Mass migrations of peoples had been a major feature of late antiquity and had effectively caused the destruction of the Western Roman Empire. Yet with the fall of Rome the migrations did not end, and in the wake of the German migrations came other peoples from the East, particularly Slavs and Turkics, who settled in Eastern Europe early in the period covered by this set. Behind them came the Avars, who partly conquered the Slavs initially but could not maintain their dominance. All these movements brought the Slavs into contact with the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantium), and at times they fought as mercenaries for the Empire, and at other times against it as vassals of the Avars.
Once the Great Migration ended and the Slavs were settled some organised states appeared, although often small and short-lived. Nevertheless the Slavs were predominantly tribal in organisation, and their 'armies' were based around an elite cavalry core whose loyalty was to the tribal chieftain, as in other cultures of the region. When required peasant infantry levies could be raised to supplement these forces, and this is what we find in this box from Orion. As peasants they are dressed in typical style for the region, with tunics, trousers and boots or shoes (plus one cloak for poor weather). Some wear furs, which were common, and some seem to have tunics which are rather Byzantine in style, which would be mainly correct for those close to the Empire. Equally those further east would have been influenced by their near neighbours, and two of the men have the heads partly shaved in a style reminiscent of the Avars and other Steppe peoples. As is entirely appropriate no one has any armour, and all are bare-headed.
Weaponry was often a spear with several javelins being carried as secondary weapons. Some Slavic groups (particularly the Moravians and Croats) favoured the axe as a primary weapon, while the bow was widely popular too. All these weapons are to be found on these figures, while a club (which seems likely) and a sling (which we could not confirm from our sources) are also being used. Two figures are using a sword, which was an expensive item beyond the reach of most peasantry, so while any peasant could pick up such a weapon from the field of battle we thought only a single pose should have one. Several of the poses have a sword at the waist, which is far too many for such humble warriors. Shields seem to have been quite a mix of rectangular and round examples and quite heavy, so all those on these figures seem reasonable.
Although the poses are nice and active some are hard to justify. What, it might be asked, is the kneeling archer doing with his right arm up in the air? Why is the second axe man in the second row holding his weapon in such a way that the blade would not be facing any opponent? And why is no one actually using their shield to shield themselves? Well the last question is easy to answer - without clever moulds or multiple parts shields are almost impossible to pose well, and there are plenty of sets as guilty of that as this one. However the wisdom of sculpting a shield being held in the air like that on the bottom row has to be doubted.
While these figures have some very nice touches such as the great surface detail on furs and wooden shields, in other respects the quality of these figures is quite poor. Certainly they give a rather rough general impression with lots of little bits of plastic that need to be trimmed off, although for the most part there is not much flash as such. The faces and hair look very good, but strangely hands are a real problem. In many cases they are no better than blobs and in some cases they are virtually absent entirely. Our friend the second axe man in the second row has no right hand but simply has his axe extending from his wrist, while his neighbour fares no better. This contrast between excellent and really bad sculpting does the figures no favours and merely spoils some of the good work that has been done. Orion say that there were problems in making this set, and it does show.
Sets depicting the complex history of Eastern Europe have been exceptionally rare until very recently, so it is good to see sets such as this redressing the balance. However to gain a wider audience they will need to be of a better and more consistent quality than this set, which is good in parts but still leaves a lot of room for improvement.