The Sassanian war machine was formidable and even admired by some Roman writers, and at the heart of that machine was the heavy cavalry. This is generally described as either clibanarii or cataphractii, although the distinction between these two is a matter of debate and certainly far from clear in terms of appearance. What is clear is that the Clibanarii were made up of the nobility of the Empire, a special social caste, although as they were possibly more lightly armoured than the cataphractii they may have included many of the lesser nobles. Nevertheless their role was much the same, to smash the enemy once it had been weakened and disorganised by showers of arrows. Indeed they are recorded as being posted near to an enemy formation precisely to keep them bunched together, giving their archers a better target. Any model Sassanian army would need such men, and for the first time this set offers a selection.
In line with so many HaT cavalry sets that have gone before, this one offers four human poses mounted on two equine ones. Three of the poses are holding the kontos, the lance which was the main weapon of such men. The poses (held upright, overarm and at the hip) are all pretty standard and if not particularly energetic they are at least reasonable. During the long period of the Sassanian Empire (224 to 651 CE) the method of using the kontos seems to have varied, sometimes being held under arm with both hands, and sometimes overarm, although when held with both hands these were widely spaced, so we were not at all convinced by the second pose in our top row, which has both hands together. All the men are armed with a bow (actually two), but the fourth pose has just used his. Given the limitations of the mould this is a fair pose and certainly a useful one.
The first of the two horse poses did not impress, as it has both front legs straight and on the ground while both rear legs are in motion, though many far worse horse poses have been made in the past. The second animal has more of a walking pose, and looks more natural. Neither animal seems to be at the full charge, which is a pity, but with only two poses available these will do well enough.
The heavy cavalry was heavily armoured, as are all of these warriors. Mail, scale and lamellar armour were all in use at various times, and one man here clearly has lamellar, though the others are much more indistinct and so could be mail or some other type. Details like length of hauberk and sleeves varied over the period, as they do here, but everything looks to be authentic. The variety of helmet shapes are all valid, and three of the men also wear an aventail which almost covers their face with mail, just leaving the eyes visible. One man seems to have an open face, but again detail is hard to make out clearly, and for the same reason the legwear is impossible to positively recognise. That same man also looks to have a cuirass or some other smooth covering on breast and back of the trunk.
As can be seen, the long lance or kontos is separate for all three poses that carry it. This is a basic but adequate model, though it needs some careful trimming to remove it cleanly from the sprue. Also it fits well in the cupped hand of the first figure, but the holes in the other two need to be enlarged before the lance can be persuaded to enter. The lance itself is 41.5 mm in length, which scales up to about three metres, which is shorter than the maximum but reasonable. Every man also has a sword at his side, which is straight, as it should be, though again quite short by Sassanian standards. Attached to the saddle every man has his pair of bows, which look good, and by his right hip his quiver. This is all good, although every quiver is clearly empty, so the fourth man has just released his last arrow. Finally every horse has what looks like a mace hanging on the right side, another common weapon that makes good sense here.
Shields, when used by the cavalry, were of the small round variety included in this set. There are enough on each sprue for every man, but in fact shields are rarely used by spear-armed heavy cavalry until very late in the empire, so it is good that these are optional here. However there is nothing on any man, or shield, to facilitate the joining of one with the other, so you must simply glue the shield to the appropriate point on the arm, which would not make for a strong join, particularly as the shield is concave on the inside. The shields are undecorated (always good to see) and very simple, but are suitable for the subject.
The main feature of the horses is the level of protection both have. It is believed that early on in the Sassanian history the horses of heavy cavalry were usually covered with a trapper that might be made of thick fabric or leather, much like the second pictured animal above. This also covers the neck and head, and seems to have some sort of pattern engraved on it. Later in the Empire many horses were given metal armour but this was only for the head, neck and front half of the animal, as represented by the first animal above. Of course it is very likely that animals with both levels of protection would often be seen in the same unit, but it is a nice touch to include typical examples from both early and late Empire here. The half-armoured horse seems to lack some of the basic straps, and both have a much simplified saddle with no attempt at ‘horns’ or the raised bow-front, which is what these riders would need since they are correctly all missing stirrups (these only appeared very late in the period).
As models these are quite nicely proportioned but the detail is really soft and hard to make out, hence our struggle to identify certain features. The small holes for the lance have already been mentioned, but the riders fit their mounts pretty well. We found absolutely no flash anywhere, so the only preparation will be with the lance, unless you want to attach the shields. Basically a nice piece of sculpting with a very well done mould.
The soft detail and the rather stiff and unexciting poses for both men and horses are the let downs of this set, but on the whole the accuracy is very good, though simplifications like the saddle may upset the pedants. The different types of armour and horse protection show that the designer has made an effort to cover most of the Sassanian period, and succeeded, given the small number of poses. So we thought this was a worthy set of figures pretty well designed and made, and successfully delivering one of the key elements of any Sassanian army.