It was during the First Punic War that Rome realised she would need a good navy if she was to defeat Carthage and gain mastery of the Mediterranean. In time such a fleet was built and the necessary skills in ship-building and sea warfare were acquired and developed, making Rome the only naval superpower after the battle of Actium in 31 BCE. Today it is the army that is best remembered, so it is all the more pleasant to discuss this set, which at the time of writing is the first all-naval set produced in 1/72 plastic.
The set divides neatly into two halves - the rowers and the rest of the crew. The rowers are obviously the simpler figures, with the men dressed minimally as befits their arduous task. Some seem to wear a tunic dropped from the right shoulder, which was a common fashion, but the majority seems to be wearing nothing but a kilt held up by a belt. Two of the rowers wear helmets, and three appear to wear greaves. This is because the rowers would be expected to assist the marines if a boarding action took place. Contrary to popular belief, rowers were not slaves but soldiers who could not afford the cost of equipping themselves for the regular land legions. They had weapons and possibly some protection under their benches should they be called upon to fight. However it would be unusual for these men to be wearing helmets etc. whilst they were still rowing, and we felt the greaves were out of place here.
The other poses are inevitably more interesting, starting with the drummer beating out the rhythm for the rowers. He seems to be doing this with a considerable theatrical flourish, and whilst standing, which he is not likely to maintain for very long. The drum itself has a nice lion motif on it, and also a large hole in its back which serves no apparent purpose at all.
The next figure looks like a slave-master, holding something like a cat-o-nine tails. Whether this implement is authentic or not we could not discover, but since the rowers were not slaves his presence may owe more to popular imagination than reality. Beside him are several crewmen going about their tasks, perhaps pulling ropes or steering the ship. The first man on the bottom row is pulling on a rope. He has no base so there is little else that can be done with him.
Which brings us to the 'gun'. Orion call it Greek Fire, but this was not invented until around the end of the seventh century CE, which seems incompatible with the costume of the crew. It should more correctly be called a 'siphon', invented around 300 BCE, which was a pump to squirt burning oil onto a ship and hopefully set it alight. Though evidence is scarce we felt the design and decoration were plausible. The barrel pivots up and down, and the man using it interacts well with the device - a comment all too rarely possible with many such combinations in other sets.
As with previous Orion sets, these are well sculpted and nicely detailed, with both bare flesh and folds in clothing realistically done. Flash is almost non-existent, and though there is very little information available on this very unusual subject, we felt the figures depicted it well. We were a little disappointed that no oars are included, and rather more so by the discovery that almost all the rowers have their hands too low to be holding an oar. In almost all cases their hands are below their laps, so the arms have to be raised to allow an oar to fit across the lap and be in both hands.
The last figure on the bottom row is the now familiar joker, and is a marine equipped with full breathing apparatus including oxygen mask and tanks, and armed with a very modern-looking harpoon.