At the start of the 16th century the way in which a Muscovite ruler raised an army would have been familiar to many medieval European monarchs. The core of the army was the cavalry, made up of boyars and their retinues or druzhinas, but there was also infantry raised from the peasants on a boyar’s estate or from town militias. Ivan IV introduced the first professional troops into his armies, the famous streltsi, but there was still a need for large numbers of cheap soldiers who may have had less military value but could combine to produce armies of enormous size by the standards of the day. The title of this set refers to ratniki, literally warriors, which has no more specific meaning and seems only to help distinguish this set from the firearms set released at the same time.
Leaving aside the four command figures for now, the set contains just six poses, all holding a polearm. The spear was one of the basic weapons of the ordinary infantry, but unfortunately we have not been able to establish whether those in this set are authentic. They are fairly standard, being a bit over two metres in length and with particularly large leaf-shaped heads, making them look like bear spears, a weapon used in war as well as in hunting, although they lack the lugs just below the head. The remaining two weapons have very long blades and are clearly more of a slashing weapon, perhaps agricultural in origin.
One of these men wears a mail shirt and helmet, but the rest are unarmoured as far as can be seen. Mail was worn in Eastern Europe long after it disappeared in the West, so this is fine, and the rest of the clothing looks reasonable to us too, although research information is scarce. Five of the poses are very good, but the centre figure in the second row is holding his long weapon very awkwardly, behind both his head and cap, so can’t be about to bring the blade down either to his front or the side. The intended pose, of one about to deliver a blow, is tricky to do with a single-piece, and the sculptor has not achieved much with this effort, but he is the exception in an otherwise excellent line-up. We particularly liked the man on the march, and the three pointing their spear forward work well together.
The four command poses are of a flag-bearer, trumpeter and two officers. Sadly again information was hard to come by on these, but we have no reason to suppose they are inaccurate. They look great, in just the sort of passive poses you would expect of such men, but really nicely done. The pointing officer pose has a good deal of fine armour including a splendid Russian-style helmet – as much a signal of wealth and rank as for protection, but the second officer, in his cape and holding an axe, also looks every bit the part.
The sculpting on these is superb. Lovely detail everywhere, with the armoured officer being the stand out piece due to all the intricate detail. There are great proportions and thoroughly realistic clothing, plus some really good faces, all wearing a beard of course. The hands are not quite of the same quality, but by no means poor, so we thoroughly enjoyed looking at these little works of art. Finding absolutely no flash or other imperfections merely adds to the pleasure, although these are very slightly taller than we would expect of such men at this time.
Although we struggled to find good information on the appearance of these men, we had no difficulty at all in appreciating the excellent sculpting and mostly very good poses. Apart from that one figure everything here is a joy to examine and will be very useful for the tabletop war or model. You don’t get a lot of figures in the box, but this is only one of three sets released at the same time depicting the wider army, and whether combined with those or taken by themselves, these are figures that are easy to enjoy.