Over the years there have been many studies concerning the difference between the Praetorian Guard and the Roman Legions, but any Praetorian could immediately answer that question. He could point to the shorter period of compulsory service, the much better pay and the relatively untaxing duties in Italy or Rome itself, not to mention the pride that comes with belonging to an elite unit, and even on occasions being so close to the seat of power as to influence the course of the Empire. As well as avoiding boring or dangerous work policing the frontier, the Praetorians, like so many elite formations, rarely actually went into battle during the first century CE as the emperor generally (and wisely) left the fighting to his generals rather than attending himself. So most of the time Praetorians were on guard duty, patrolling or on parade, which is what these figures would seem to be doing.
When it comes to little plastic figures the important difference between the Praetorians and the rest is their physical appearance, so what makes these men Praetorians? Clearly they have been modelled on a sculpture from the mid-first century CE Arch of Claudius, now in the Louvre, as they share all the features shown there. They wear attic helmets with large bushy crests, and a tunic over their armour, so you might think we would be happy with their accuracy. Unfortunately no one thinks the Louvre figures show the Praetorians as they actually appeared, but are instead following artistic conventions when it came to depicting elite military troops, which was Greek in style. Add to that the fact that much of the sculpture, including many of the heads, are actually modern reconstructions and so partly guesswork, and it turns out it is a poor indication of historical accuracy. The absolute truth about features that distinguish the Praetorians is that nobody knows for sure today, but the general view is that there was nothing to distinguish Praetorians in terms of appearance. Doubtless they got the best of the new equipment (or could afford to buy their own), and of course standards and shield designs would identify units, but for figures this size they should be dressed much like any ordinary legionnaire. So the helmets in this set are almost certainly fanciful (except perhaps for the occasional flamboyant officer), and there is no evidence for wearing a second tunic over the armour either, which between them are most of the costume on these figures. Other elements, though sometimes poorly sculpted, look authentic.
The poses are all of men standing in a fairly relaxed manner, so presumably on guard duty or perhaps waiting for something. We don’t understand what the word ‘ranks’ in the title is supposed to be telling us, but clearly these men are not in battle. When formed up together in a group the small variety of postures gives a convincing and natural appearance of men all doing more or less the same thing, but basically we have just the single pose here, with only the two men turning their head to mix things up a bit. As far as it goes however the pose is fine.
Normal Strelets sculpting applies here, so quite nice but with some items noticeably chunky and enlarged. In particular the pila heads are rather too large, and the swords are sometimes held in an unnatural and uncomfortable position. Conversely the straps forming the apron over the groin are extremely short on some figures. All the men have a peg on their left hand to which the separate shields can be attached, the peg then forming the boss of the shield. This works well, and fits quite well too. Note all the shields are oval, which is certainly something the Praetorians carried, though this was not exclusive to them. Should you wish it, other Strelets sets of Romans provide rectangular shields as an equally valid alternative. The simple design on the shields misses the one opportunity to distinguish these men as Praetorians, as they could have had a design associated with such men, and in particular the scorpion would have been a good choice. Finally there is no flash on these men, and the separate shields and sedate poses mean no excess plastic either.
We are very aware that while some people are passionate about accuracy (as are we), others give it a low priority. For them, having a unit that is easy to distinguish on the ‘battlefield’, or simply one that looks good, is appealing, and for such people this set delivers some very distinctive and impressive-looking soldiers. As usual we have ignored the box artwork, which seems to have invented a sort of mini poncho for these men, but happily the figures are not that bad. However for those that want historical accuracy they offer nothing, at least on current evidence, but then for Praetorians such people can turn to any set of ordinary Roman legionaries anyway (except the Revell one of course). If you want distinctive Roman troops then the grand helmets here do deliver, and the undemanding nature of the poses are fine, so not a set for everyone but arguably a useful option for some gamers in particular.