During the war with Russia in 1828, the Ottoman authorities described their irregular forces as Bashi-Bazouks for the first time officially, although their history went back much further than that. The point was to distinguish them from the regular Ottoman forces, as Bashi-Basouks were unpaid and relied on plunder for remuneration. The closest military description for them would be light cavalry, and they were at their most effective when placed in situations where they could profit from their actions, such as harassing enemy territory, destroying their communications and supplies, etc. However they had a well-deserved reputation for indiscipline, plundering and brutality, and in the 1870s their atrocities became too much for the Ottomans, who realised they were a public-relations disaster at a time when they needed international friends. After the war with Russia of 1877 the Porte gradually used them less and less, and while it was some time before they disappeared, their heyday had passed.
Having described them as a kind of light cavalry, it would be wrong to suggest they spent most of their time in the saddle, so this set of dismounted Bashi-Bazouks is very worthwhile. With no uniform or central supply the men wore whatever they could find, and the same was true of weaponry. Since they came from numerous ethnic backgrounds within the Empire there was no one style or fashion, and these figures have a pleasing variety of costume with no two figures dressed exactly alike. There are some common themes however, including caps (some very tall) and turbans, decorated waistcoats, wide sashes round the waist, large baggy breeches and stockings on the lower leg, all of which are much in evidence here. Artists (and later photographers) were drawn to them because of the highly colourful and exotic costume, and some of the resulting illustrations are fantastic, but we must not forget that these were the cream of the Bash-Bazouks, and others were poor and could afford little extravagance. Luckily the finer points of decoration and ornament must be done in the painting with figures this size, but we felt these figures offered an excellent base with which to portray the very elaborate costume as well as the more mundane. All the elements on show here look authentic, and seem to capture the subject well. Equally the weapons are quite a mix, although we would have expected a few more modern rifles such as Winchesters here, if these are for the 1870s.
The style of these figures is something akin to the older look for Strelets figures, as these are nicely detailed but with a chunkier look than most manufacturers. The sculptor has made some small attempt to engrave patterns on some of the clothing, but this is mercifully scarce as such finery is really far too small to be worth sculpting and should be left to the painter as desired. The general folds of the clothing, which was always loose and flowing, have been nicely done, and there is good detail on muskets too. Faces are nice and lively, and the hands are good, so while some of these things are a bit enlarged, they would be easy to paint. We could find absolutely no flash anywhere here, and were pleased to see no engraving on the flag, so the mould is well-made.
The poses include the usual rifle positions plus several brandishing a blade, and one of the better examples you will find of a man using his musket as a club. Given the nature of these men, and the way in which they fought, we thought the poses were well-chosen. The second figure in rows one and three are both rather flat, but otherwise these lively figures look good.
The Bashi-Bazouks deliberately dressed up to maximise their impact on their opponents, who were often civilians, and these men look suitably intimidating, many holding two weapons and with others tucked into the sash. We thought they caught the wild and ferocious nature of these men rather better than the corresponding Strelets set of mounted Bashi-Bazouks, and with a good range of exotic clothing and weaponry, these should make splendid figures on the table. The original Bashi-Bazouks were rightly condemned, but with this, the second set depicting them from Strelets, we have some very passable figures to depict one of the uglier sides of 19th century warfare.
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.