Cataphracts were very heavily armoured cavalrymen, and the Romans first encountered such men from various enemies in the East. As usual they copied this innovation, and the first Roman cataphracts were created by the emperor Hadrian as early as the second century CE. However they were more of a feature in the later years of the empire, and it is these that are portrayed here.
All the men are using the contus, a heavy spear of almost 4 metres in length. In order to photograph them we had to omit these weapons from our figures, but a better idea of how these figures look can be seen here. Two of the poses (the first and third pictured above) have ring hands, while the other two have cupped hands. We found the ring hands were exactly the right size and the contus fitted very well, but the cupped hands needed a little enlarging with a needle file before happily accepting the weapon. Strangely the box art suggests the third man in our picture is holding the contus upright, but in fact he is holding it horizontally, which would be a difficult pose to keep for very long. The rest of the poses are fine, and we particularly liked the man holding his weapon with both hands over his head as if lunging down on some opponent.
There was no set uniform for these men, but the figures here match the evidence that is available. Heavily armoured from head to toe, they often went without shields, as here. Their armour takes different forms here, which is correct, and the classic spangenhelm helmet is joined by the ridged helmet, both being appropriate. The horses are equally encased in armour, and again are correctly done.
With so much mail on display the texture of these figures was always going to be important, and here the sculptor has done an excellent job. Detail is first class throughout, with good strong definition that should make painting relatively simple. The contus lances, which are naturally supplied as separate parts, are very long and perfectly straight.
At the time of writing the late Western Roman Empire has seen few sets of figures, but this looks about to change. This excellent set is a great addition to the ranks that should delight all enthusiasts of this turbulent period in history.