The games were incredibly popular throughout the Roman world, and the highlight of the day's entertainment was when the gladiators came out to do battle. Such men, the sports stars of their day, have already been portrayed in plastic by several companies, yet none of these have been entirely satisfactory. With this set it is the turn of Italeri to try and capture the excitement and drama of the gladiatorial games.
Gladiators were mostly categorised into one of several groupings or specialities, which dictated their costume and weaponry. Naturally as this was theatre the rules were sometimes broken, but the figures in this set include members of all four major groups. Their clothing and armour, or lack of it, are all consistent with what is known of the appearance of these men, and the weapons they carry are equally appropriate. The two men with the trident are retiarius, and as such they would also have had a net. In other sets this has been represented with a solid piece of plastic much like a cloak, but here it has been omitted entirely.
While there are several combat poses, there are also a surprising number who seemed relaxed. One, the last figure on the top row, sports very unRoman-like long hair and looks every inch the classical hero - no doubt an image many gladiators attempted to project. The set includes a tableau of one gladiator standing over a prostrate opponent, perhaps waiting for the decision on whether the vanquished man lives or dies. The two figures and the base are separate parts, and the standing figure has a peg under his left foot to fix him to the base. According to the illustration on the box the figures should be arranged as shown in our photo, but if this is so then there is no hole for the man's foot peg - instead there is one on the raised stonework. If this man is pegged into the base here then he could have his other foot resting on the unfortunate opponent, which is a reasonable arrangement. To follow the box diagram a new hole must be created on the lower part of the base, and the existing hole ignored, which is not impressive. The fallen man is not secured to the base.
Almost half of the plastic in this box is devoted to the chariot. Chariot racing was another popular Roman sport, but this is nothing to do with that. Instead, it would be an unusual component in a gladiatorial show - perhaps recreating some battle from the empire's history. We arranged the two figures, whose feet fit into holes in the chariot base, as per the instructions on the box. However the result is that the man with the spear seriously impedes the driver, as do the spears stored in the front of the chariot. With this in mind, some might like to drill new holes to reposition these men. That apart it is a nice model, if a little tricky to put together at times.
The final component in the set is a brace of lions and a bear. Enormous efforts were made to find exotic and fearsome animals for the games, with lions and bears being popular choices. Every picture we could find of bears standing on their hind legs shows them straight up, whereas this model shows the beast with one knee bent, lunging forward - a position we found suspiciously unbear-like. The lion seems to be leaping with outstretched paws, yet it is looking to the side, which again we felt was a poor choice by the sculptor. Gladiators usually fought each other, not wild animals, but there were men known as venatores who specialised in fighting wild animals in the arena.
The relatively few figures in this set is only partly explained by the chariot. There are big gaps on the sprue which could easily have accommodated more pieces, even if only more of the same sculpts. The sculpting is beyond reproach, with all the fine detail clear and well realised, but we did find a little more flash than we are accustomed to from Italeri. The two shields shown on the first and second rows are separate, but that of the man on the first row is poorly positioned, and his hand does not meet the shield to hold it as it should. We would also have liked to have seen an imperial scutum shield being included as an option.
Apart from the minor problems already described, this is a pretty fair set and certainly the most accurate selection of gladiators yet produced. We felt that the chariot meant that a lot more poses were sacrificed, and we would have liked to have seen many more actual fighting poses, but at least Italeri have not further diluted the set with spectators and the like.