During the 15th century a new group of people began to appear in history, known in English as the Cossacks. They appeared out of the destruction of the Golden Horde and inhabited the western end of the steppe, between the neighbouring states of Poland/Lithuania, Muscovy, various khanates and the Ottoman Empire to the south, roughly where modern Ukraine sits today. They were not an ethnic, religious or geographic people, but rather a group of Tartars that wanted to live by their own rules rather than as part of some larger state, and these were soon joined by many from all the surrounding states and beyond. They hunted and raided, and were seen as wild but very capable fighters, made necessary by their difficult environment as well as raids for slaves from the Crimean khanate. Both Poland/Lithuania and Muscovy recruited many of them, known as ‘registered’ Cossacks, to help defend their borders, and Tsar Ivan IV made great use of such men when on campaign; the conquest of the khanate of Kazan in 1552 being the first significant such operation. Many Cossacks served other masters, or remained free and served no one (unless for money), and could be found in many parts of Eastern Europe at various times during the 16th century.
This, the first of three sets from RedBox on the 16th century Cossacks, concentrates on the basic infantry armed with simple spears or large axes, plus a selection of command figures. The six ordinary poses include four that are holding their long weapon forward as if advancing or in a fight, plus one man on the march and another in relaxed mood, perhaps on guard or waiting for his call to fight. We really liked all these poses, as while they are not particularly energetic they all look very natural and would work well in a fight. The man with spear on his shoulder has been well done despite the difficulties of such a pose, and both he and the man at ease will be very useful for units on the march or yet to begin battle.
The four command figures are also excellent. The trumpeter would not play his instrument while pointing it to the ground, as this figure does, but without resorting to multiple-part figures it has to be either this of having it point directly to the side, which is also less than ideal. The drummer is not actually beating his good-sized drum, but holds his sticks in readiness, and both the man with the flag and the senior officer are also fairly relaxed. Some prefer to have heroic, fast-moving poses for such men, but we think these are much more likely most of the time, and so again a big thumbs up for these poses.
Some registered Cossacks seem to have been issued uniform, but many probably wore none, and certainly the free Cossacks would have worn everyday clothes. Everyone here wears typical Cossack dress, with high boots and a mid-length coat, while some have a further jacket over that which would offer some better protection as well as warmth. The various caps, mostly fur-trimmed, all look very good, so everything about the costume here is authentic. The spears mostly have the very large head of a boar-spear, which is fine, and the men carry a selection of axes, sabres and knives as side-arms, which is great. One man, plus the officer, also has a pistol tucked into the belt. The command figures are similarly dressed, but the man with the flag has a more ostentatious cap decorated with feathers, and the officer has both a similarly-splendid cap and a large overcoat worn over the shoulders. Such men often carried small maces as a sign of rank, which this figure lacks, so his status would be indicated mainly by the superior quality of his clothing rather than the style, although he also wears vambraces, which were not normal wear for the ordinary soldiery.
Sculpting is superb. These are figures with a lot of detail, and everything has been really well done, especially on the more elaborate figure of the officer. The faces are excellent, with all the features and the long moustaches clearly visible even when the face is in profile, and the fur trim is also nicely created. The large drum is well done despite not being a separate piece, and thanks to the choice of poses there is no sense of flatness here apart from the musician already mentioned. So pretty much of a triumph of sculpting, let down just a little bit by a bit of flash in some places, but nothing to worry most people.
The spear was a common Cossack weapon because it was cheap and easy to make, and while there are only six poses here they do well in covering all the basics. The command figures are particularly admirable if only because of the extra challenges such figures present to the production process, and while sadly we were unable to find any information on flags carried by the Cossacks, this flag-bearer must be one of our all-time favourites of such a pose, with a limp flag that looks to be a good size and very realistic. The whole set delivers much that modellers will enjoy, and further expands on the coverage of the history of Eastern Europe in a highly attractive way.