The bashi-bazouks were irregular troops of the Ottoman Empire. This rather bland statement fails to describe them adequately, because they were a byword for cruelty and outrage. Essentially mercenaries, they were employed by the Ottoman state but not paid, relying instead on the proceeds of plunder. The name literally means ‘damaged head’, or more appropriately ‘leaderless’, because although they had officers and leaders they were primarily looking out for themselves and were very hard to control. A strong well-organised state would have had difficulties with them: the decaying and corrupt Ottoman Empire of the 19th century stood no chance. They were used throughout the Empire and beyond (as for example in the Crimean War and the attempt to suppress the Mahdist uprising in Sudan), but this set highlights the war with Russia in 1877.
In 1876 Bulgarians had risen up and tried to gain independence from the Empire, but this had been suppressed within a few weeks. The brutality with which this was done, including the deaths of many thousands of civilians, was nothing new, nor by any means the last of its kind, yet in a world where the power of the newspaper was growing, many foreigners were shocked by reports of the atrocities and Russia used this as a pretext to declare war a year later. The blood-thirsty reputation of the bashi-bazouks continued during the war, causing the Ottomans much more harm than good, such that after the war their use was gradually abandoned.
Since they were not part of the Ottoman army the bashi-bazouks wore no uniform or insignia, instead wearing whatever they pleased and using whatever weapons they preferred. This gave them a very colourful and exotic appearance, and allows a lot of leeway for any figure sculptor. While costume was a matter of individual preference it generally reflected the ethnicity of the wearer, and this set has been designed with a wide range of styles, thus depicting elements from all parts of the Empire. A couple of the figures could easily be mistaken for Cossacks as they look very Circassian, but the rest are from further south. We find all the typical elements of dress here – baggy trousers, short jackets, knee-high leggings, various kinds of shoes and a wide assortment of caps and turbans. One man wears a hooded cape and several others have jackets with false sleeves. While this kind of diversity makes it less likely that all these figures would be serving together, nothing about these costumes is out of place here.
Weaponry too all looks authentic, with some curved sabres and some typical muskets or rifles with many bands. Just about all the men are also armed to the teeth with knives and pistols tucked into their belts, which is very appropriate and adds to their fearsome appearance.
Once again the Strelets horses are a pretty poor collection, with lots of unnatural stances. Some are OK but many are unattainable by this animal, which continues to be a major weakness for this manufacturer. Their harness is quite correctly a good match for the riders, with diverse highly decorated styles and following no particular schema. Such animals were often described as quite poor specimens compared to regular European cavalry, but these look no different to any other Strelets horse.
The positions of the riders follow the usual Strelets pattern, and are fairly two-dimensional for the most part. One or possibly two of the poses are firing from the saddle, which may not have been particularly common. Although this is a mounted set the majority of bashi-bazouks were not, so dismounting to use your musket or rifle would seem a better choice most of the time.
The usual chunky Strelets style is less of a problem here than on most other sets as the costumes are generally loose and flowing, while not having the levels of detail that, for example, a regular Napoleonic soldier would exhibit. The somewhat shortened and thickened elements are still here though, but the men fit their horses really well and securely, and there is no flash.
Given the background to the war of 1877 a set of bashi-bazouks is an obvious choice. While the horses are poor and the men not great the Strelets style works better for such ununiformed units and these are quite pleasing, so this is a serviceable set for a subject with several uses.