In the years following the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, the migrations that had contributed to its demise continued to change the face of many parts of Western Europe. In the British Isles various tribes from Northern Europe settled and in time established a culture we loosely call Anglo-Saxon. Their most famous hour was of course their defeat by the Normans in 1066, but they had fought many wars in the previous centuries, and this set is meant to represent them throughout their years of dominance.
As a Strelets set, all the figures in the box are unique. This approach is most appropriate for subjects such as this, where some basic level of battlefield formation does not mean ranks of near-identical warriors. The shield wall was a common tactic, and many figures here can be used in such a way. Others are clearly engaged in close hand-to-hand combat, while a few would seem to be resting or on the march. In general the poses are fine, though the figure with both hands on his stomach is a mystery (last row, first figure). The Strelets website shows him holding a sword, but this does not seem a likely position to be in, and if anything we thought it would look better if he was being run through by a lance and is simply gripping the weapon as he suffers the mortal blow. The set includes a monk, on his knees and either dramatically praying for divine help of perhaps himself the subject of an attack.
Much of a Saxon army was made up of the Fyrd, men who were not professional warriors and might wear nothing more than everyday clothing - woollen clothing and a cap, perhaps with a helmet. Only the better off men and professional soldiers generally wore armour, and they also had the more sophisticated weapons. A surprisingly high proportion of the figures in this set have mail armour, and others seem to have quilted tunics which were not common Saxon apparel. Many do have the simple tunic, while some seem to wear animal skins and some are bare-chested. Helmets, though of reasonable design, also seem a bit too common for our liking, and often appear on otherwise poorly clad men, whereas some of the better armoured knights have none. One figure (row 5, figure 3) is well armoured and seems to have a 'crown' design round his helmet. Perhaps he is meant to be a king, though we found no evidence that kings wore such helmets at this time, and certainly the Bayeux Tapestry shows Harold in typical modern armour, much like that of the Normans. The clincher is that it looks like this figure has lost his left eye, so while his authenticity may be questionable this is perhaps meant to be Harold himself.
Weaponry is well chosen, with spears being the main weapon. Many of these are separate from the figures, but unlike earlier sets Strelets have managed to produce these straight. However the very thick and numerous attachments to the sprue mean they need a lot of attention to trim them into a reasonable-looking weapon. We found that the ring hands for these weapons all needed enlarging before they would accommodate them. Where figures had cupped hands for them, the fit was not at all secure. Some other weapons are also separate, but these fit more easily. As well as the spearmen, there are a number of swords, some axes, clubs and a hammer. The axes are sometimes poorly defined, but some have a shape that does not seem to have been in use at this time, as the blades were generally symmetrical. The Saxons made some use of archers, and several have been included here.
For most of the Saxon period shields were round, wooden and held by a central grip behind a boss. Sizes varied and it is thought some may have been curved rather than flat. However all the shields in this set are held by two straps, which is incorrect. Larger shields may have had one forearm strap, but none had the arrangement shown here. In addition several have rectangular shields for which we could find no evidence, and which are also wrong. One man has a kite shield, which was a fashion that appeared in England around 1000 and so is appropriate here. However overall the shields, all of which are moulded with the man rather than separate, were a big disappointment.
Initially we felt the flag was incorrect as it is well known that standards like the dragon windsock were used. However several sources, including the Tapestry, do show what seem to be flags shaped much like the gonfanon (pennants) on the knight's lances. This model has a raised design of a dragon on both faces, for which we could find no evidence, though certainly the dragon was a popular image. We were also disappointed that many men do not seem to have their knives, called scramasax, hanging from their waist - this seems to have been a near universal tool.
A few of the poses are a little awkward, but the one of one man sitting on the shoulders of another is different and seems quite possible to us. The sculpting is quite good, with plenty of detail and very little flash. Still there is a somewhat chunky feel to these figures which is only really apparent when placed next to the more elegant examples such as those from Revell. The huge variety of poses will work well for Dark Age battles, and there are many poses here that have never been done before, but the problems with authenticity will mar this set for some, and this is a pity as there is plenty of information available on these warriors, so there is no excuse.
Incidentally, the box claims 44 figures and poses, but there are only 43, and that is counting the man-on-friends-shoulders as two poses!
Note The final figure is of a soldier from the Streltsi of 17th century Russia. Though he is unrelated to the subject of this set, he is one of a series of 'bonus' figures which when combined will create a set of this unit for the Great Northern War. See Streltsi Bonus Figures feature for details.