This is the second in the series of sets depicting transportation in the Crusader period, or at least crusaders on the march. The first such set is reviewed here, and briefly discusses some of the issues of travelling such a prodigious distance in the medieval period. This second set has the same wagon and animals as the first, but also a new sprue of figures.
Beginning with the foot figures (top two rows), this is a collection of men plus a woman and child, most dressed in medieval costume sometimes military and sometimes civilian in nature. There are two soldiers and two ecclesiastics in the top row, and the second row begins with a nice piece of a man giving a small boy a ride on his shoulders. Sometimes whole families went with the father on crusade, despite the evident dangers of such a trip, so this piece is fine. The man and woman next to it are for pushing the cart in the bottom row, and again look authentic. After that there are two prostrate soldiers, the first holding his abdomen and the second with a thick shaft of some kind (presumably a spear) in his stomach. Needless to say such a wound would almost certainly be fatal, yet he is clearly still alive at this moment. With virtually no medieval casualty figures so far made these two are particularly useful. Finally the row has the final condition of so many crusaders – wrapped in a shroud and ready for burial.
Did we miss one? Well yes we did, because the middle figure in the top row warrants some special attention. We must first of all say that we could find no evidence for a figure such as this from the medieval period, so what you might use him for we cannot guess. He wears a fairly generic coat or mantle with a hood, and a mask with a beak-like protrusion, while he holds some sort of stick and has his hand in a bag. We know what you are thinking – he is a doctor. Not true. If you google ‘Medieval doctor’ on the internet you will find numerous depictions of this sort of figure, but all of them are posted by people who clearly have no idea what ‘medieval’ actually means. We could find no serious source that dates this costume to before the seventeenth century – hundreds of years after the last crusade. Now it is true that medieval western medicine was based on Galen, which meant people believed disease was spread through bad air (a belief that lasted until the nineteenth century), so a medieval doctor might well take precautions to sweeten or avoid the odour from sick people, but there is no evidence for the bird’s beak mask at this period – another case of a falsehood repeated on the internet often enough gets accepted as fact by the lazy. Looks like Strelets fall into that category again, so this is a useless figure for any medieval context.
Moving to the third row, the first man must be riding one of the mules, while the second holds a whip and so is driving the first cart in our bottom row. The pair are clearly guiding the large wagon, and the seated woman with the baby could reasonably be riding either, although there is no seat for her on any of them.
Moving down again, the set contains four mules – the same as those in Set 1. Here two of them are used as draught animals for the larger cart, so the pegs on their backs are used as a very rudimentary hitch, although the side pegs will need to be removed. The sole rider has already been mentioned, leaving a spare animal for use perhaps as a pack animal. The oxen are for the large wagon, as they are in Set 1.
As we have said, the wagon is the same as that in Set 1, although here it lacks the covering. The wagon has many failings which we have already itemised in the first review, but will repeat here for completeness. It is a very simple box wagon with solid, square sides and a bench at the front on which the driver and friend sit. There is virtually no undercarriage – just two axles on which the body lays directly, so this is a very simplified model. The wheels are the same size front and back and are very small (about 12mm in diameter), although we could not be sure that this was wrong. Four-wheeled wagons were very expensive and difficult to manoeuvre in the medieval period, so were very rare. Much rarer still were ones made with solid sides like this, for they used more wood and were heavier. Much more likely were ones with simple rails at the sides, or else sides made of wattle – solid sides would only be necessary for loads of some small items such as root vegetables. Taking one like this all the way to the Holy Land would seem like a very unlikely choice. There is also a glaring yet surprising historical error even in such a basic model. It has been given a pivoting front axle, which was a feature known to the Romans but lost with the fall of the Western Empire and not rediscovered in Europe until the 14th century, after most crusades had finished. Luckily this is easy to fix by simply gluing the front axle to the body!
The parts of the wagon fit together but this is a fairly crude kit. The small wheels and lack of undercarriage mean the floor of the wagon is at people’s knees, which is absurd. Also the whip in the hands of the driver would at best be able to tickle the very end of the oxen tails as it is much too short to do anything more useful. The wagon has a lot of not quite straight sides and a lot of ugly marks where it is attached to the sprue, so should you wish to really make a nice job of the model it will take a lot of cleaning up.
If the wagon is unlikely then the carts are much better. Carts were relatively cheap, light and didn’t necessarily need expensive draught animals. They would have been quite common on medieval roads and farms, and would surely have been numerous in the train of all crusader armies. The first is a simple box shape and has a very simple rig to attach two of the mules. The second is our favourite – just a platform on wheels, and is being pushed by the two figures in the second row. Like the wagon the kits go together but make rather rough vehicles, although that is not such a bad thing considering the subject matter.
The usual rough Strelets sculpting style blends well with the rest of their range, and the interesting poses have been chosen to avoid issues with unwanted plastic without seeming to be flat. The figures unique to this set have no flash, and both they and the carts are a very welcome addition to the world of medieval models. The wagon we will pass on, while the late renaissance plague doctor is a surprise and very useful, but nothing whatever to do with the crusades. If you are going to put together a medieval pilgrim army on the march in the Strelets style then there are good things here, although sloppy research of wagons and medical men mean it could have been better.