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Set 002

Roman Port

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All figures are supplied unpainted    (Numbers of each pose in brackets)
Stats
Date Released 2012
Contents 48 figures
Poses 12 poses
Material Plastic (Medium Consistency)
Colours Grey
Average Height 24 mm (= 1.73 m)

Review

As the Roman republic and later Empire expanded, it provided a relatively safe market with integrated institutions that encouraged the growth of international trade. Commodities and finished goods flowed round the Empire and by far the best method of doing this was by sea. Despite the fame of the Roman military roads, most inland transport was slow and expensive, and of course as the Empire was centred on the Mediterranean that was an obvious channel for much trade. This made ports immensely important, of which the two that served Rome – Ostia and Portus – are the best known.

No Roman would recognise a modern port, which thanks to containerisation in the 1950s and 60s is a highly mechanised operation moving vast quantities of goods quickly and easily using very few workers. A Roman port was a bustling, lively place, with large numbers of men carrying goods between ships and nearby warehouses. As well as such workers there would have been sailors newly arrived and looking for entertainment while waiting for their next job, so ports offered many taverns and other services to these transient customers. There were also busy markets where people could come down and buy produce fresh off the ships. Any set of figures that relates to a Roman port might therefore be expected to include people carrying various crates, baskets, barrels, sacks, amphora etc. plus merchants supervising and selling, customers buying and sailors looking to spend their money on a good time. What we find in this set is somewhat different.

Several of the figures in this set seem to be deliberately posed, but it is not at all clear what they are supposed to be doing. All the figures in the top row are of individuals in very particular poses, but apart from the figure carrying a parasol we found we could not interpret them. The first figure is a lady of some quality, although her garment is too short to be of an entirely respectable Roman matron. Perhaps she is pointing to something we wishes to buy – who knows. The second figure, holding the parasol, has a sort of sash of material diagonally across their body for some unfathomable reason, and may be intended as a slave shading the smart woman. The pot-bellied man holds a bag (presumably a purse of money) so is perhaps a merchant, but both he and the frankly lower-class women next to him hold their left hand up for some reason.

We will come back to the first figure in the second row in a moment, but the rest are intended to be grouped together to show a male and female slave bound at the wrists and held together by a rope or chain around their necks which is being pulled by a handler holding a very small whip. Both the slaves are naked (we have blurred part of the male figure for the sack of modesty), and while there were several ways in which people could become slaves, the shackles suggest these are trophies of war. The male slave is a giant, being 28mm tall (just over two metres in scale height) who dwarfs his handler. The handler wears an ordinary tunic and also a curious hat for which we could find no evidence.

The third row starts with a beggar, who wears a tattered tunic and seems to have lost part of his right leg. Crippling accidents would have been fairly common at sea or in a port, and with so much trade going on a port would also have been a promising place in which to beg, so this figure makes a lot of sense. Beside him is a slim girl who has her tunic rolled down to her waist, but is covering her exposed breast with her arms. We might imagine that she represents some of the services on offer to the seamen who have perhaps not seen a woman in weeks.

The last two figures are more controversial. The last figure is a woman lying on her back with legs up in the air, with her tunic partly down to reveal one breast. The kneeling man is holding his genitalia, so it is clear that the sexual act is being represented here (again we have used blurring for the sake of decency). What makes this scene potentially disturbing is the first figure in the second row, who can almost be positioned such that he appears to be holding the woman’s arms, implying that she is resisting what is going on. Now rape is as old as the human species, and it is easy to imagine it being more common in a port, full of drunken strangers looking to satisfy a craving by any means, but we do also have to remember the institution of slavery. The status of a slave changed during the history of the Roman world, but in the early part a slave was simply property, and the owner had complete power of life and death over them, including the right to sexually exploit them if desired. This was neither illegal nor considered immoral, so that may be what is being shown here. Even free women enjoyed little of the protection they do in the developed world today, so again she had no defence against non-consensual sex by her husband. However, whatever the explanation, and accurate though it surely is, we find it distasteful to have such acts modeled. While this is more about modern attitudes than Roman sensibilities, we still find ourselves wondering why the world needs models of this nature. Certainly there is a large market for ‘fantasy’ figures (essentially soft pornography), but we would prefer not to see such figures in a set that is innocently titled and gives no indication on the box of the ‘adult’ content.

Everything looks pretty accurately done here, given our previous comments on the costume, and the figures have no flash or unwanted plastic. The style is of the usual fairly rudimentary type from this source, which we do not care for, leaving limbs thick and short as well as some smaller details exaggerated. The only assembly is the shade on the parasol, which fits well, but these are not attractive figures.

It would have been nice for the box to give an indication of what the designer was thinking when making these figures, but the poorly photo-shopped image it actually shows certainly tells you nothing about what you can expect inside. While we could not decide the purpose of some of the poses, ultimately it is for the customer to decide if they find the poses useful for any particular purpose. We felt this set lacked a lot of obvious poses – particularly people loading or unloading ships, although it is true that other manufacturers have made such figures (and done a much better job). The figures actually chosen are an odd mix and in many cases certainly not what we would have chosen. The style is not at all appealing, and there are some question marks over details of costume. This could have been an interesting set focusing on an important aspect of life in ancient Rome, but instead it concentrates on slavery, prostitution and rape, and while all these things happened in any Roman port we thought there was actually almost nothing in this set that actually said ’port’ to us.

Ratings

Historical Accuracy 10
Pose Quality 6
Pose Number 7
Sculpting 6
Mould 9

Further Reading
Books
"Roman Clothing and Fashion" - Tempus - Alexandra Croom - 9780752425122
"The Port of Roman London" - Batsford - Gustav Milne - 9780713443653

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