Cavalry was to become more and more important as the feudal system was developed during the eighth and ninth centuries. In 891 a chronicle stated that the Franks did not know how to fight on foot - a gross exaggeration which nonetheless serves to illustrate the rise of the mounted warrior during the Carolingian period. To accompany their set of Vikings and Franks, Strelets have now provided figures for this very important part of the Frankish army.
As usual, every figure is in a different pose, and there is a considerable variety of costume and weaponry. The poses are pretty good, with some men apparently charging and others in close-quarter combat. The archer is not the run-of-the-mill 'about to shoot' pose, which makes a refreshing change, and the figure of Charlemagne has also been nicely done.
The sword is the most common weapon in this set, though swords were particularly expensive and many cavalrymen used the much cheaper spear instead. Some men are using axes or clubs, which were not so common, though in a set with so many poses there is room for the more unusual. One man is an archer, though there is contradictory evidence about the use of archers. Some documents of the time mention bows as part of a mounted warrior's equipment and others do not, so it seems archers were not common, but again it is no bad thing that one is included here. Shields of the day were usually round (although some contemporary illustrations show oval ones), but we could find no evidence for the wooden triangular effort held by one of the figures in this set, so that must be discarded as historically inaccurate. In all cases both the weapon and shield are provided as part of the figure rather than as a separate item.
Many of the men wear armour, which was very expensive indeed. Several types of armour are on show, although it is thought that mail was the most common. One or possibly two men wear lamelar armour, which seems possible but not the norm, and two seem to wear solid muscle cuirasses, which is not at all correct. All the men are also utilising stirrups, a device known in Europe for some time but only very slowly adopted by the Carolingians from about the middle of the eighth century onwards.
If anything the horses are what really catch the eye in this set. Some of these poses look either impossible or at least highly unlikely. The horse with both right legs on the ground and both left legs high in the air is quite ridiculous, but we were also less than convinced by the horse with all four hooves at least 30cms off the ground (appearing to 'walk' on some tufts of foliage). One horse has both rear legs very high up, and can only be either kicking backwards or landing after jumping some tall obstacle. Another problem is the saddles, which have been given an exceptionally tall back more appropriate to the knights in plate armour that were to come in later centuries, but not authentic in this set. All the horses are certainly full of action, which is usually a good thing, though we would have liked to see Strelets provide some trotting or standing horses for the likes of the archer, standard-bearer and the King.
The level of detail on these figures was good, the overall standard of the sculpting fair and there was not a lot of flash or unwanted plastic. In general the men fitted the horses well, though some were a bit too thick to fit between the front and back of the enormous saddles on some of the horses (which should be trimmed away anyway). The period from the end of the Western Roman Empire to the start of the Middle Ages has been underrepresented by plastic figures in the past, and it is pleasing to see important subjects such as this being covered at last. However we felt the sculpting of the horses let down what is otherwise a fair but questionable set.