The republican period in the history of ancient Rome is not so well known today as the imperial era, yet it was a time of foreign conquest and dire military crisis, of prosperity and hardship, of good government and civil wars, and was at least as colourful as anything the succeeding emperors saw. This set from Strelets is one of three produced at the same time, all portraying Republican Roman troops either on the march, preparing for battle or in battle. Since the costume and equipment is identical and only the activity is different, we reviewed all three together, so most of the comments on historical accuracy are the same for each. In this review we will consider their set of marching troops.
Rome was a republic from roughly the end of the 6th century BCE to the end of the first century BCE, but these figures are not suitable for anything like the whole of that period. Every figure here wears mail with reinforcement on the shoulders, which was originally limited to those who could afford it, but became standard after the reforms attributed to Marius in 107 BCE. The men wear a variety of helmets in Montefortino and Coolus styles, which would also suggest the last century BCE. Some of these have plumes that may be horsehair or feathers - it’s hard to tell, but both are appropriate. The shields are more or less oval with the top and bottom cut off, and largely flat, which also points to the last century of the republic, so we can be confident that this is the intended time period for these figures. However one further element spoils this comfortable dating - every man has a military belt with decorative plates (which is fine) but they also have the apron-like line of strips with studs to offer some protection to the groin. Unfortunately this did not appear until after the start of the imperial period, so is incorrect here.
Naturally when called upon to take part in a campaign the troops had to walk there (unless a sea voyage was necessary), so those sturdy Roman military shoes found themselves pounding many a road and track. One of the Marius reforms was to reduce the baggage train that the army took with it, which meant shifting more of the burden onto the soldiers themselves, causing them to give themselves the epithet 'Marius' Mules'. All the figures in this set are earning that label, walking along carrying their pack on a pole as was normal. Some of the items that might make up the pack are not known today, but Strelets have been a little inventive here, including such things as a jug. The poses are fine as far as they go, but they are quite flat and so when all placed together it is very obvious which figures were moulded in profile and which face on, since those in profile are much narrower in the body. The flatness of the poses also means many of them are not so much resting the poles on their shoulder as holding it more or less vertically by their left arm. This would have been unstable and uncomfortable and so is unnatural. In concept however the poses are all OK, being generally similar yet with sufficient differences to construct a believable mix of figures without any apparent rigid uniformity.
We have mentioned the flatness of the poses, and the sculpting too is of the usual rather chunky Strelets standard. Smaller items tend to be exaggerated in size, and some such as swords are rather thicker than they should be. However a lot of detail has been included, and there is no flash anywhere. Given our comments of the flat, upright poles, perhaps some should have been separate pieces, but in the event everything here is moulded as one piece, so there is no assembly, and those familiar with the Strelets style will find no surprises in this set.
We like to see variety in sets of figures, simply because whatever regulations might have been in force, the reality is usually that soldiers adapt their clothes and kit, and generally project a less than perfect image of uniformity and neatness. Since these men are not in any strict formation this applies doubly here, and happily the variation is very good, particularly in kit carried and helmets, where several styles were very likely seen in the same unit at the same time. Also nice to see is that some of the men wear cloaks, with or without the hood up. Better Roman figures have been made, but those that like the Strelets style will find much to approve of in this collection, so it is a real pity that the groin protector spoils the otherwise accurate look, although they could serve as soldiers in old-fashioned but certainly plausible kit for the early years of the first century CE.
Note The final figure is of a soldier from the Streltsi of 17th century Russia. Though he is unrelated to the subject of this set, he is one of a series of 'bonus' figures which when combined will create a set of this unit for the Great Northern War. See Streltsi Bonus Figures feature for details.