The Golden Horde was the north-western part of the Mongol Empire, north of the Caspian and Black seas, in the Russian Steppe. As with all of the Mongol conquests the Mongols settled down to rule, and quickly began to absorb the culture and traditions of their new subjects, as well as influence their near neighbours, in this case particularly the Russian states. In time the Golden Horde would be Turkicised and to an extent it would adopt Islam, but it always retained something of its Mongol roots before it fell apart during the 15th century.
Depending on where along the time line from 1242 to 1399 you take your mark, this set could be seen as anything from a depiction of one of the many Mongol khanates to simply a new set of Mongols. Zvezda have already made a set of Mongols, and while we thought it a pretty good set it is not up to the standards set by that company today, so perhaps the name 'Golden Horde' is partly an excuse to make a new, better set, and if so then that is fine by us. Either way, what we have here is basically a set of Mongol heavy cavalry, all of whom are wearing various styles of the classic Mongol lamellar armour and assorted helmets, all of which look entirely authentic. Everyone is armed with a bow, of course, but only one pose is using it - the rest have mostly lances or swords, which is what we would expect. The commander in the set holds a mace – a common weapon but also a mark of rank – so costume and weaponry are fine.
The popular image of Mongols is of light horse-archers, unarmoured and on equally unarmoured steppe horses. That is a fair description of the majority of Mongols in any Mongol army, so we are continually surprised by the emphasis on heavy cavalry in sets of Mongols. This set has just one light cavalry pose (the first archer in the second row), and he is properly done with the Mongol coat and cap. He is aiming his bow somewhat behind him - a skill widely reported of all Mongol warriors - and is a splendid figure. He is, however, very out of place in this particular set.
The four horse poses do not look much like the classic Mongol animal, even though most are wearing armour that successfully covers much of them. However we must remember that this set is not purely of Mongols, and it is reasonable to suppose that as the Golden Horde developed, the cavalry used more of the European or Arabian horses, so these may not be inappropriate. There armour looks to be OK, although not all heavy cavalry had such extensive coverings for their horses. Still nothing here would seem to be incorrect. Three of the four poses are OK, but the last horse pictured above has a very unnatural posture, so it is just as well that it is the least common of the models.
Moving on to the poses of the men, all of them are pretty good and anything but flat. This is sometimes achieved with multiple parts, but sometimes simply by intelligent positioning on the sprue. The bottom row of figures are in less combative poses, but all fulfil a particular role. The box labels the first figure, with the upright lance, as a 'noucker'. This is in fact a 'nökör', a word with no English equivalent, which means a companion, retinue or bodyguard. Beside him is a standard-bearer, who is particularly interesting. His very large flag is nothing like the traditional Mongol standards, but does resemble flags carried by others at the time. Again, as Mongols integrated into their new lands they may have adopted such a standard, but we could not find any evidence for or against it. What we can say for certain is this very large item is flying directly over the head of the bearer, so there must be a tremendous side wind to account for this, particularly as he is riding an animal that is moving forward very rapidly! Next to this phenomenon is a 'mirza', which means a royal prince or aristocrat, and so clearly is the commander.
Zvezda sculpting has almost always been superb, with lots of crisp detail and beautifully balanced figures, and these are just the same. Such a subject has extremely complex surface detail, and all the finer parts of the armour are very well done. The weapons are long and slender, as they should be, and there is no flash, while the separate parts fit together fairly well (although the separate sword arm was too tight a fit). Having such bulky armour will of course hide the human form underneath, but despite this we thought two of the figures (the last figure in rows two and three) had heads which were far too low down on their chest, denying any possibility of a neck and even appearing below the shoulders. Other than that the proportions are good and the riders, once their leg tabs are trimmed down, fit the horses well enough.
It has been said that a minority of Mongol heavy cavalry wore armour, in which case this set seems unrepresentative as all of these figures do. However again we find ourselves asking whether the use of armour increased over the decades following the conquest, and lacking any evidence to the contrary we must accept that these figures are correct. Equally the use of shields by mounted Mongols is claimed to have been rare by some sources, but may well have been more common thereafter, and most of these figures carry one. The figure that most closely resembles the original steppe warriors, the light archer, carries a lasso on his saddle.
As we have said, this is a set of mostly heavy cavalry for a subject known mainly for its light cavalry. To what extent and at what speed the Golden Horde departed from its traditional Mongol forms of fighting we could not discover, so we cannot say that anything here is wrong, although the suspicion is that the light horse archer remained for a very long time, and if so then it is inadequately depicted here. Perhaps a set of exclusively Mongol light cavalry will one day appear - we certainly think it is needed. For now though these figures are very nicely crafted (apart from the heads we mentioned) and make for a challenging and absorbing painting project.