Cataphracts were essentially heavy armoured lancers, and appeared in the armies of many peoples during the five centuries mentioned by the box (second century BCE to third century CE), particularly but not exclusively the Parthians, Sarmatians, Seleucids and even the Romans in the later empire. As usual there were no rules as to their appearance, and the differences between those of one army and another were often non-existent, especially when one group were serving as mercenaries or allies for another. Wisely then this set makes no mention of nationality, and merely leaves us to gaze on the fearsome armoured warriors it contains.
Visible human and horse flesh is in short supply here as almost everywhere has been covered with scale armour to make these heavy cavalry as invulnerable as possible. Such scale armour was common to this type of cavalry, and the various shapes and styles of helmet are also all authentic. Arms and legs are covered in the flexible limb armour that was another feature of these men, and the officer figure in the third row has a cloak and very impressive helmet together with plume to advertise his rank and authority. Many of the horses are also at least partly covered in an armoured bard, although not all were so well protected, as represented by one of the horse poses here. As with the men many styles seem to have been used, but all those here are accurate and appropriate.
The three figures in the top row are using their kontos, a lance of about four metres in length which was held in both hands. All are quite correctly levelling this to their front, which makes them very difficult to photograph but entirely accurate as models. In this set the kontos is a little under sized at 49 mm (about 3.5 metres), but still OK in our view. These complex three-dimensional poses are achieved by the use of separate arms, which will not come as any surprise to anyone who has bought Zvezda figure sets in the past. The fit of these arms is a bit variable with the final join being less than perfect in some cases, but all fit tightly and require no gluing. More importantly the effort of assembling such a figure is rewarded with an accurate pose that could not be achieved any other way.
The second row begins with another warrior holding his kontos upright, and includes two figures wielding close combat weapons – in this case a club and a sword. Clearly the long kontos was no use in close combat so these weapons were used when it came to finish off the enemy at close quarters.
The final pair shows the specialists in the set. The first man holds a draco standard, which was another innovation that spread from the Near East at a similar time to the cataphract itself. Finally there is the rather impressive commander, holding his mace up high and with the aforementioned cloak, which is also a separate piece.
The four horse poses are all at the charge, which makes for a dramatic set but does not permit anything other than a full charge to be depicted. All except the single horse of the commander have a separate bow case which attaches to the rear right saddle, which is a reasonable accessory but allows those that wish to depict troops that did not usually carry the bow to leave this off. The commander’s horse has separate front pieces of armour but no bow case option. All the poses are good but we did feel that the horses seemed a little too small for the heavy load that they are carrying.
As everyone knows Zvezda always deliver excellent sculpting with great detail and natural proportions, so this set will be no surprise as it maintains their standard. Such figures are literally covered in great detail, so rely more than most on a high quality finish, which is just what they get. There is no flash and the riders fit their horses very well, although as usual you have to reduce the pegs on the rider’s legs to get them to mount the animal successfully.
While it will take a little time to assemble these figures the effort is more than rewarded with some good poses, so along with the high production values this is a great set with many uses.