The Maya were a people that inhabited an area that roughly equates to modern Guatemala, Belize and south-eastern Mexico. In the third century they established a very sophisticated civilisation which endured for around 600 years, known today as the Classic period. After that the civilisation went into decline, with many of the tribes and cities being ruled by outsiders, and by the 16th century there were still many small Mayan states, all competing with each other and frequently at war. When the Spanish came they could provide no united defence, yet this fragmentation also meant complete conquest was extremely difficult, and it would take very many years of bloodshed before the Spanish finally overcame all the tribes, killing and selling into slavery many thousands.
Caesar make no claims on the box as to the period to which this set refers, although it does list other 16th century sets on the back, suggesting that is the target era. However Caesar say the figures are meant to be more generic Mayan, with the emphasis on those costumes and weapons that differed from the Aztecs, since such figures are already made by Revell. They therefore consider the set to be most appropriate to the Classic period, but with some or all of the figures that could also be of use for the Spanish Conquest period. Despite the destruction during the conquest there remain many images of the Mayans, although identifying the rank and era of many is largely educated guesswork, so it is hard to say to what extent the Maya of the 6th century differed from their descendants 1,000 years later.
In this set there are three basic styles, which are clearly based on the three Mayan illustrations in the Osprey book 'The Conquistadores'. The figures on the top row are of the first type, and are very elaborately garbed with enormous plumes and feathers. The costume is taken from a series of remarkable images found at the Bonampak site, and in this case the individual is a chief, as might be expected. Since the original picture is clear so too are the figures, so they are accurately done, but we wonder at the need for 13 chieftains in a set of 42 warriors.
The next five figures copy the second Osprey illustration, which depicts a 'warrior', clearly a man of substance and perhaps even a professional soldier. He too has an ornate headdress but the rest of his costume is limited to a decorated breechclout and sandals. The evidence suggests that costume varied between the various Mayan tribes, and that there was considerable variety in terms of armour, weapons and decorations, so while this figure may be an accurate representation there is no reason to suppose most warriors were attired in such a uniform fashion.
The final type is represented by the last three figures, and in many ways these are the most useful because they are the simplest and depict the peasant levy which must have made up the bulk of many armies. They have a small crest which appears to be short feathers (although this could also have been achieved by stiffening the man's own hair), and the usual breechclout. They also have a further ring of fabric around the waist. This may be a misrepresentation of a form of armour often mentioned by the Spanish which was a long strip of cotton rolled and then wound round the whole of the trunk as protection. Also most sources say the men had long hair, either leaving it so when in battle or tying it up beforehand, yet all the figures in this set have quite short modern hair. Finally, while styles probably varied, it is thought that most Mayans had some form of protection on the lower legs, yet no one in this set has any.
The principal Mayan weapons were the bow, club and spears of various lengths. No one here has a bow or club, so this is far from being representative of the weapons of the Maya. For the late period the aforementioned Aztecs could fill this gap but for the Classic period this is a serious omission. There are two weapons in this set, with the main one being a quite short spear. This is rather ornate in all cases, even on the peasant, which we would suggest is unlikely. The other weapon is the sling, which was common throughout Mesoamerica and is fine.
Given our comments on the choice of weapons the poses are pretty good. All the higher ranks are using a spear in a variety of realistic positions, although we are far from sure whether such a warrior would have chosen to use a sling like the first figure on the bottom row. The slinger poses too are fine. Again although evidence is nowhere near comprehensive the carrying of shields seems to have been the norm (designs on the shield were used to distinguish tribe and therefore friend from foe), so those poses without one may be relatively unusual.
At the time of writing this is the 27th Caesar review we have published, and the 27th time we have had to find some way of saying the sculpting is excellent. Those who already own Caesar figures will recognise the same high standards in this set, with plenty of sharp detail, great proportions and not a hint of flash. There is even a suggestion of the cranial deformation that many Maya practiced.
While individually we have few complaints about accuracy we do feel this is not representative of a Mayan army. Caesar can get away with the vague placing of the set in Mayan history, and we understand the desire not to duplicate figures produced by Revell (particularly bowmen, clubmen and those in eagle and jaguar costume), but the result is a set which by itself does not properly reflect its intended subject. This is particularly so because of the absence of many crucial weapons, and the overwhelming number of high status figures compared to the ordinary fighter. Anyone wishing to build a Mayan army should be aware of these limitations, which is the main reason this set lost accuracy and pose marks, but when used as a component for such an army this set is very good and provides some very exotic figures for pre-Columbian America - a period which has largely been ignored until now.