While Europe generally saw a considerable growth in towns during the medieval period, this was nowhere more marked than in Italy north of the Kingdom of Naples, where a number of towns had become independent city-states with their own administrative and political systems, their own commerce and, of course, their own military forces. The local aristocracy continued to provide the heavy cavalry, but the bulk of the forces were made up of militias recruited either within the city or in the surrounding area under its control. The rural militia - that recruited from the contado or countryside surrounding a city - were generally looked-down upon, and mostly used as labourers and ‘devastators’ (used to destroy an enemy’s crops and infrastructure). The urban militia however were widely recruited from the middle class and artisans, and were both well-motivated and wealthy enough to purchase better quality equipment, as well as have the time for better training. The militia system reached its peak around the middle of the 13th century, and thereafter declined slowly, partly thanks to the widespread factionalism that constantly caused internal strife throughout the region and meant militias were sometimes more interested in battling themselves than an enemy. As militias declined, so the practice of hiring mercenaries grew (into the condottieri system), which avoided the political problems of militias as the recruits were usually foreigners (i.e. not from that city), and by the last few years of the 14th century this process was largely complete in Northern Italy.
We will assume that this set is intended to portray the urban militia, and as such it does a decent job. Although some of the largest states achieved a certain level of uniformity to promote a sense of belonging, for the most part the militia appeared much like any other infantry of the time. The biggest factor governing appearance was the wealth of the individual, and all these appear to be well equipped for their role. All have either mail or padded armour – often a combination of the two – all of which looks reasonable for the period. Some have protection on arms and legs which might be plate metal or the cheaper boiled leather (cuir-bouilli), and one man has an interesting diagonal pattern on his lower legs which are greaves made from plaited wood such as willow. Helmets too are very varied, with no two exactly the same, and again all look authentic, though not necessarily for the earlier part of the stated period. Two helmets have a full face mask, but the first man in the top row has his up, which would be cooler and allow better visibility, but naturally comes with its own risks.
Throughout this period the importance of the crossbowman increased, but was always much outnumbered by the other troops, so while such a figure is certainly necessary, in a set of eight poses just one seems about proportionate. It’s a nice pose, with the man holding his bow as he reaches for a bolt. He holds his bow vertically since that allows it to be properly moulded, which is a bit of a compromise but an acceptable one. There is no visible means of spanning his bow, but he has already done so and is preparing for his next shot. The tactic when in open battle developed into one where crossbowmen shot at the enemy from behind a protective screen of large pavise shields held by men called pavesari, and this is the third figure in the top row. He is not using his pavise in this manner however, protecting only himself. Also, the pavesari generally had rather longer spears or staff-weapons this this one, since they had to defend against cavalry attacks, so while his weapon is reasonable we felt it should have been a bit longer.
That leaves us with six poses, which between them carry an axe, a war hammer and four staff-weapons. Such men would be classed as light infantry, sheltering behind the pavise shield wall before launching their attack on an enemy weakened by crossbow fire. Two have no shield at all, and the rest have smaller oval or round shields so as not to impede mobility. However by their length all of these weapons look to be two-handed, making them difficult to use whilst holding a shield. The axe and polearms themselves are fine but with one large exception that immediately caught our eye – the third figure in the second row. He holds a large war hammer toward the bottom of the pole, which is uncomfortable and gives poor control of the weapon. He holds it as if it were a smaller weapon, but it is hard to understand why anyone would hold such a weapon up in the air like this. While on the subject of the war hammer, should there even be one in a set dating itself to only 1392? No. War hammers are devices to penetrate or at least damage plate armour, and so only appeared when such armour became commonplace, well into the middle of the 15th century. Anyone with the Osprey titles listed at the end of this review will clearly see where the inspiration came from for these figures, and this figure seems to be a direct copy of one in the ‘Italian Medieval Armies 1300-1500’ volume, which is a shame as that illustration is correctly dated as late 15th century. So the figure is accurate (but still cumbersome) for that period, but not the period claimed on the box.
The single most common weapon such men would carry was the humble spear, yet no one here carries one. True some poses could be converted with some effort, but we wondered at the high proportion of staff-weapons here, when simpler ones should be in the majority. The missing spears are particularly annoying because the figures are otherwise beautifully sculpted. All the wonderful detail is really well realised, with nice texture on the armour and sharply-done heraldic decoration on most of the shields. The proportions are great too, and the poses are quite energetic and well animated. There are a few bits of flash, but nothing to worry about, and there is no extra plastic thanks to the poses chosen, yet the poses do not seem particularly flat. True the war hammer one is poor, and the man carrying the round shield is also holding his weapon in a strange way, but the man with the axe is very well done, so a very good sculpt and very good production quality too.
The man with the war hammer is a poor pose and out of time with the rest of the set, but otherwise we really liked these figures. The lack of any spears is a surprise, however, so as it stands this set is not ideal for showing the usual composition of a militia force, although individually these figures are very attractive to look at.