During the 14th century it is believed that the Ottoman sultan, Murad I, created a bodyguard of infantry which were to be part of his elite household troops and were named 'yeni çeri', or 'new troops'. In English this is written as Janissary, so we will use that form here. The Janissaries were an elite infantry unit - the first professional regular infantry in Europe - and while Ottoman armies were predominantly cavalry forces, the Janissaries were the backbone of the Sultan’s foot warriors. Even when other states started creating their own standing armies, the reputation of the Janissaries remained fearsome, and like many Household troops they tended to be used when the ordinary infantry had already damaged and disordered the enemy, delivering the final blow at relatively little cost but gaining all of the glory. During the 16th and 17th centuries the characteristics of the troops changed greatly, but although they eventually went into decline this long period saw some of their most important engagements.
The Janissaries have been modelled twice before in this scale, and while not without their faults, both sets, by Orion and Zvezda, are very good and do their subject justice in our view. The costume of robes and breeches, with the skirts of the former tucked into the sash, is correctly done, and of course the most distinctive feature, the white felt börk hat, marks these men out from the rest and has also been well done. The bottom row shows the more senior officers and men, and here again there can be no complaints about accuracy. The first officer holds a bow - more an indication of rank rather than anything else - and is elegantly dressed as befits his station. The man with the very large plume on his hat may have some command role, or perhaps is marked out as part of a forlorn hope, although in general such large plumes were usually confined to the parade ground and not the battleground, at least for the ordinary ranks. The final figure with his enormous turban and plume, and very fine robes, is every inch a senior officer and looks great with his baton in his hand.
We liked the mix of weapons here, with the matchlock being the most numerous of these, but there is still room for a couple of polearms and a brace of swordsmen, and even a bowman. Naturally the bow declined as a weapon of choice, and eventually it disappeared from the battlefield in the hands of these men, but its continued use in ceremonial and in sport was greatly encouraged, so it certainly has a place here. Naturally every man carries a sword, and three even carry a shield, again more likely in the early part of the period. We felt that some of the matchlocks looked a bit short, especially as Ottoman muskets were generally longer and used a heavier ball than in the West.
Most of the poses are fine and well done, and we had no problem with any of those in the top two rows. The swordsman at the start of the third row is not an unusual pose but if you actually try to recreate this pose yourself you find yourself wondering why he is sticking his sword out behind him; the pose is easy to sculpt but not at all natural. We also had concerns about the standard-bearer, who is squatting in a way that is perhaps meant to impart some sense of action into him, but to us it just looks like a rather odd stance. The man with large plume and sword raised in the last row must be a favourite pose, even if he is clearly not shielding himself from anything with the shield in that position.
The set displays all the typical characteristics of RedBox sets of late, which means the detail is very good and the figures well-proportioned. The faces are very well done, particularly those that face the mould, so it is easy to make out their moustaches (and surprisingly three even have full beards). Two of the three shields in this set are easy to see in our pictures, but the third, which is on the back of the last figure in row two, is quite a mess as it is far from flat and not particularly regular in decoration. The other characteristic of recent RedBox sets is a good deal of flash, which is evident on these figures, particularly the swordsmen and standard-bearer. This may vary, though we always seem to find flash on our examples.
If we had to be picky then we would say that while having a small axe thrust into the sash was common behaviour, that carried by our friend with the plume looks much too large and would surely interfere with his ability to use his sword in anger. Also the swordsman holding the shield is not holding it in a way that would actually shield him from an enemy, which is a common complaint of shieldmen in this hobby. Nonetheless these figures are nicely done, if overloaded with flash in places, and apart from our two reservations we liked all the poses and found no problems with accuracy. We thought there could have been some figures rushing as if into the breach, since Janissaries liked to show their individual combat skills and gain glory for themselves, but that said this set is still a very appealing effort that compares well with those that have gone before, which must make the Janissaries amongst the most consistently well-modelled of all troops in this hobby, at least so far!