Atlantic certainly produced a rich variety of figures for their themes, and the Roman range was no exception. As the non-military set they chose to depict figures from the Games that became so popular in Imperial Rome and the Empire. This meant they could make their most ambitious model of all, the Colosseum, and have something to put in it, but even without that model this figure set is still a reflection of some important areas of Roman life, at least in the major towns.
The set includes gladiators, civilians, slaves/prisoners and animals. All would have played a part in the games. There are five gladiator poses, all in a quite similar stance but with differing weapons and equipment. There were four basic types and many sub-types of gladiator, each with their own distinctive arms and costume, but it is apparent that these figures are not meant to accurately portray any one of them in particular. Instead, they should be viewed as generic gladiator-type figures, and fairly inaccurate ones at that. Whist gladiator weaponry and costume could vary enormously to enhance the spectacle, these figures are pretty much making it up themselves, and are not a serious attempt the show the historical individual, though to be fair this was probably never the intention for these rather old figures. Some of the shields in particular look like nothing we have ever seen.
The civilian figures are a mixed bunch. They are costumed in a style that seems to match the period, though some licence has been taken by the sculptor. From the title of the set we must assume that some are meant to be the noxii, criminals taken from the prisons and made to fight each other, or simply set upon by wild animals. This was simply public execution of criminals made into entertainment. At times in the early Empire being a practising Christian could in theory warrant this sort of execution, though it was by no means reserved solely for religious non-conformists. The single-piece group of three could be used for both executed criminal and spectator, though some of their costume is more down to the imagination of the sculptor than anything worn in any part of the Empire. The pair of men are manacled hand and foot, so here there is no doubt that they are criminals being executed. They both wear trousers, which means they are not Roman as such, so may be prisoners of war perhaps. One also has a strange sort of sash around his chest, which again seems to be a fancy of the sculptor. Also curious is their posture, with both holding their hands to the left. Perhaps this was done to make the sculpting easier, but it is hard to imagine why this pose would be seen in real life. Of the four single figures the most interesting is the emperor figure at the start of the third row. He has a crown of laurels and holds a baton with a large imperial eagle, and he wears a toga, so there is no doubt what he is supposed to be. Beside him is perhaps some sort of herald, since he seems to be shouting and holds what we might suppose to be a tablet. The last row has an elderly man and a woman holding a jar for some reason.
To complete the scene, lions and tigers are provided, apparently leaping at their helpless victims. Animals were very popular elements in many games, and those that staged such events competed to obtain the most exotic and ferocious animals for the delight of the crowd. The lion is in full flight, leaping forward at his victim, while the tiger is in an odd pose whereby he has his left front paw raised high but is on tip-toe on his right paw (needless to say, not a possible arrangement for this creature). The front paws of the lion are similarly badly positioned, so neither pose is that great, though the presence of both animals in the set adds some colour (and some horror too).
As a sculpting exercise all the figures and animals are nicely done, and detail is clear. All the gladiators have ring hands, and several types of exotic weapons are provided to fill these such as tridents, which is valid in this case. The Ancients range was one of the best from Atlantic, so these figures are quite well proportioned and with expressive faces. On our examples there is almost no flash, though some of the figures do have the usual circular mould mark on the back, which is inevitable on figures made at this time.
Though they are pretty inaccurate, and not all of the poses make much sense, these are still attractive figures which have been around for a very long time. In recent years other companies have made far better sets of gladiators and Roman civilians, so for a historical model we would direct you to those and away from this set, yet this set has more of a fun element to it, despite its horrific subject matter, and even if we cringe at the poor historical credibility we still find ourselves liking this old set very much.