The Etruscan civilisation developed in northern Italy and was to be the most important of the Italian peoples until the rise of the Romans several centuries later. The first two centuries of their civilisation are termed the Villanovan Period, but approximately around 700 BCE this gradually changed into the Orientalising Period, when Greek influence became more marked as more Greek colonies appeared further south. Just as with the Greeks, the Etruscans were essentially a collection of city states which cherished their independence and often fought with each other in local disputes, but on occasion they seemed to have formed temporary leagues to achieve a higher purpose such as to expand their territory or protect their trade routes. Linear-A have also produced a set of infantry for these people, and this is the second and concluding set in the Etruscan range, depicting the wealthy, mounted men in battle.
Linear-A have helpfully provided a complete rundown of each figure in this set, so reading left to right, this is what we have here:
- Citizen Aristocratic Cavalryman - with a slightly curved sword (almost like a kopis), a helmet in the Phrygian style and the Samnite three-disc breast and back plates, all suggesting quite a late date for this figure, well after the end of the Villanovan period. He also has greaves and a good shield with twin strap grips (another late period feature), as you might expect of an aristocrat.
- Villanovan Aristocratic Cavalryman - this man certainly does date back to the earlier, Villanovan period, as he wears the classic Villanovan crested helmet and holds a curved version of the antennae sword in his left hand, a spear in his right. As we have said before, the difficulties of holding two weapons at the same time, let alone using either effectively, make this a pretty unlikely pose, particularly as the man also has to control a horse under him, galloping forward as they all are here.
- Villanovan Cavalryman - another man wearing the Villanovan crested helmet, and this time carrying a straight example of the antennae sword. The main feature here is the poncho-style armour front and back, a luxury only possible for a very wealthy man, but in the Villanovan period it was the wealthy that provided the cavalry. His shield has twin handle grips, but it is thought that at this date all shields were held by a central grip.
- Villanovan Cavalryman - another Villanovan crested helmet on display, but otherwise this man is more humbly attired, perhaps with no body armour (hard to tell), and holding a spear in an unnatural, totally vertical position.
- Citizen Cavalryman - this man has a decorated round helmet and what looks like scale body armour. He carries a spear and a hexagonal shield, and looks to be very late in the period or even after the 5th century entirely.
- Light Cavalryman - originally scouting and other light cavalry duties were done by the noble cavalry, but later in the period there seem to have been light cavalry such as this man. He carries two spears, which is almost certainly wrong as he should have a number of javelins, which were barely half the two-metre length of these spears. Also he is naked apart from a loose cloak-type article with no apparent fastening, which would have been thoroughly impractical and can safely be discounted despite appearing in one modern reference book. So a pretty poor figure.
- Etruscan Allies from Central Highlands - he wears a helmet with a tall Greek-style crest, and a simple tunic with small pectoral plates front and back. His oval shield has a central grip, and unlike most of the figures he wears footwear – in this case open boots like the later Roman style.
- Villanovan Tarquinian Axeman - the axe is not an easy weapon to use when on a horse, and mostly it was carried by infantry, but in the later part of the period there were some cavalry units that had this cheap weapon. This man has a simple ‘bell’ helmet and a small metal plate on his chest. His most interesting feature is his footwear, because he wears either strange three-sided greaves or else boots that are open at the back. The figure much resembles a drawing in the D’Amato book (see bibliography below) which is of an infantryman wearing closed boots, so it appears the sculptor has completely misunderstood this figure.
- Archer Etruscan Allies - the bow was certainly part of the Etruscan armoury, even for some aristocrats. This man however is simply dressed, with an ordinary tunic and modest conical helmet. He has no armour, and his arrows are stowed on his back. Holding his bow out to the side like this is not a credible pose in our view, so not a great figure.
- Commander - dress – civilian or otherwise – was all about wealth and status in the ancient world, and this man has all the trappings of being at the top of the pile. His helmet is of the Greek Chalcidian type, which dates him to very late in the period, when Greek influence was so strong. It sports a pair of long feathers, and should probably also have a splendid crest, although it is easy to see why this might have been difficult to produce here. Another sign of great status is the muscle cuirass he wears, again a late period item, and along with the large greaves he looks very much the commander.
- Warrior of Southern Etruria - this warrior represents the bottom end of the military hierarchy – the poorest troops who were the light infantry of their day. He wears no more than the normal tunic with a belt for his sword, plus small round pectoral plates (kardiophylax) on the chest and back. He carries a long spear, but such men could also be archers or slingers. His basic simplicity makes this one of the most widely-useful figures in the set, although his pose is far from battle (perhaps taking the bowl offered by the woman next to him).
- Sabine Woman/Servant - The Sabines were an Italic people living in the southern part of the Etruscan lands. However there is no reason to think the appearance of their women differed from any others (quite the opposite in fact). Ancient costume was simple, and for women covered almost everything. Around this time the women would have worn a peplos or similar, a very long dress that reached the feet (the one here is rather too short) and showed nothing of the figure underneath. This woman also wears a very curious garment around the shoulders – a sort of scarf which does not meet at the back and seems not to at the front either. Like some other figures from this company, how on Earth did the person keep this garment on? Her hair looks more authentic to us. She holds an amphora in her left hand and holds a bowl in the other. The bowl is fine, but she must be an immensely strong woman to be lugging amphorae around. Amphorae were the barrels of their day, used for bulk storage and transportation. This one is about 12mm in height, so about 87cm to scale, somewhat larger than the average. We reckon it might contain at least 35 litres, making it over one talent in weight, around 30 to 35 kg and quite possibly a lot more. Of course in reality the contents of such vessels were transferred to smaller jugs for use in the household, which the servants and slaves could have realistically handled. Also this amphora is missing one of its handles, so all told this has been very poorly thought through. A nice idea, but badly executed.
The five horse poses are of fairly conventional arrangement, with varying degrees of anatomical accuracy, but all are clearly travelling at some speed. Each has a simple saddlecloth of various shapes, but no saddle as we would recognise it, and of course no stirrups, so the ability to stay on the animal at these speeds would have been a very large part of the skill of riding, regardless of any fight going on around them. How they did this we do not know, although in this set the men and horses are a good fit, so here at least the bond between man and animal is quite good. The bridle does look reasonable, and one of the horses has a chamfron on the face, an item known to have been used but again a luxury item for only the very rich.
All told the sculpting is very nice. The detail is quite clear, and the general look is good. The poses tend to be a bit flat, so swords and spears are all hugging the centre line of the figure, but that is nothing unusual in this hobby. One way round that - to have ring hands and separate weapons - has not been done here. The spear heads however are very strange and very poor, though whether this is down to a failure of the plastic to completely fill the mould we do not know. There is a little flash in places, but compared to many sets this is a small annoyance here, and the excess plastic between man and weapon is also low-key. However reports on the internet suggest that there are copies where the flash is extreme, so as with any set this issue may vary between copies.
This is a really nice set covering a fascinating and unusual subject, and a lot of work has gone into delivering a wide range of fighting men. Of course, you can’t put all these figures together in one unit as they represent a wide timeline, so while they do a fair job of covering the advertised five centuries, for the wargamer in particular the utility is lessened by this approach. There has been some lack of thought on some aspects, particularly the light scarves that have no means of staying on, and the woman carrying the industrial-sized amphora. Some common sense would have been useful there. We would also have preferred to see some poses with javelins, which were a common cavalry weapon of the day. However the good sculpting and quite clean mould helps to make this exotic collection quite pleasing on the eye, so a worthy set that reminds us there is more to ancient Italy than just the Romans!