If you found yourself on the southern coast of the Italian peninsula in the fourth century BCE then you might be forgiven for thinking yourself in Greek territory rather than Italic. By this time these coastal areas had many colonies founded by Greeks, so much so that the Romans called the area Magna Graecia, or Greater Greece. Taras was one of the most important of these colonies, situated in modern Apulia on the coast. The later fourth century and third centuries BCE saw the expansion of Roman control throughout the southern Italian peninsula, which inevitably meant a confrontation with Taras. Taras fought with the assistance of King Pyrrhus of Epirus, but in 272 BCE the city fell to the Romans and had its walls demolished. However a lasting legacy of the city was the famous Tarentine horsemen. These were light cavalry, skilled at using the javelin and highly valued for setting ambushes, as well as other light cavalry functions. Their fame meant they were widely used as mercenaries well away from their homeland, although later on it may well be that ‘Tarentine’ described the style of javelin horsemen, even if they no longer actually originated from that colony.
Our second row pictured above represents the typical Tarentine horsemen of the third century BCE, for these men are all unarmoured apart from sometimes a helmet, which might be of the Attic or pilos style. They would carry one or more javelins, and generally a round shield with either a central grip or a handle and strap to hold it along the forearm. A sword would be their secondary weapon, and they might wear boots or nothing on their feet. The first man in this row has clearly thrown all his javelins and resorted to his sword, while the man on the other end holds quite a long javelin (30mm) which might instead be more of a spear. The third man is interesting because he holds a peltast’s crescent shield, for which we could find no evidence though as usual surviving evidence is scarce today. The first figure in the third row is similarly dressed and equipped, although he wears a sun hat rather than a helmet, and does not look to be in a fight at the moment.
That covers half of the figures in this set, but the other half are much more weighty warriors. The box describes these men as heavy cavalry or Greek mercenaries, and while it is likely that there were a few heavy cavalry in the ranks of the Tarentine armies, these rather stray from the typical appearance suggested by the name of the set. These men wear body armour – the linen corselet or muscle cuirass, although one has a small circular pectoral plate front and back. They all have crested helmets, and one even has the Corinthian helmet, very old fashioned by this time and something of a surprise here. The ‘commander’ in the third row is also heavily dressed, and a particular surprise is he and some others are wearing greaves. When riding a horse with no saddle or stirrups, keeping balance is largely done through the grip of the legs, so we would have thought greaves would be a terrible idea, especially for the poor horse. However opinion seems to be divided on this point, and there are period illustrations that show mounted warriors wearing greaves, so it seems they are a possibility after all. The heavies all carry round shields, and most have drawn a sword, which is either of the common kopis or the cruciform style.
The selection of horses is the same as those offered in other ancient sets from Linear-A, so are clearly more generic mounts than tailored to the particular subject of this set. Having said that, evidence is very thin on how these horses would have been equipped, though a simple square blanket saddlecloth was probably the norm. Here however we have an exotic range of cloths, including a circular one and an animal pelt, presumably for someone of considerable wealth and standing. We would have much preferred the simple cloth, though it is hard to say any of those here are completely out of place. Ancient illustrations show men riding bareback, which is not one of the options here, although whether this happened in reality is a matter of debate. The poses of the animals themselves are clearly all at full speed, which does not match well with some of the more relaxed human poses. The anatomy is pretty good and the poses fair, and one has a chamfron on its face, which is reasonable.
The poses are okay but some are rather flat. In particular those about to throw the javelin – the middle two in the second row. The first of these is holding his javelin against his helmet (very hard to twist shoulder and wrist to do this), while the second has wedged his between his head and his second javelin, so it will not be going anywhere just now. Of course these are difficult poses to do without these sorts of issues, and we really liked the second swordsman, who is far from flat, and also the relaxed man in the third row. A particular feature of this set is another of Linear-A’s trademark unconventional figures – in this case two men on foot running from the horsemen. Both are unarmed and simply dressed, and are very nicely done. Doubtless many modellers will have lots of ideas for uses for those two.
The sculpting is of the usual good Linear-A standard. Nice detail such as on the distinctive boots, and good proportions all round. For some reason some of the javelin heads are quite poor; nothing like the pointed head you would expect. The second man in the second row is holding both his shield (by a central grip) and his next javelin, yet to hold the javelin at that position the sculptor has had to move his hand below the centre of the shield, which looks weird once you notice it. None of the shields or weapons are separate, but we did find the fit of man onto horse was a bit variable, with some suffering from legs too close together, tending to ‘ping’ off their mount. There is some flash but not a lot, and a small amount of extra plastic behind some shields of course, but nothing that disfigures them.
So to sum up these are nicely done sculpts and with no apparent accuracy issues. The designer has set out to depict as many different forms of costume and weapon as possible, which means the set is more of a parade of Greek cavalry of the period than a typical reflection of a unit of Tarentine horsemen. This is not unusual in cavalry sets in our hobby of course, and for some this will be a positive aspect of this collection. So treat the title with some flexibility and you have an interesting selection of Greek cavalry from around the time of Rome’s early growth.