The 16th century was a very important period in the history of the Cossacks. At its commencement the inhabitants of the Pontic Steppe were a mix of disparate peoples living a frontier life, largely free of central control or the benefits of a settled existence, with little except their environment and the difficulties of existence in common. By its end these scattered elements had coalesced into a recognisable grouping or society which would be known as Cossack, and which increasingly cooperated and saw themselves as a distinct people with common interests and goals. As such they would achieve great fame, and be both friend and foe to those states that bordered their territory and increasingly took an interest in them.
Their lifestyle meant they were no strangers to riding horses, and while many did their fighting on foot, particularly when in the pay of outsiders, there were already those that were skilled in mounted warfare, a feature many today associate with all Cossacks. This is the first of two sets from RedBox depicting mounted Cossacks of the 16th century, and as can be seen it concentrates on spears and bows, both traditional Cossack weapons. The first spearman has his weapon lowered as if in a charge, while the other two are much more relaxed, perhaps on the march or simply stationary. As such these poses are fine, although as we shall see the horse poses do not match the demeanour of these last two figures. The man with lowered spear is particularly noteworthy as he comes as a single piece, with no separate spear or any other assembly. To achieve this the sculptor has had to show the man pointing the spear noticeably to his right, which is understandable and a reasonable pose, but a line of such men all pointing to the right would look odd.
The second row shows us the archers, although of course most Cossacks were adept at using the bow. The first man is reaching for an arrow, the second about to draw his bow and the third is ready to loose his arrow. Naturally all are holding the bow directly to their left, which is easiest to mould, but all are perfectly valid poses and useful too.
The horses in this set (the same for both sets of Cossack cavalry) are better anatomically than some found in previous RedBox cavalry sets, with some of the more extreme poses happily absent. They are not the best animals ever sculpted by any means, the main problem being with the legs, which are at times fairly poor. Also some of the poses are not as realistic as we would like, although again that is a common problem in many sets. Just as important is the fact that all seem to be at full gallop, which means you can create an impressive full charge but nothing else with these animals, so the options are very limited. If you want your Cossack to be standing, walking or even trotting then these are not the horses to use, and this is especially important for the archers. While of course Cossacks could and did use their bows while riding at speed, they could achieve better accuracy (and probably a better rate of fire) with a more stable platform.
While Cossacks had no uniform to speak of (unless forced by an employer), all these figures wear fairly typical Cossack clothing, which changed little over a long period of time. Essentially this amounts to long warm coats and fur-trimmed caps, but each figure has some variety in clothing, which is good, and we liked all the styles and added decoration. Two of the three spearmen also carry a bow, and everyone here has the usual Cossack curved sabre, although on the last figure in the top row this looks to be quite truncated.
The sculpting is good, with nice textures on the fur trimming and good folds in the clothing. The sheaf of arrows are nicely picked out, as are smaller elements like the knives and lace on the coats. Some of the poses have a little excess plastic in hard-to-reach places, but we did find a fair amount of flash, and these will take some time to clean up properly. The men fit their mounts pretty well, however, but on our examples some of the spear points are more like balls than points, so there seem to be issues with the plastic not completely filling the mould (they all look nice and sharp on the pictures on the box!). Finally, they are much too tall for men of this time, and would be considered quite tall even today.
Many cavalry sets only offer horses at full charge, so this is not an uncommon observation. The sculpting of the men is better than that for the horses, but the animals are an improvement on past efforts, and once cleaned up these make quite appealing figures. It is a pity that there is much cleaning up to be done, but there are no accuracy issues (apart from size), and when paired with the second set in this series you will have some decent classic Cossacks to spread fear across the Steppe.