The Saxons first appear in written history in the fourth century, by which time they had already engaged in piratical raids on the shores of Northern Europe. With the decline and retreat of the Roman Empire they gradually infiltrated, or conquered, much of Britain in the fifth century, and so began a culture that was to prosper and endure for around six centuries. During that time the various kingdoms warred with each other and with the native Britons, who were pushed to the margins of the land and to Ireland. Naturally they also fought the Norsemen as they began raiding and ultimately settling England, before famously succumbing to the Normans in 1066. Saxons in battle have been done several times before, but this set features warriors as they await battle, so represents something genuinely different from what has gone before, in more ways than one as we shall see.
In the hours and minutes before battle, men would prepare themselves as best they could, perhaps try and intimidate the enemy or put on a show of bravado, or simply wait for the action to begin. All the figures in this set look to be ready for battle already, so what we find here are men either quietly waiting or making grand gestures. These might be an attempt to intimidate an enemy or provoke a response, but they could just as easily be an enthusiastic reception to some stirring words from an inspirational leader, although that does seem more Hollywood than Saxon England. Anyway, those poses are all well done and quite easy to believe, while the figures just standing and waiting all look equally natural.
We have said many times that Strelets figures are chunky and poorly defined. Well not this time. These figures are great, with much finer proportions than we have come to expect. Not as good as the best being made today, but certainly some of the best sculpting Strelets have ever done, and very appealing they are too. The detail is all there, with the beards being particularly well done, and the proportions are also very good, with thinner limbs and well balanced bodies. None of the figures have any flash, and their basically sedentary nature means the poses do not need to have complex arm patterns which challenge sculptors of most sword-and-shield sets. If they are a bit flat well in this case that still looks perfectly natural. There are no separate weapons or other assembly here, just some very fine figures ready to use.
The set makes no claims as to the precise date for these figures, which allows the sculptor much leeway in terms of historical accuracy. All the figures are correctly dressed for the subject, with many having a hauberk or byrnie of mail or, in a few cases, scale or quilted armour, which would be more likely in the earlier part of the period. Most have helmets, although some of these might be leather rather than metal, while some clearly have caps of suitable design. The helmets are in several designs, all of which are appropriate, with one in particular (second figure in second row) being particularly interesting as it looks like it might be a hand down from the late Roman period, or at least inspired by such items. Two of the poses are wearing cloaks (which might well be discarded before battle is joined). In both cases these actually look like real cloaks rather than the tiny rectangles Strelets sometimes produce. You could really believe they are big enough to shelter the man from the elements.
Weaponry too ticks all the right boxes, with spears, swords, axes, javelins, a mace and a bow – all perfectly reasonable for the Saxons. Long axes like these were adopted early in the 11th century, and were on the wane by the time of Hastings, but all of these look fine. A higher proportion of spears would have been preferable as this was the main mass infantry weapon, but nothing here is out of place. Many of the men are also clearly carrying the scramasax, the knife which it is sometimes claimed may have given the people their name of Saxons. Indeed the second figure in the second row may actually be handling a large example of this weapon, which was effectively a sword at this scale. Many of the men carry shields, which are round in all cases. By Hastings some carried the new kite-shaped version, but the round was the classic shape throughout the Saxon period so is a wise choice here.
14 poses is not bad by modern standards, and for a ‘Before Battle’ set it is more than adequate. However it is the quality of these figures which takes us by surprise, making this just about the best set Strelets have yet made, with little or nothing to complain about in any respect.