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.
This set comes in two different forms, or types. The first was released in 2018 and had 32 figures in the eight poses pictured in brown plastic in our first two rows above. Then in 2020 the company released the second type for this set, which had 24 figures in 16 poses. Those poses were the eight already found in the first type plus eight new ones as pictured above in orange plastic in our third and fourth rows. The type 1 set had four of each pose. The type 2 set has two of each of these poses, plus one of each of the new poses. Apart from the brown and orange colours illustrated, we do not know what colours either set was made in. The box is the same for both – the only difference is tiny stickers over the text on the front and end which update the number of figures and poses. Apart from that, there is no telling which type is included in the box. We reviewed the type 1 set when it was released, so this review is an updated version, incorporating our original comments on the type 1 set but expanded to include the new poses.
We will start by looking at the first eight poses, included in both types of the set. We 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.
The new poses only to be found in the second type set are much more varied in subject matter. The first three are soldiers, and match well with the first figures, having all the correct armour and clothing of the period. The fourth man is in civilian clothing and carries both weapons and a mail corselet. He also wears an apron, so clearly has been interrupted while performing his civilian trade and not yet changed for war. In the last row, the first figure is properly dressed, but the second is barely dressed at all. He wears his braies or drawers, and his hose, but nothing else. This is typical medieval underwear so perfectly fine here. The holy man next to him wears the usual robe and cowl, and the lady on the end wears a simple dress typical of the day.
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 (or two in the second type set) seems about proportionate. The first is 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 than 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.
The second crossbowman is actually engaged in shooting his crossbow, and has it levelled over his shield. This is achieved by having his right arm and weapon as a separate piece, which needs to be attached by gluing, but the fit is good and the resulting pose is excellent without any loss of detail. This crossbowman has a cranequin with which to draw his bow, and while you have to do some assembly, this is a great figure.
In the first type set this 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.
As we have said, the second type figures are much more diverse. The first soldier delivers the spearman lacking in the first type set, and is a great pose. Like the second crossbowman this is achieved with a separate right arm which fits nicely but requires gluing, and the standard plastic used here is not easy to glue. Still the pose is great, particularly as he holds his large shield in a very natural position, which is all too rare in this hobby. The man holding the banner is fine, and the fourth pose is clearly taken from the Osprey title, which shows a militiaman responding to the call and walking to his post, carrying his war gear. An unusual pose to be sure, but nicely done, although the presence of the apron limits the wider use of such a figure.
The last row gets even more unusual. First we have a man ringing a bell. Bells were used to mobilise the militia, but these would usually just be the normal bells of the parish churches. Bells were also taken on campaign, placed on a cart for mobility, and these served as a rallying point for the militia. Such bells were in a wooden tower something like a scaffold, and as we have said, were mounted on a wagon, possibly the carroccio or one of its own. Either way, they were three-dimensional, not the very simple flat affair offered here, so this is more of a symbol of an important device for the militia, but not a true image of the real thing. The figure next to it is clearly shouting and ringing the bell, which is fine, but his helmet is hanging from his waist, so apparently not in actual battle. However he does hold a sword, yet has no scabbard into which this could be held. The part-dressed figure has bandaging across his upper chest and around his head, so must be a wounded soldier who has had the good fortune to be tended to by the holy man. Since he is already stripped and bandaged he has already had considerable attention, so perhaps here he is being moved somewhere to recuperate. It is a touching little vignette, and a rare reminder of the inevitable results of battle. Finally we have the woman, carrying a child and perhaps waving her husband off as he goes to war. Unlike so many female figures in this hobby, she is modestly dressed and has no exaggerated chest, so is a great medieval civilian.
Particularly for type 1, but even for the type 2, we wondered at the high proportion of staff-weapons here, when simpler ones like spears should be in the majority (although it is true that some poses could be converted with some effort). However the figures in both types are beautifully sculpted, and 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 (except a small amount between man and shield for the spearman) thanks to the poses chosen and the separate pieces, yet the poses do not seem particularly flat. True the war hammer pose 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 marinella bell tower was a nice idea but the simplistic form it takes here means we could have happily done without it in the set at all, and the man ringing the bell has very limited usefulness. The figures in the second type set which are not in battle may not please some wargamers, but they certainly add to the flavour of the set, and will find many uses for medieval scenes far beyond just Italian militia. So generally this set is very attractive, and will please anyone interested in this period in history. Credit must go to Ultima Ratio for taking the trouble to expand and improve their original set, and we think the customer reaction will be very positive.