In the turmoil that followed the death of Alexander in 323 BCE his empire was split into various smaller kingdoms, and Egypt became the fiefdom of his general Ptolemy. The Ptolemaic dynasty would rule Egypt for the next 275 years, until the coming of the Romans, but in 221 BCE, shortly after the accession of Ptolemy IV Philopater, the future of the dynasty was seriously threatened by the new Seleucid king Antiochus III. To meet the threat, Ptolemy raised many new troops from his Egyptian subjects and finally met Antiochus in battle at Raphia in 217 BCE. One of the largest battles of the Hellenistic age, the Egyptian victory that day would save the Ptolemaic kingdom, but also sow the seeds of internal revolt as the Egyptians later sought to rid themselves of their Greek rulers and return to a native Egyptian pharaoh.
Like all the post-Alexandrian armies of the Hellenistic world, that of the Ptolemies was organised along Macedonian lines, and this was still true more than a century later at Raphia. The heart of the army was the phalanx of pikemen, which had previously been made up mostly of mercenaries and Macedonian/Greek settlers or their descendants, but at Raphia it also included large numbers of native Egyptians for the first time. The equipment and training of the phalanx was all Macedonian however, so their appearance would have been the same regardless of nationality. Therefore all the poses in this set look just like any other Hellenistic pikemen of the age, which means a mix of solid muscle cuirass, stiffened linen corselet or sometimes no body armour at all but just a simple tunic. A couple of the poses also wear a cloak. Moving on to the helmets, they are a range of Macedonian styles, some with crests, and the legwear ranges from greaves to boots to nothing at all. All this is fine, but there are also some strange elements here. To begin with, the second figure in the front row wears a sort of circular pectoral plate on his chest which bears no relation to anything we can find for the period. We did find a modern illustration of an Egyptian officer from the mid first century BCE with such a device, so nearly two centuries too late for Raphia, and as far as we could tell completely irrelevant for the period in question. This man also wears a very high-waisted row of pteruges under a short cuirass or corselet, again matching the much later reconstruction, but not anything of the period. Furthermore, while many of the helmets are of the common Thracian style, that worn by the first man in the second row is very odd. It is Phrygian in profile, but the actual shape is a sort of crest which we have never seen in any contemporary or reconstructed image, so there must be some doubt over that too. Lastly one man appears to wear a mail corselet, for which we could find no evidence for the period of Raphia.
The principal weapon is of course the pike, or sarissa. While there is some debate as to the correct length of this, if indeed there was ever one standard and precise length, those here are the same as in similar sets from Linear-A, about 70 mm long, which scales up to about five metres. Some have suggested this should be closer to six metres, but to be honest these models look pretty good, and while they are a bit thicker due to the needs of the material used, they are about the most plausible pikes so far made in the scale. They also have nicely done heads and butts, so the only issue we have with them is that they emerge from the box horribly bent. Emersion in hot water or vapour will cause them to straighten however, so no harm done. The men all have a sword as a sidearm, and while many are obscured, the rest reveal both straight and kopis-style weapons, which is good. All also carry a small round shield which is about 8 mm (58 cm) in diameter. While it is generally said that Macedonian shields for such men were usually more like 65 to 75 cm in diameter, we could find no firm evidence for those of Ptolemy’s troops.
Linear-A have produced several sets of Hellenistic phalangites, and all follow the same pattern of eight poses, two each for the first row, second row, middle row and back row. Our four photographs mirror this split, with the front row at the top, pikes lowered. All the poses are perfectly appropriate to their position in the file, so there can be no complaints there.
The sculpting is nice, with the various armours and weapons nicely done. The proportions are fine if a little chunky, but these are good-looking and fit perfectly with the rest of the range. We did find a fair amount of flash in places, some of which is evident in our images.
There appears to be no particular evidence for the appearance of Ptolemy’s phalangites at the time of Raphia, and it is generally assumed that they much resembled other Hellenistic pikemen of the period, which seems a fair assumption. Given that, we worried about the apparent much later appearance of both figures in the top row, and the helmet in the second, none of which match any evidence we could find for Raphia or contemporary phalangites. However we have no issue with the good sculpting or the simple but perfectly appropriate poses, and with the common appearance of such men at the time, it is possible to mix and match the various Linear-A sets to improve diversity and create a good overall impression. So the dubious random elements are the only spoilers for an otherwise very good set.