Rome and the Roman Empire is usually portrayed in warm sunshine, but naturally in an empire that stretched to northern Britannia and included the Alps, Pyrenees and other mountains, Roman soldiers would sometimes find themselves in a far less hospitable climate. Clearly they had to adapt to these conditions, and they certainly often followed local custom in terms of warm clothing, particularly if they had to source replacement clothing locally anyway. However there were well recognised expedients that the Roman soldier might turn to during cold weather, and this set attempts to portray these for the first time in this hobby.
From the style of the helmets, armour and shields these figures are clearly for the classic high point of the empire, from the early first to early second century CE. Although the shields are much flatter than they should be, on the whole these items are properly done here, so we shall concentrate on the aspects that mark these figures as 'winter'.
All the figures are dressed in exactly the same manner, and the 'winter' features are a cloak, long sleeves and trousers. Taking the cloak first, the ordinary Roman legionary wore one of two kinds of cloak - either the sagum or the paenula. The evidence is far from certain, but it is generally thought that the sagum was the most common cloak of the ordinary soldier, although officers and even emperors are known to have worn it. The sagum was a simple rectangle of cloth fastened around the neck and held on the right shoulder by a broach, thus freeing the sword arm. These figures are not wearing this, however, because all clearly have a hood, which the sagum did not. The paenula was something of a hooded cape and fastened down the front with buttons or toggles. It offered better protection, particularly with the hood, and was a more sophisticated garment. To allow movement of the arms the front of the cape could be opened and the sides swept over the shoulder. Since all these figures have a hood we must conclude that they wear the paenula, although here it has been sculpted with far too little material at the back, which is clearly barely wide enough to cover the back and certainly could not reach round to the front. The level of detail is not sufficient to see the method of fastening at the neck, but it is safe to say that as a paenula this is quite a poor model, and it is the same on all the figures. While on the subject of cloaks it is far from certain that soldiers actually went into battle wearing a cloak simply because it would dangerously impede their movement. Such things are impossible to prove, and the evidence does not exist today, but the very concept of these figures’ garb is very suspect.
Traditionally Romans wore tunics with almost no sleeve at all, and often scoffed at long sleeves as effeminate or simply barbarian. Certainly such long sleeves did exist, and were to become common in the army well after the period of these figures, but there is almost no evidence for their widespread use at this time. This is not to say they were not worn, as soldiers of all eras are inclined to be more practical and not worry about the opinions of civilians, but it is hard to say to what extent such things were typical, or even used on any widespread scale at all.
Finally we come to the trousers. Again trousers (or bracae) were often seen as effeminate and barbarian, and for that reason were very rare in the early empire. Nonetheless there is evidence that they were worn by troops when the conditions warranted it, so while we would have liked to have seen a few men using strips of cloth (rather like modern puttees) to warm their legs, the trousers are reasonable.
In terms of poses we find a fairly typical Strelets collection of ancient fighting men, with swords and spears being wielded in various ways. Most of the poses are very good, but some are really poor such as the last figure in the third row (you only have to try and duplicate this pose yourself to realise how daft it is). Equally just try to imagine what movement the second man in the first row is attempting to make, and you will see why it is an unrealistic choice. Two of the poses have ring hands, into which a separate sword and spear can be fitted (with a little persuasion).
Strelets figures are nothing if not consistent in their style (with one or two notable exceptions), so anyone that already owns Strelets Romans will find just the same look here. The quite chunky appearance is not great for the relatively complicated armours of these men, while some items are exaggerated in size simply because there is a limit to how small the sculptor could make them. However there is no flash and while the separate weapons and shields (of which there are four per sprue) need some assistance to fit the ring hands and pegs respectively, this does at least ensure a good tight fit.
Other 'winter' items of Rome’s soldiers such as socks are obviously impossible to show on figures of this quality, but the cloaks and covered limbs certainly do give an impression of cold weather. Whether a legionary of the early empire ever actually fought dressed in this way seems very debateable, hence our accuracy mark, although as marching figures their costume would be more acceptable. Overall however the justification for this set escapes us, and even if you accept the assumptions made here the accuracy of the cloaks is unimpressive. A highly controversial set which, ironically, left us rather cold.