The Han dynasty was the imperial ruling family of China between 206 BCE and 220 CE, and followed on from the collapse of the Qin dynasty that had briefly unified much of China for the first time. Its story was one of expansion into neighbouring territories, consolidation of existing holdings and allied states, and dealing with threats and aggression from other peoples or internal revolts. Today it is seen as something of a golden age in Chinese history, with significant scientific and economic developments, but inevitably there were also many military conflicts for which large numbers of troops were required. To meet this need there was a form of conscription, whereby eligible males served one year in training followed by one year of active service, generally either near the border or one of the major cities. In addition there was a small professional core of soldiers, who were mostly stationed close to the person of the emperor. This set from Caesar is the first time that such men have been modelled in this hobby.
Although four hundred years is a long time for one set to claim to represent, and doubtless some changes did occur during the period, these figures do well in terms of accuracy. Most of them wear helmet and body armour made of small pieces of material (generally metal or leather) laced together to form a flexible garment, and while the metal used may have changed over the period, the look on these figures remains good. The tunics, leggings and square-toed shoes all look good too, so these are authentic heavy infantry men. Han armies were not exclusively heavy infantry, however, and this set includes a single archer pose and another with a crossbow. Both men are unarmoured and wear ordinary civilian clothing, which is fine, but it is likely that there would have been more unarmoured light infantry, so this set does not represent all elements of the army, though of course proportions would change from one campaign to the other.
The sword was the most common weapon, so it is appropriate that many of these poses are using this weapon. The design used here is correct, and everyone here is armed with one apart from the two bowmen, which we know to have been the case (it is speculated that there was insufficient supply to give swords to such men). One man holds a halberd, of reasonable design though others were also used, which just leaves the men with bow and crossbow. Both weapons are fine, and the crossbow in particular is often mentioned in sources and seems to have been a particular asset of Han armies over their opponents. Only three of the poses carry a shield, but there is much debate on the use of shields. The earlier Terracotta Army had none, though may have originally been holding them, and the Han dynasty's own much less-well known terracotta army, that of JingDi, certainly do carry them, though not of this design. However as heavy infantry these may well still be valid. Of particular interest is the second figure in row two, who holds in his left hand a thin device which seems to be for parrying a blow. Such an item appears in the contemporary 'Battle of the Bridge' relief, so is valid, and must have been lighter and easier to carry.
The poses are very good, with lots of realistic figures clearly involved in hand-to-hand combat. Where there is a shield it is being carried in a sensible way (all too rare in this hobby), and several of the poses clearly benefit from the more sophisticated Caesar mould which allows for undercuts, meaning none of the figures are at all flat, and are full of life. Nowhere is this more evident than with the crossbowman, who like all the figures is a single piece, yet has his weapon horizontal, as it should be, which cannot be done with a simple two-piece steel mould. The unfortunate downed man in the third row, although a very nice pose, is still holding his sword, which strikes us as a little surprising as you might imagine he would drop this on being hit. Clearly he is still alive as his head is raised, but you would think he would concern himself with extracting the arrow before reaching for his sword again. However we liked all the poses without exception.
The sculpting is extremely good, with all the fine detail of the armour, helmets and faces being beautifully done. The proportions are great, and thanks to the mould technology there is no excess plastic or flash. Our only concern was with the scabbards, which on many are hitched very high, making them particularly difficult to draw and so not very likely.
Throughout the period it is possible that only the elite wore full armour like this, and if so this would mean the set only portrays a minority of most Han armies. Also many would have had only a spear, or the dagger-axe lashed to the end of a pole, so there are certainly gaps in this set, while it could be argued that bowmen and crossbowmen should have been better represented. Perhaps they will be in a future set, but that does not detract from the fact that everything in this set is accurately done, well-posed and beautifully sculpted, making this an excellent set of figures for a hitherto untouched period of Chinese history.