At a time when cavalry was of less importance to armies in western Europe, the Ottomans retained a very strong cavalry element to their armies, the majority of which were the Sipahi. These were mostly heavy cavalry, intended to strike the decisive final blow in battle, and required to help police the empire when at peace. However the period mentioned on the box, 16th and 17th centuries, saw the rise of the firearm soldier in western armies such as those of the Habsburgs, which the Sipahi found increasingly difficult to counter. However they survived until finally dissolved in the early 19th century.
The first thing you notice about these Sipahi figures is they are all dressed virtually identically, and are very heavily armoured. They wear what would be reinforced mail on body and all limbs, with a circular plate on the chest. The helmets are quite similar too, some having a nasal guard as was fashionable in the 17th century. All this is rather Persian in style, and the high level of armour tells us that these are unlikely to be ordinary Sipahi. Their armour and helmets match several examples on display in museums all over Europe and beyond, and the photo on the box is taken from the collection in the Stibbert Museum in Florence. They are certainly imposing, and many date to the 17th century, so these men are almost certainly members of one of the six regiments of the Ottoman standing Army or Kapikulu Corps. They were the elite of the army, rivals of the Janissaries, and generally better equipped than the many Sipahi in the Provincial Army, who increasingly discarded armour as the 17th century progressed. The look is certainly more 16th century if not earlier, yet there seems good evidence that this remained in use right to the end of our period, by which time most provincial Sipahi probably looked little like this.
Three of the poses are using a sword, all of which look good. The man with sword by his shield – presumably at the end of a stroke – is a common pose but not particularly plausible in our view, but the other two are very good. The second row begins with a man holding a pistol, which restricts his possible dates as the Sipahi resisted the introduction of firearms like this until well after 1600. Next to him is a man with a mace, followed by one carrying a spear. All these are valid weapons, and the poses that hold them are pretty good and certainly believable. Half the men carry a circular shield, and half the horses have a shield attached to the saddle, so every man carries one, which is authentic.
The horses come in a good array of poses, all of which are passable or very good. These animals all have full trappings, which may well cover metal armour such as mail; certainly every animal has a chanfron of one design or another on the face. Again this high level of protection suggests top quality horsemen, and so the best of the Sultan’s Guard, particularly later in the period. The animals themselves, what little can be seen, are quite well done, though we did wonder that they seemed a little thin, despite the extra protection. Also very thin is the brace of pistols two of the four horse poses carry (those without the attached shield).
The sculpting of the men is excellent, with a wealth of fine detail which we really enjoyed. This is marred to a limited degree by the flash, which is noticeable and so annoying but not especially widespread. The man with the ring hand had this closed on our example, so needed a little fine drilling, but the lance itself is a decent model (46mm long (3.3 metres) and only a little curved) with a nice spear point and a clear butt-spike. All the figures fit well onto the horses, some being nice and firm but others being looser and so requiring gluing.
All the men wear a cloak, which is often stated as being unusual when in a fight as it can get in the way, particularly of the sword arm. However there is good evidence that these men were noted for wearing cloaks, so they must have managed somehow. These have been pretty well sculpted, but the man with the spear/lance has his cloak separate, which clips rounds his neck and, as you can perhaps see above, sticks out behind him as if he is in a force 10 gale. Exactly how much speed he would need to achieve to create this impressive, slightly Batman-esc effect, we do not know, but we would have to voice our doubts as to whether this was possible, or at least reasonably common (especially since the cloaks of everyone else here can only be described as exceedingly limp). However since it is separate, you can always simply leave it off anyway.
With so many examples of this magnificent armour still in existence today there can be no doubt about the authenticity, and despite the march of time it seems the style remained in use throughout this long period. The uniformity and high quality of the armour on both man and horse suggest Guard status, particularly later in the period when much of the cavalry had abandoned armour altogether. So a fairly specific use for these very fine figures, and while the horses seem a bit meagre for their load the men are great and the set as a whole is more than worthwhile, even if the mould could have been just a little better.