The Praetorian Guard, the emperor’s personal guard and, on occasions, his most dangerous enemy, have rightly been remembered as a tool of tyranny and something to be feared. When it comes to representations of them in the modern mind, people naturally think of their depiction in films such as Ridley Scott's Gladiator (2000). In that film they are in a very chic black, with blackened armour and black clothing, giving them an excellent appearance of menace, but of course this is far from the truth. In reality it was probably quite difficult to distinguish them from ordinary legions on the field of battle. Yes they carried oval shields, but perhaps not always, and anyway so did ordinary legionnaires on occasion. Equally crests were worn by the Praetorians, and also by ordinary troops. In fact the best ways of identifying them were the designs on their shields, the quality of their kit and of course the way they were used. For the purposes of small plastic unpainted figures the differences are almost impossible to spot, but the Praetorians are still a good excuse to make another set of Roman soldiers with some different characteristics, so we won’t be complaining about the justification behind this set.
Fashions in such things as shield shape, type of armour and helmet crests changed over time, and at any given moment Praetorians might have been distinguishable simply by setting a new fashion in such things. All the figures in this set are dressed much the same with apparently segmented armour and classic Imperial-style helmets, all of which have long plumes attached to the crown. The sword is on the right hip, suspended from a baldric, and there appears to be a dagger on the left side. They are armed with the gladius sword, of course, and some also hold a pilum spear. In this and all the smaller elements of their clothing and weaponry they are quite accurate and suitable for well over a hundred years from the second quarter of the first century.
Unlike most Strelets 'Mini' sets this one has 14 poses, which means the makers have added a few more specialist figures. As well as the optio, who is pictured in our second row and can be identified by the upright feathers on either side of his helmet crest, there are also figures of a standard-bearer (signifier) and hornist (cornicen). The signifer holds a standard which bears little resemblance to what is currently thought to be a Praetorian design. It is thought that Praetorian standards had images of the imperial family as well as eagles, scorpions and other elements not generally found on ordinary legionary examples. Ordinary standards bore a number of discs, just as the model in this set does, so this standard seems to be for a legion and not the Guard. All signifers had an animal pelt over their helmet and down the back, which for the legions was a bear but for the Guard was a lion; we could not make out which it might be on this model.
None of the poses suggest battle, yet these men are all dressed for battle. When acting as guards and police the Praetorians did not wear armour, so these are on campaign, probably in the company of the emperor himself. The poses follow the 'before battle' formula for Strelets, with men standing waiting, talking, cheering etc. Why they chose to have no combat poses we do not know, but clearly this was intentional, so while a customer buying blind would probably be surprised, these poses are all reasonable as far as they go. The cornicen does have an issue however. He holds his cornu (horn) by the left hand, close to the mouthpiece, but has it on his left side. This leaves his right hand free, but means the instrument is unsupported, and is frankly a ridiculous way of holding it which would never have happened in reality.
With so many sets of Romans from Strelets it is hard to know what to say about the characteristics of the sculpting that has not already been said, because these are identical in that regard to every set that has gone before. You have heard all the keywords before - chunky style and exaggerated smaller details meaning that the proportions are quite poor despite plenty of detail. In this case every weapon and every shield comes as part of the figure, so there is no assembly to worry about. The shields have a spine and evidence of edging but no pattern engraved on them (which we are pleased to see) and no detail on the inner surface (which is not so good). Inevitably where the figure faces directly into the mould the large crest is greatly simplified and mostly without detail, but there is no flash anywhere and by virtue of the sedentary poses and the shields pressed hard against the bodies there is no excess plastic either.
Finding an excuse to make a different set of Roman legionaries is fine by us, and nothing here is inaccurate unless you still want to treat them as Praetorians, in which case the standard is wrong. Think of this as a second set of Romans before battle (like the Strelets set M019) and you won't go far wrong.