Of all the so called barbarian peoples that the Romans had to face during the lifetime of the Western Empire the Goths were, well, one of them. Actually they were one of the more dangerous and threatened the Danube frontier from the middle of the third century, where the pattern of hostility, alliance and temporary peaceful if suspicious co-existence mirrored many other frontiers. The Goths had migrated to their current location, but the Romans were able to keep them in check for many decades until another migration, that of the Huns from the east, brought matters to a head. The Huns displaced the Alans westward, who in turn pressured the Goths, large numbers of whom were eventually permitted to cross into Imperial territory. Goth continued to fight Roman, however, and famously at Adrianople in 378 the Romans were disastrously defeated. The Goths spread over much of the Empire, and famously sacked Rome itself in 410, staying to witness the destruction of the Western Empire, in part at least, at their own hand.
The box claims this set is for the late Roman Empire, which means the late Western Empire, by which time many Goths had served in or alongside Roman armies and had acquired a greater level of sophistication. More were wearing armour and owned swords, and more also went into battle mounted, although the term ‘cavalry’ is slightly misleading as these were simply warriors who would fight on horseback when the need arose, but might just as easily fight on foot if that was the better option. The pivotal role of the mounted warriors in the battle of Adrianople is probably what inspired Italeri to produce this set, which is as good a reason as any.
With the fourth century in mind these warriors all look pretty much as they should. Some but not all are wearing helmets and either mail or lamellar armour, and both this and the clothing look authentic. Two of the helmets, and in particular that of the second figure in the top row, look quite like leather crash helmets from the 1940s because they have some sort of curtain that wraps round the back of the head. Our best guess is this is meant to be a mail curtain, which would be correct, although someone has forgotten to add a mail texture to this, making it look very strange. Unless motorbikes were in fact a feature of Gothic warfare at this time we would suggest some clever painting or even manually breaking up the surface to present a more realistic picture.
All the men are carrying swords, but most are using a spear. This is all very well, but we felt that some at least should have been given javelins instead. What’s that? They do have javelins you say? Well we would beg to differ. The two ring hand figures can take a second spear, and yes, no one went around with two spears, but as javelins these are really much too long. Javelins were a metre or at most 1.5 metres in length, but all the weapons here look like spears, and at around 2.5 metres in length they can only be spears. If much of the shaft is lost, and the head is modified, then something like a javelin could be achieved, but as it stands this set has none that are credible, which is an opportunity missed.
Enough of the weapons; what of the shields? Well certainly round shields of these proportions are perfectly fine for the subject, but as with our review of the corresponding Romans we are mightily uncomfortable with the fact that all have been modelled being held by two straps when most sources seem to agree that they would have been held by a bar behind the central boss. It is hard to say the two strap arrangement never happened, but we still feel this is a mistake.
Another mistake is to be found with the horses. Well actually the horses gave us a good deal of concern for several reasons. First there are the poses, several of which are far from the natural gait of a horse at the trot or gallop. Second there is the matter of saddles, which seem OK for four of the five, but what on Earth has the first horse pictured above got on his back? The answer, so it would seem, is a classic Napoleonic sheepskin cover with wolf’s teeth edging. We can give a lot of leeway on this subject as the Goths left few clues about their preferences, but this surely is so unlike any saddle and cover of the ancient world as to be beyond belief. Another observation is the horses look too good for the sort of hardy ponies that the Goths would have had available, although later on they would have had access to Roman stables, where better animals might have been available. Yet despite the mangled poses, ultra-modern saddle cover and over-sexy physique, there is still one more problem, and it is bigger than all of these. Every man is using stirrups, a device that entered Europe from the East, but did not do so until around two centuries after this set is supposed to be based. Certainly in some old books the Goths are credited with having stirrups, but this notion has long since been dismissed as entirely wrong, and who are we to argue?
This review has not exactly been what you might call positive so far, but at least now we can address something where we can find nothing bad to say, and that is the sculpting. After a very rough patch Italeri have been producing some really excellent figures recently and these are as good as you could want. Fine detail such as on the armour and the hair is superbly done, while the clothing and overall human proportions are beyond reproach. All the faces are a joy to behold, and we are happy to confirm there is no flash or extraneous plastic to spoil the view. The poses of the men are fairly standard and will not be winning any awards for originality, but nevertheless they are all reasonable and up to the job. The three figures that have separate shields (see the sprue image) have them cut in a realistic angled way, although we found the join was not quite as tight as it might be and gluing is likely to be necessary.
While these are very nicely produced figures, the designer could have spent more time studying the movement of horses when at the gallop, and more up to date research material would have helped too. Simply looking at the much more accurate HaT set, which has been around for years, should have raised some alarm bells, but instead we have this, lovely figures that suffer from both historical and anatomical mistakes that devalue the end result.