At its peak the Roman Empire was larger than any that had gone before, with vast borders facing usually hostile neighbours that needed guarding. When trouble flared or a new campaign was planned there was only one way to get the troops to the right place – they had to walk. Rome was famous for its long straight roads, so the legions were better able to cover long distances than most, and the average legionnaire could expect to spend far more time marching than in battle. This set from Strelets, the latest in their Mini series, focuses on this aspect of Roman warfare which has hitherto been ignored by the hobby.
The point of the Mini series is to deliver figures which work well together in a particular situation rather than attempt to cover all aspects of military life, and when on the march everyone would be in much the same pose, so it is no surprise to find all 12 poses in this set are similar. Everyone is walking with the T-shaped pole on their left shoulder from which all their kit and possessions are hanging, and in their right hand they carry their spear. There has been no attempt to suggest these men are on parade, so the general feel is of a very natural and fairly casual progress. The poses are in fact perfect, with everyone doing much the same thing but with little differences that would be found in any body of people. Since there are no officers or other specialist troops these poses deliver exactly what the box promises, and when grouped together as if on the march just look excellent, with enough variety to give an entirely natural appearance.
Where the poses do differ more is in the detail of their costume and kit. The one major difference is that eight wear what is now called the lorica segmentata, the plate armour that is most immediately recognised by everyone today. These eight carry the rectangular curved shield and the pilum light spear/javelin. The remaining four wear mail armour of various designs and carry a flat oval shield, making them particularly suitable as auxiliaries. Helmets are either worn or carried on the chest, which is correct, and the shields are encased in their leather covers for the march. A few also wear the hooded cloak called the paenula, which is a nice touch. From the poles hang a wide variety of bags, bottles and other effects that a legionary would have on him – ever since the time of Marius the Roman soldier had traditionally carried much of his kit himself. We particularly liked some of these extra items such as the picks.
From the costume these men would fit what might be described as the heyday of the empire, roughly from the early first to the early second century CE. They all have their gladius sword on their right hip and a dagger on the left.
Trajan’s column suggests men carried their shield in their hand, but we do not know exactly what was the normal method used. Modern experiments have suggested having the shield suspended by straps around the body was much the most practical method, so while we cannot know for sure this seems the most likely state of affairs in ancient times too. Strelets have all their men holding the carrying pole with their left hand and the shield held by straps, which we think is the best option.
The standard of sculpting is pretty reasonable, with fairly good if rather chunky detail. One problem is the shield, which is only slightly curved and therefore too flat for our liking. The only separate pieces are two spears but these fit the ring hands well enough. Flash is very minimal, so these are nice neat figures that are mostly ready to go straight off the sprue.
Of course a Roman army on the march was much more than the soldiers. Each group of eight men was allocated a mule, and more senior officers obviously had their own transport. Then of course there were the camp followers of all descriptions which made the march more bearable but could also seriously hamper it. Nevertheless we loved the idea of this set of figures, and the thought that has gone into making each one unique in some small way really pays off. These are a great start and though not the most refined of figures they should have considerable appeal for fans of Rome’s many wars.