The Stradioti had their origins in the Albanian struggle against the Ottomans in the 15th century. Under their leader George Kastriot ('Skanderbeg'), the patriots won a number of victories against the Ottomans, but after his death in 1468 his movement collapsed, and many of his followers fled to Venetian territory. There the Venetians had already found them very useful as light cavalry, countering the similar forces of the Ottomans in Venetian held Dalmatia, and in time many of these men would be brought to Italy to participate in Venice’s wars closer to home. They first came to the notice of the rest of Europe at the Battle of Fornovo (1495), where France suffered from a lack of good light cavalry, and in time France and other nations would regularly hire Stradioti for their campaigns; some were even used by England’s Henry VIII against the Scots. The men were mostly recruited from the Balkans, including Albania, Greece, Dalmatia, Serbia and later Cyprus, and proved to be excellent light cavalry while still useful in a formal battle line, and compared to most cavalry of the time they were cheap too! Their tactics were innovative and widely copied, and the men were described as fearless and ruthless.
Their appearance was described as Turkish apart from the lack of a turban, but this is a simplification as many elements of their dress were traditional for the Balkans. These men wear a kaftan - some with flowing separate sleeves, and some have the high-crowned hat that was a feature of this region. However a variety of hats, caps and clothing is on show, which is fine as these men were never uniformed. One man seems to wear a cuirass, and others may have some form of armour under their clothes, which reflects the lightly-armoured conditions of such men, particularly earlier in their history. The most common weapon was the light spear or lance, which four of these poses carry, while the other two have a bow of the composite, eastern type, which was the other major weapon of these men. Both the weapons look good here, and the same goes for the shields, which were typical of south-eastern Europe and much associated with these men as well as Hungarians. In short, everything about these men looks accurate.
The sculpting of these men is pretty good, with some nice detail and believable folds in clothing. Since there is no assembly here (apart from man onto horse of course), much effort has gone into making the long weapons work well, and this is successful, although inevitably there is some extra plastic round where the shields are being held. This is no problem, but what is a real disappointment is the amount of flash on these figures, which is very considerable. Occasionally seams are clean, but there is so much flash on these figures that it will take some time, and not a little care, to clean them up properly. This is something that RedBox used to have problems with, but has recently been much better, so it is sad to see them revert to a really poor standard for this set once more.
The quality of the horses could hardly be more different to that of the men. They are really poor sculpts and are in some extraordinary and ludicrous poses which reminds us of the absurd poses Strelets used to offer us in their early days, with hooves flying high in the air. A couple are reasonable, but the more lively ones are terrible. Also they are all very small and thin, and like the men suffer badly from flash, some of which is very apparent in our photograph. The saddles and furniture look reasonable, however.
The poses of the men are well done, especially the man with lance levelled, which is difficult to achieve with a single piece. Also the poses are very useful, and our favourite was the man with lance lowered as if against some foot target. The sculpting we liked, the horses we hated and the flash we found ugly and very frustrating, so this set has some very good points and some very bad ones. Light cavalry like this served in many European armies during the 16th century, and these are nice figures, but it is a pity that so much work will be required to rescue them from the unwanted plastic, and the horses really need to be replaced entirely.