Although the Ottomans had long been a power in the eastern Mediterranean, after their capture of Constantinople in 1453 they became the dominant power in that area. This set claims to depict Ottoman sailors of the 16th and 17th centuries, a period when much of the Ottoman Navy was made up of the galley, a fast and highly maneuverable vessel that used both sail and oar, but principally the oar. Its long slender body and shallow draft meant it was built for speed, and the use of oars meant it was not tied to the winds and could move in any direction it chose. By the 17th century, however, galleys were being supplanted by sailing ships as these could deploy many more cannon than a galley, but the Ottomans were slower than many Christian states in making this change.
Like the sailors of any nation, Ottoman seamen dressed in clothing that was practical, but with some elements of the fashion of the day. Clothing was hard-wearing and comfortable, which, depending on the weather, might mean no more than some form of shirt and loose trousers, which might be full leg or stop at the knee. Other items such as sashes, waistcoats or coats might be present, and most wore a cap, often with a turban or similar wrapping. On the whole that seems to be what these figures are wearing, though it must be said the clothing is not always clear. We were surprised to find most of them apparently wearing shoes when bare feet were common on board ship, but we really liked what is presumably the captain in the second row, with his large turban and coat, loudly announcing his rank. The two rowing figures in the second row are particularly hard to make out, but seem to have shirts on, which would be unusual as rowing was very physical work and most of the time no upper garment was necessary in the warm Mediterranean sunshine (and in any case rowers were given very little clothing). One of the men pulling on a rope seems to be bare-headed - again something of a surprise, though not impossible of course. The man next to the 'captain' wears something like a fez, and also a sash, while he carries a sword, so does not look to be one of those that manually worked the ship.
With so many different tasks involved in sailing a ship, there are not a lot of poses here. The two men pulling ropes are generic and fine, and the third man in the top row is holding the whipstaff or tiller, which is also fine, though you only need one of those on a sailing ship (and for the galleys a man holding a steering oar would have been nice). The two men climbing the rigging are also useful, but that completes the line-up of ordinary sailors, which is not a lot for a ship, certainly the bigger warships.
The first two figures in the second row are obviously rowers, and so are only for galleys or other rowing craft. There is much that has been said about the stance of such rowers, for which see Robert Gardiner’s book listed below, but in short it varies depending on many things including the size of oar and the rowers' position on it. However our problem with these two figures is their arms meet at the hands (or where the hands would be anyway), when a comfortable hold on the oar would mean the hands would be a little apart. Naturally it has been done this way to minimise the excess plastic between the arms, so is understandable, but is not a good pose as a result. The third man is clearly beating out the rhythm for the rowers, but is a very flat pose. He holds one stick literally behind his cap, and the other pressed firmly against his groin, so gives no impression at all of beating the drum. Lastly we have the man holding his sword and peering at something, and the senior officer, who holds his hand out flat in a pose RedBox have used a lot lately but we find curious. Most manufacturers make this into a pointing hand, which is easy to understand, but why he would have his palm flat like this we do not know.
As we have already said the clothing is not easy to make out, and in several areas things are a bit vague. The proportions are nice and in some places like the captain’s clothing the material has been well done, but elsewhere it is difficult to make out the detail. The pose of the rowers has been achieved without separate pieces, so of course the area between the arms is solid plastic, but also the arms come to a point, with no apparent attempt to render any hands. While this might not be completely possible with a rigid mould, we thought a better attempt could have been made. One of the rowers in our set also suffers badly from flash, and while this is much less on the others, all have some trimming required.
While there is not a wealth of information available on the look of Ottoman sailors of this period, we were reasonably happy with much of what this set presents, though the over-dressed rowers are not correct. Given the subject matter, including a couple of rowers was essential, yet neither have turned out well and perhaps needed to have at least one separate arm. Equally the drummer looks bad (exceedingly flat), but that leaves just a handful of poses that truly are 'sailors' (the majority of rowers were slaves, and so were not termed sailors). Although RedBox have made other sets of Ottoman sailors, the few here do not really offer much if you want to crew a vessel of any size (indeed the larger galleys had three or even four rowers on each oar). The sculpting is good in places but poor in others, so very much of a mixed bag in total, and that really applies to the whole set, which is good in parts but not very satisfying overall.