The Crimean Khanate, home to what many European writers called the Tartars, became a vassal of the Ottoman Empire in 1475, and thereafter frequently supplied troops to the Ottomans, particularly when campaigning in Europe, although they had also served as allies before that date. This remained so throughout the 17th century, although as time went on the traditional Tartar raids into neighbouring states to abduct people for slavery declined as those states became stronger militarily. Nevertheless, although the century was a difficult one for the Ottoman Empire, the Tartars remained a key resource for the sultans, and provided many of their lighter troops.
As a steppe people the Crimean Tartars were primarily known as horse archers, but not all took to the battlefield mounted and so fought as light infantry, skirmishing and protecting flanks, while others operated as mounted infantry, dismounting to fight. They wore traditional clothes and used traditional weapons, and were often described in terms of being a backward people with a very old-fashioned, almost medieval look. The usual clothing consisted of a thick felt kaftan over breeches and mid-calf boots, and with a fur-trimmed cap on the head, which is how several of these figures are dressed. Those that could afford it might still wear armour - usually mail - in the form of a hauberk or maybe just a coif on the head and shoulders, and this set has several examples of these too. A few also seem to have a helmet, which would have been quite rare, and in general we were a little uncomfortable with the quite large amount of armour on show here. None of it is wrong or unlikely, but it is over-represented here, perhaps to ensure the full range of styles is present. A couple of the poses also wear a cloak, which could be woven or an animal skin, and again is reasonable.
Naturally when mounted the principle weapon was the bow, and several here are using or carrying this most traditional of their weapons. Swords too would have been used, and also spears, although we were a little surprised by what seems to be a lance held by one man. Firearms such as muskets or arquebuses were quite rare, particularly earlier in the century, but they were used so are a valid addition to this set. Finally we have a man holding aloft a mace, which again gives this set something of a medieval feel. Several are holding shields, which were still in use at this time, and are correctly quite small and round, with a number of reasonable styles including the wicker one shown on the box.
The sculpting is in the usual Mars style - quite chunky and pretty straight-backed, with a fairly flat feel to many. The detail is not bad but neither is it particularly precise, and some items such as all the weapons are quite basic. Most of the shields are being pressed against the body where they offer the least amount of protection, although they are all at least facing forward. The poses generally are reasonable choices but quite flat. Two of the spearmen hold their weapon directly over the middle of their head, which is unnatural, and the third holds his against his cap. The swordsmen and the man with the mace mostly hold their weapon behind their shoulder, and with the flat of the blade facing the enemy rather than the edge, but the bowmen and musketeers are better. Flash is variable but is certainly there in places, but the hardest part of readying these figures is the removing of the spearmen from the sprue as the spear is connected to the sprue along its entire length.
The set offers quite a good mix of weapons, even if this does not reflect the proportions used in reality, although of course this would vary over the course of the century and perhaps also between campaigns. None of the figures particularly suggest themselves as officers, for although in the past a mace was seen as a mark of an officer it is hard to say whether that was true here. In any case Tartar officers would have been mounted, and mostly copied the fashions of the Ottomans in terms of dress.
This set is typical of Mars output in many ways. The sculpting is not attractive and the poses quite flat, with some of the faces being particularly messy. Accuracy is good and the selection of poses is adequate if uninspired. The subject itself is unusual and not widely known, yet these men served as auxiliaries for the empire that controlled the destinies of much of South-Eastern Europe, Western Asia, the Caucasus and North Africa during the early-modern period, so this is an important element in the story of the Ottomans that deserves to be represented.