Once the Mongol yoke was broken in 1480, the Grand Duchy of Moscow, or more simply Muscovy, saw enormous growth as a succession of able and aggressive tsars dominated and attacked neighbouring territories, becoming the principal Rus state. It’s many wars with neighbours such as Sweden, Poland/Lithuania and various khanates helped to maintain its military efficiency, while reforms and the introduction of new technology further expanded its power. By the end of the 16th century the territory was vastly bigger than at the start, with the absorption of the Khanate of Kazan and later moves into Siberia creating a vast realm that would at times be difficult to govern, but bringing many different peoples under the rule of Moscow.
The most prominent character of this century in Muscovy was Ivan IV, the ‘terrible’, and it was he who first created a professional, paid body of infantry, the famous Streltsi. Yet even after their creation, around the middle of the century, the bulk of the Muscovite foot forces remained levies raised mainly from the rural poor and urban militias, and most were armed with essentially medieval weapons. The word Ratniki in the title of this set merely means ‘warriors’, which simply distinguishes these figures from the firearm troops available in another set. Set 1 included the simplest infantry armed with spears, and this second set provides men armed with bows, axes and swords, essentially completing the picture of Muscovy infantry at this time. These weapons are quite varied here, but as far as we can tell everything is correctly done. Our one query was with the second bowman, whose bowstring is very obviously twisted. Alas there is little information on these troops readily available in English, but we have not seen such a bowstring before and can only wonder as to why such a large twist might have been desirable.
As most of these poses would expect to come into contact with the enemy, they wear various forms of protection. Several have mail – still widely worn in this region in the 16th century – and others have padded coats to deflect blows and arrows. Several also have helmets, which are typical of the period here, and in all other respects the clothing seems to be perfectly reasonable.
The poses are something of a mixed bag, as is so often the case with figures holding bladed weapons. The two bowmen are very good, but the first of the polearm men seems odd as he is pointing his blade at those behind him rather than to his front. His colleagues are OK, but the swordsmen in the second row are much more of a struggle. All are very flat, and the first two have raised their sword such that it touches the cap or helmet. This works to a degree with the second man, but the first is managing to hold his sword on the reverse side of his helmet, and with arm and wrist turned in such a way as to be impossible. This pose is often done by manufacturers, yet how often would someone bear down on their enemy with their sword raised point first like this? How could they then bring the weapon down on that enemy? They could not, of course, so while it is easy to sculpt it is very unnatural. The remaining two swordsmen are much better, however. Finally the man with the smaller axe is holding the weapon sideways, as so often, so again, flat and unconvincing as a pose.
Recent RedBox output has been a marvellous contrast to their earlier sets, which were very poorly defined and badly made. This set is excellent, with lots of great detail beautifully picked out and weapons and thinner items being either little thicker than they should be, or not at all thicker. The bows in particular are terrific, and the bearded faces are also superb, whether they face the mould or are in profile. Flash is minimal, and thanks in part to some of the flat poses there is no extra plastic to carve away, making these some really well-produced figures.
While it was frustrating to find so little evidence with which to judge the accuracy of these figures, we have confidence that they are well researched and a fair reflection of the infantry forces of Muscovy at this time. We can certainly testify to the high quality of the sculpting and the mould preparation, so it is only with some of the poses that the set has any significant fault. 10 poses is not a lot split between various weapons, but together with the two companion sets a total of 32 poses for this one subject compare extremely favourably with most single sets produced by the major manufacturers, where you might expect half that number. This is a very attractive set that along with the others delivers a pretty good range of soldiers for the increasingly powerful state of Muscovy during the formative 16th century.