If Suetonius is to be believed, in the year 9 CE the most powerful man in the western world, Emperor Augustus, was to be found butting his head against the walls and crying out “Quintilius Varus, give me back my legions!”. The legions concerned were the XVII, XVIII and XIX, and all three had been destroyed in September by an alliance of Germanic tribes in what became known as the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest. It was one of the worst disasters to befall Roman arms, and is often credited with keeping the Germanic tribes east of the river Rhine free of permanent Roman conquest. This set is the first of several by Linear-A focused on that one decisive battle.
The back of the box for this set tells us that these figures are intended to represent six different Germanic tribes; two for each. We have retained this grouping in our photographs, so here is the breakdown:
There were some differences in appearance which could help you identify an individual as belonging to a particular tribe, mostly related to the way they wore their hair, but naturally information is now quite poor on this and most customers will probably just treat this whole set as Germanics. As such there are no apparent problems with the costume on most of these men. In contrast to the hot weather set from Caesar and the cold weather set from Strelets, the figures here wear what might be considered normal clothing, which would certainly seem appropriate for September in that region. All have a simple tunic and trousers, some of which are gathered at the ankle with a thong. The last figure in the second row seems to wear something like a modern coat, with an open front, for which we could find no evidence, although it is hard to say if such a garment is incorrect here. A couple of the poses have fur over-garments, which makes sense, but the two men from the Cerusker both have a sort of outer item that attaches at the right shoulder and sweeps round the trunk and under the left armpit. Again we could find no mention or evidence for this, and on the face of it this seems a less practical item, so less easy to accept. No one here has any headgear or armour, which is good, but also missing is any form of cloak. During the days of the battle it rained very heavily, and the Germanic fighters were far from their homes, so although some may have found it an encumbrance when fighting, we thought some, particularly the static poses, could have worn this item.
- Row 1 - First pair Markomanen, second pair Brukerer.
- Row 2 - First pair Cerusker, second pair Friesen.
- Row 3 - First pair Chauten, second pair Hermuduren.
Spears (framea) and javelins were the main weapons of such Germanic warriors, with swords being much less common at this date. Many of these poses do hold one or more spears, though they all look a bit too long to be javelins. None have any detail (so no heads for example), but look to be a reasonable length. Four of the men carry a sword (although no one has a scabbard), all of which are fairly short. Everyone carries a shield, which come in various styles including round, rectangular and hexagonal. All are flat, and most seem to be simple painted board with a central boss, but a couple are of wicker and nicely engraved. All these shapes and styles are suitable, so a good selection.
There is nothing much to object to here in terms of the poses. One man in the second row holds his spear on top of his head, which is a common failing of plastic figures that makes them look very flat, and some have their shield pressed very firmly against their body, which is understandable but does not look natural. However as none of the figures have separate weapons or shields there are always going to be compromises. The last figure in row three holds his spear far down the shaft, which would make it difficult to control and so less than ideal. However we were surprised that so many of the poses are in quite relaxed, non-combative postures. Everyone has both feet planted firmly on the ground, and half have their weapon resting on the ground or tamely to their side, so while these are valid poses, many of the figures do not lend themselves to actual battle, which some may find disappointing.
The sculpting is pretty good, closely matching sets from other manufacturers that are also made in the Ukraine. The costume makes no demands for fine detail, but the wicker shields are nicely done as we have said. By far the most intricate part of these figures is the hair, which has been correctly done in various styles. In particular several have topknots or the famous Suebian knot to the side, and these have been nicely done, as have the beards every man has. Already highlighted is the lack of any detail on the spears, which have no points, and some of the swords are also rather thick. There is some flash on these pieces, generally low level but more apparent in a few places, and the only extra plastic is between man and shield, but this has not been allowed to detract much from their overall appearance.
Essentially we thought this a good set but with several little annoying niggles. The rather Greek-looking wrap round the two men of the Cherusci tribe worried us, the spears could have been done better and there are a lot of passive poses, with even the more aggressive ones often being quite unenergetic. It should be remembered of course that some Germanic tribes were allies of the Romans, so for example the Marcomanni remained loyal to Rome even after the disaster of the Teutoburg Forest. Therefore if you choose to observe the tribal categorisation for these figures then you have figures for both sides. However you use them, this is a nice collection of warriors for a decisive moment in the history of the Western Empire, and a good start for this range.