By the early 16th century at the latest, there were troops in Muscovy who carried a small version of the arquebus, known in Russian as the pishchal, hence they were termed pishalniki. As with gunpowder weapons elsewhere, these were relative simply matchlock weapons, but they were to prove their worth as the century developed, and by the middle of that century the famous Streltsi, dedicated to the gun, had been created. The men in this set are not the Streltsi, but those that came before, and would have continued after the creation of that body of professional troops, forming an increasingly valuable part of any Muscovite military force.
Since this is just one of several sets devoted to the 16th century Muscovite armies, and focuses only on the firearms, we were very impressed by the large number of poses on offer. What might be termed a ‘typical’ set of 15 or so poses would perhaps have only five or six of these men, but here we find 12 different poses, and for the most part they are really well done. Naturally there is a wide assortment of men at different stages of preparing and firing the weapon, plus one in more relaxed mood and one that has decided to use his sidearm, so must be in contact with the enemy. We thought all these poses were excellent, and thoroughly worthwhile, providing pretty much all you could ask for of such a set. We do have reservations, unfortunately, and they are all in our middle row. The main one is two of the poses are actually in the act of firing their arquebus, which is fine in itself, but both men have drawn the weapon up to the face so as to aim it. This did not happen. While we are used to seeing such poses in later armies, and it seems to make sense even for the 16th century, in reality there would often be a flash from the priming pan, which so close to the face could burn it and damage the eyes. It was a risk no one took, especially as the weapon itself was pretty inaccurate at almost any range, making aiming pointless. Firing from the chest or abdomen was the norm. Another problem is with the first figure in the row, who is walking forward with both arms tight by his side, somehow managing to hold his arquebus upright at the same time. The pose is very unnatural and poor, but it is the only one here that makes no anatomical sense. Finally the last figure in row three holds his axe sideways, as such figures often do, which makes no sense and just makes him look flat.
Of the sculpting we have little but superlatives to offer. These figures are terrific, with wonderful detail everywhere and looking well-proportioned and very natural. The men are adorned with a variety of pieces of equipment and a diverse selection of clothing, yet everything looks great. The weapons themselves are relatively simple, as indeed were the originals, being much more square and crude than the later muskets would become, but they still look good and all have a decent attempt to portray the difficult matchlock. The usual places to look for a drop in quality – faces and hands – are mostly very good, with every figure showing character in the face and clearly showing the beards all have. Again there is an exception, and again it is the first figure in our second row. His right hand, which would be all but impossible to explain in reality anyway, is poorly done (perhaps for that reason). The hands are rather more variable generally, with some better than others, but these figures look really good overall.
There is not a great deal of information in English on Muscovite armies of this period, so we were not happy that we could give a definitive opinion on the accuracy of these figures. However we found nothing to suggest there were any mistakes here, and plenty to suggest these are fairly typical. A couple of the figures wear mail and the typical pointed Russian helmet, while the rest have quilted armour, possibly armour under their clothing, or none at all. Clearly visible armour would be more common earlier in the century, so the unarmoured figures tend to work better for later in the period. The various items that are carried by the figures such as powder flasks and ball bags are good, and some even have spare matchcord. Most carry an axe as a sidearm, nicely done here, and the wealthier have a full sword. Although our knowledge is far from perfect here, we would say these are authentic.
Apart from a few of the poses we really liked this set. There is a little flash but this does not spoil the look much, and only the last figure in the third row looks to be rather flat. With plenty to like here, this is a great depiction of what was inevitably becoming a more important feature of warfare as Muscovy grew during the 16th century, particularly as Muscovy adopted the arquebus earlier and in greater numbers than many of their opponents.