Warfare was a dominant part of life in Greece in the centuries before the Roman Empire, with each city state maintaining an army and regularly engaging in wars with neighbouring cities. This set covers the 5th and 4th centuries BCE, a period referred to as the 'classical period', when the Greeks had to meet threats from the Persian Empire and were eventually defeated at the hands of the Macedonian phalanx.
The most important element of all Greek armies was the hoplite, the heavy infantryman who carried a spear of about 2.5 to 3 metres in length. Four of the poses in this set show such men, with one apparently about to hurl his spear at the enemy (which would not have happened, but he may have a javelin). Four more show hoplites using their swords, which were used for hand-to-hand combat if the spear was broken in the initial clash.
While the hoplites may have been the most important part of a Greek army, the light infantry also had a major role, and it is good to see such troops included in this set. There are two archers, a slinger and two javelin-armed peltasts - all troop types that would have been seen on any battlefield. Finally there is a piper and a splendid officer. Pipers are known to have been used by the Spartans, though their use elsewhere is less certain.
All the poses are excellent - very natural-looking and with lots of life. The swordsman on his knees is particularly unusual as he appears to be looking up at a mounted opponent.
The men wear a mixture of costume, with no two figures dressed exactly alike. Some of the heavy infantry wear a muscle cuirass, some the lighter linen or linen-covered version. Most wear greaves and helmets, the latter being mainly the classic Corinthian style that covered the face and had a crest to make the warrior seem taller, although one is of Illyrian type with an open face. The rest of the figures are correctly unarmoured, but wear costume typical of the time. One of the javelin men wears a hood and cloak, and may be a Thracian, while the other wears a petasos hat, as does the slinger. The officer wears a cloak wrapped tightly around him, and looks very like a bronze statuette of a Spartan officer dating to the early 5th century BCE.
All the common weaponry of the period is represented here, which allows a full army to be built up. The spears for the hoplites are provided separately and fit well into the ring hands of the men. They are about 2.5 metres long and are fine pieces of sculpting in themselves as the trouble has been taken to mould both the main point and that at the foot of the shaft, plus the hand grip at the point of balance. The swords are of two types, both common hoplite equipment. One is the straight, double-edged leaf-shaped blade while the other is the kopis, a curved weapon with the weight towards to tip. The javelins have the points moulded and are slender and elegant objects, as are the bows.
This set is just superb. The sculpting is absolutely beautiful, and the detail is clear, deep and a delight to see. In nearly all cases the shields are part of the figure, and they all carry designs that match those known to have been used (though as ever, we would have preferred a plain surface for painting). Dating is harder to pinpoint as these figures represent different fashions that were prevalent at different times. Some of the helmets have cutaway ears, some not. It would seem these figures are from various points in the 5th century BCE and perhaps the 4th too. This is as good a set of ancient Greeks as you could hope to get, and further underlines the astonishing level of quality that Zvezda have achieved early on in their range.