The three hundred years covered by this set, 600 to 900, were not surprisingly a time of great change for the Byzantine or Eastern Roman Empire. Although the empire had conquered, or as it saw it reconquered, new territories in Italy and Africa in the previous century, the empire was still in a difficult position, with increasing difficulties in the Balkans and frequent wars with the Persians being the main areas of concern. During the seventh century a new foe, Muslim Arabs, would take vast areas away from the Empire forever, while battles with Bulgars and Avars effectively lost much of the Balkans too. Despite many more losses and a shortage of both money and manpower, the Empire would subsequently recover from these losses to an extent, although frequent internal strife would continue to undermine its strength. Arabs and Slavs remained the main enemies, but internal divisions in the Caliphate helped to give the Empire a stronger position by 900, which at least limited any further losses.
Throughout the lifetime of the Western Roman Empire, it had been the infantry that played the dominant role in Roman tactics, but during the fifth century cavalry had gradually increased in importance, and this trend continued through the period in question here, although infantry still had an important role to play naturally, particularly in providing a safe haven for cavalry on the battlefield and in conducting operations on terrain unsuitable for horsemen. This was at least partly due to exposure to the mounted archers of the Steppe peoples, which also provoked a rise in the importance of the bow in Byzantine armies, although many archers were provided by mercenaries and allies, and it would seem that during this period archery actually declined amongst native Byzantine forces.
At the start of our period there were perhaps three heavy infantrymen to each light, and the majority of poses in this set are suitably heavy. Most of these are armed with a long spear and a sword, which is fine, but one man has an axe instead, which was a less common but perfectly acceptable weapon. All the heavies carry a shield which varies in shape, with round, oval and kite shields all being in evidence. The kite shield would be appropriate for the very end of the period, but otherwise these are all authentic, as is the mix seen here. The last man on the top row looks to be a less heavy infantryman as he carries a sword but only a small round shield, but again he is authentic. The bottom row shows the light infantry, including a couple of archers, a slinger and a running man armed with javelins. Once again all these weapons are appropriate, as is the scarcity of shields amongst such men.
During this period much of the heavy infantry had no metal armour, and where this did exist it might be mail, scale or lamellar, with the last being the most common. Three of the poses here wear lamellar armour, which is correctly done with no sleeves and only reaching to the waist. All have the leather or cloth pteurges at the shoulder, and one also has them at the waist. Two others have mail, which is correctly done with short sleeves and reaching further down the body, removing the need for pteurges. The rest seem to have simple tunic and trousers, although there is no way of telling whether they too have some form of fabric armour underneath. All the heavies have a helmet, which is good, and the designs vary but all look appropriate, including those with an aventail. As you would expect the lights are more lightly attired, with tunic and trousers, but some of these have a small helmet or a cap. There is good variety of clothing and armour here (including a smattering of greaves and vambraces), but everything is accurate for much or all of the period being covered, so along with the good weapons there are no historical accuracy problems in this set.
We can have no complaints about the sculpting either, which is very sharp and beautifully done. The textures used for such surfaces as mail and the wooden shields are excellent, and the faces are a joy - very expressive and with fine detail such as facial hair being particularly well done. Everywhere the detail is faultless, and our one very tiny complaint is that the short sword being held by the last man in the top row is much too long for the very short scabbard he has been given. The poses too are generally very good, although some do let the side down. The man running while holding a brace of javelins is very unnatural, and the man with the axe is very flat and so has both the weapon and shield at illogical angles. The warrior advancing and holding his long spear just at the very end would have little control over it as a result, and we found the limp sling was not believable at all. However the rest are very good and all are useful.
Where this set is let down is in the quality of the mould, for there is a considerable amount of flash here. This varies greatly even on each figure, with some areas being completely clear and others having large amounts of it. On a public forum the manufacturer effectively admitted that their sets are released with poor quality control, so some are a lot worse than others, and you may find examples of this set that are better than ours, or perhaps worse. Whatever your personal experience, be aware that there are at least some really poorly produced examples of this set in the market as shown above. As well as the flash there is some minimal excess plastic between weapons and body as there are no separate parts, and the axe has half the blade lost in the sprue - you will have to recreate this as we have done above. Finally, some of the spears are attached to the sprue in many places, so there is a good deal of cutting required to remove these figures.
The poor quality of actual production spoils what is otherwise a great set apart from a handful of less than ideal poses. It is always a shame to see good research and good sculpting squandered like this, and we can only hope that there are sufficient properly produced sets to rescue this, or that future batches will be more carefully made.