As with so much else concerning ancient history, debate continues to rage over the nature of Imperial Roman cavalry during what is generally termed the late empire period. It would seem that the relatively minor role of the early Imperial age had gradually become more important as the army turned from one of conquest to one of protecting the existing frontiers and only venturing outside for punitive raids. With the large area to cover, the mobility of cavalry was clearly useful, although the heavy infantry remained the most important element of a full Roman army. By the late empire light cavalry had developed, and Eastern influence had also led to the establishment of the ultra-heavy cataphracts, both of which have already been modelled by HaT. The middle ground between these two extremes was still quite heavy cavalry, and that is what is to be found in this box, although it is easy to understand why they were named 'medium' for this set.
Such cavalry, who most closely resembled the cavalry of the early Imperial period, would have commonly held the spears and swords we find in this collection of figures. All the weapons are provided as separate pieces which fit into the ring or cupped hands, and all look fine. HaT have repeated a favourite trick of including a piece that can be cut to depict either another spear or else a draco standard, which as usual is a neat way of providing a standard without excessive numbers of this type of figure. While these weapons are fine we would have liked to have seen some javelins on show too, but there are none here. During the course of the fifth century Roman cavalry increasingly became horse archers, so the absence of such figures here suggests a period of perhaps the hundred years up to the early fifth century, although as always this is highly speculative.
Although in theory Roman soldiers drew their supplies from state sources, in reality this system often broke down, particularly at times of civil war, or when operating in remote regions for prolonged periods. So it seems common for there to be almost no uniformity with such men, and all those in this set are pleasingly varied in their costume. One seems to wear a mail coat, while another has scale armour and the rest lamellar. All the helmets are different, but all are of appropriate designs, and only the leg coverings are similar, being trousers or breeches with something like puttees round the lower leg. All this is quite accurate, as are the long swords (spatha) hanging on the left side from either a waist belt or a baldric, and the daggers or short swords several have on their right. There seems no certainty about shields carried by such men, with both round and scutari oval shields being depicted. The famous Notitia Digitatum only shows round shields, but it seems oval shields were still perfectly common, so while all these figures are fine with this type of shield, we would have liked to have seen at least one round example too.
Cavalry spears were light and could be thrown if necessary, although were probably more often a close-quarter weapon. All the poses here are quite reasonable, although the right arm of the third figure pictured above does seem quite awkward to us. The provision of both spears and swords helps to mix up the poses a little, but given that there are only four on offer we thought they were pretty well chosen and quite well done.
Happily the two horse poses are also pretty good, although neither are particularly energetic - we like to see a mix of charging, walking and standing animals. The saddle exhibits no sign of the now famous four horns arrangement, which was a form of saddle that dated back centuries, but this was gradually replaced during the fifth century by a form closer to what we find here, so although they still seem to lack some of the support such saddles would have to provide, these would seem to be intended as quite late saddles. The harness all looks OK, although much of this is hidden by the extensive armour which both animals have in abundance. While the form of this seems fine, if a remarkably fine and expensive example, our problem with this is how often such armour was worn by this type of cavalry at this period. Not even all cataphracts had such extensive armour on their horses, so while it cannot be ruled out, we were very uncomfortable with the armour here, particularly as all the horses wear it, and that it is identical. This was expensive kit and difficult to make and supply, so it would have been much easier to argue for having all the horses completely unarmoured.
The sculpting is pretty good, with plenty of decent detail such as the various armours. The sculptor had some problems getting the shield arms to look convincing, so these are figures better seen from the front, but this is not uncommon in figures with the shields as part of the figure, as here. All the weapons fit the necessary hands well, but strangely one of the three ring hands is much better done than the others (not that it really matters). The men sit quite well on the horses, but will need gluing to stay put. The quality of the mould is perfect - there is no hint of flash anywhere, which is always agreeable to report.
These are nicely sculpted figures and horses, well produced and in useful poses. The surplus of weapons and the combined spear/draco help to make the most of the minimal four poses, although you pedants out there might want to remove the sword hilt seen in every scabbard if you are going to have them hold a sword in their hand. The manner of holding the shields is a bit awkward, but our main concern was with the heavily armoured horses. We can’t see that such creatures would have been common for such men, and certainly not universal as suggested here. Of course, this is easy to rectify by using horses from another set, and the figures are perfectly accurate, but it is the horse armour that lost this set an accuracy point. Equally as these horses have no baggage of any sort the men are clearly very close to their base or any baggage column, which is fine but another reason why you may want to substitute them. These figures represent the majority of Roman cavalry of the day, so any late Imperial Roman army is likely to need plenty of these models, and will be all the better for it.