet then shields would be held to the front and both would attempt to push the other backward while using their spears to inflict casualties. Swords would then be drawn for what could become a confused melee as the battle was decided in multiple individual combats. When considering poses then we would expect to see a good many men walking forward steadily, with spear pointing forward either underarm, as would be the case while just manoeuvring, or overarm, when the fight was imminent or in progress. This set has just six spearman poses, of which the middle man in the second row is at ease while the middle man in the top row is on alert. These leaves four for the phalanx, none of which are carrying their spears underarm, which is a considerable disappointment as this ignores an important part of their drill. Three of these poses have the spear over their arm as if in contact with the enemy, although all seem to be standing still, and therefore have already clashed with their opponents. These poses are not particularly active (no one seems to be pushing), but to their credit they are at least holding their shield in front of them, as they certainly should. The fourth pose (the first man on the top row) looks suspiciously like he is trying to throw his spear, which was a rarity. Perhaps the kindest thing to say is he is facing a mounted opponent, but that too was a rarity in Greek warfare. In short then the spearmen leave a lot to be desired.
With only half the poses armed with the spear the rest must have the sword (although the first figure in the third row has a ring hand and so could have either). On the whole the swordsmen are much more animated and a good bunch of figures. The figure holding his shield well out behind him is rather strange but the rest are pretty good, with good positioning of sword and shield. The officer too is very nicely done, but in our view far too much emphasis has been placed on swordsmen, leaving too few spearmen poses to adequately form a typical phalanx.
Hoplites were not professional soldiers – none of the Greek states could afford that apart from Sparta, which as in so much else was an exception. Hoplites were normally just citizens called to military service as the need arose, and they were required to provide their own arms and armour, which were not cheap. As a result the exact look of hoplites was highly varied, with individual taste and wealth being the main deciders for the look of each man. Earlier a full metal cuirass had been common but during the classical period this expensive item gave way to cheaper alternatives, and only three soldier poses in this set have one. Sculpted to resemble the ideal male musculature, all three such cuirasses here are of the later style with the front extending down towards the groin rather than the earlier 'bell' type. As might be expected, the officer too has a muscle cuirass, and both his and those of his men are well done. For the rest, they wear the lighter and cheaper composite cuirass, which was made of layers of linen and might have metal plates within it but might only rely on the stiffened linen for protection, although some here have external metal scales. Again these look to be well done and entirely accurate, and we thought the balance between the numbers of each type of cuirass was well chosen.
Below all the cuirasses and covering the groin there are the pteruges, strips of material which offered some protection but still allowed relatively easy movement. All the men wear sandals, which is fine, and the only other item on the legs is the greave, which is on both legs of every figure. This is okay, and they have been properly realised here, but it implies the set is more for the earlier Classical period as greaves became less common later on.
Much has been written on the subject of Greek helmets, and much effort has gone into categorising the different styles. All the helmets here are of much the same type, with rigid nasal and cheek pieces and readily apparent cutaways for the ears. This largely categorises them as Chalcidian, which was a style that superseded the earlier Corinthian because it offered better vision and hearing, and was popular during the fifth and fourth centuries. Despite the improvement such helmets remained hot and restrictive, and men often propped them up on the top of their heads when not in battle, as the central figure in our first row has done. All have crests, mostly of standard design, although one man has gone for a taller, more extravagant example (again, there being no known uniformity imposed at the time). The officer has a transverse crest, which it is thought may have been a sign of rank, although no one knows for sure now.
All the spears and some of the swords come on five separate sprues as shown here. The spears are a good shape and at 36mm (2.6 metres) they are a good length too, but there has been little or no apparent effort to depict the ferrule at the bottom of the staff. The swords include both leaf-shaped and kopis types, which is good to see as both were commonly used at various times.
Perhaps the most important element of a hoplite's equipment was his shield. All here have the classic argive shield (aspis) which have been very well detailed inside to reflect the complex appearance of these important items. The size is good at about 12mm (86 cm) in diameter and both the shape and bowl are well done. None have any design engraved on them, which is a relief as there were very many designs and it is good to let the customer decide which they wish to use. However there is an important problem with the way these figures hold their shield. Each has a peg on the back of their hand which fits a hole in the centre of the shield quite well. This means that the man is effectively holding his shield in the middle, which is wrong. In fact, the middle contained an armhole (porpax) through which the forearm went, and the hand then clutched a handle next to the rim. This gave the man good control over the large shield, and meant much of the shield extended well to the left of the man himself. This was used to protect the unshielded side of the man next to him, so that together they formed a continuous shield wall. By holding the shields in the middle like these figures, that important feature is completely lost, which will be particularly noticeable should anyone try and deploy these figures in a line. In fact the peg should be well along the forearm, towards the elbow, to correct these figures, which is not impossible to do but is an unnecessary error that could easily have been avoided.
The usual Caesar excellent standard of sculpting is maintained once more, with clear and profuse detail (an important issue in such figures) and great proportions. The multi-part mould means the poses are very natural, and all the ring hands hold the weapons perfectly without any gluing necessary, regardless of their angle to the mould. With so many ring-handed figures there is some scope for swapping weapons, although in truth the poses mostly insist on one weapon. There is absolutely no sign of flash or extraneous plastic, so these are as always brilliantly produced.
While good production standards are important we were rather disappointed with this set. The poses offer nothing to make an advancing phalanx, and don't really deliver believable warriors for two phalanxes battling it out for glory. The spearmen are very sedate, and while the swordsmen are much better they represent only a small part of the usual hoplite activity in battle. Better as melee figures than as a formation, that is pretty damming for Greek hoplites, and the careless way they hold their shields incorrectly adds to the poor impression. These are nice figures in many ways, but are found wanting in some very important respects.