The Almoravids, also known as the Murabit, were a Berber people originating in the western Sahara. From 1053 they expanded, absorbing their neighbours and building an empire which encompassed the modern states of Morocco and Western Sahara as well are parts of modern Mauritania, Senegal and Algeria. Under their most famous leader, Yusuf ibn Tashfin, they built a formidable Islamic empire, and when the Castilians captured Toledo in 1085 the Moors of al Andalus turned to him for help in preventing their possible destruction at the hands of the Christian kingdom. Yusuf duly landed in Spain and defeated the Christians, but soon conquered most of the Moorish kingdoms to add southern Spain and Portugal to the empire. After Yusuf’s death in 1106 the empire declined under pressure from the Spanish Christian kingdoms and the newly powerful Almohads, and when Marrakesh fell in 1147 the empire was effectively at an end.
Almoravid battle tactics were usually to have a line of infantry with long spears and large shields, acting as a solid defence against which the enemy would hopefully throw themselves in vain. Behind this line would be javelin men to shower death on the enemy as they approached, and behind them archers to do the same. That is essentially what we find in this set from HaT, although the tactic of planting the spear in the ground at an angle, much like a pike, has not been echoed here. However we do have a couple of swordsmen, which is fine as while the sword was not a common weapon it certainly did appear. Given that there are so many javelin and spear poses HaT have done a great job of bringing variety to the poses, although few are well suited to the shield wall, partly because all the figures come as one piece which makes it very difficult to have the shield held in front of the man.
As might be expected of Berber men the dress is of loose robes and a covered head. One particular feature of the Almorivid was that they considered the mouth to be unclean and therefore must be covered, so they wore a face veil (litham) which can be seen on all these figures. An Almoravid army would be likely to include negro soldiers from their sub-Saharan possessions, who did not have the same attitude toward the mouth, but many still adopted the litham and the best figure to represent these troops, the second figure in the second row, is one such.
For obvious reasons such infantry tended to be much lighter than that of Europe, so initially there would have been little armour on show. Here we find a few men with quilted tunics but otherwise no armour is visible, although some of the turbans could just as easily be helmets with a cloth wound round. Such a look is fine for most Almoravids, but once they gained their successes in Spain it is likely that many adopted some of the armour that they obtained as booty, so mail would probably have been more common in Iberia, as would helmets. Therefore these figures seem more true to their African roots and traditions than to their possible appearance after contact with Europeans.
The sculpting of these figures is excellent, with plenty of realistic folds in the robes and faces, where they can be seen at all, are very well done. One pose is holding a spear or javelin directly over the middle of his head, which seems to be an impossible position for a human without breaking a wrist and also looks rather flat, but for the rest they are nicely animated and well proportioned. Being completely free of flash these figures delight straight from the sprue.
Some of the javelins are rather long for a device that is meant to be thrown, but if desired these can easily be shortened of course. This is a great set for a little-known African empire, and seems to continue the HaT philosophy of expanding the hobby in new and interesting directions with some very appealing figures.