The Praetorians are perhaps the most famous of Rome's soldiers, and developed into a personal bodyguard and enforcement troops for the emperor, although their peculiar power led to them meddling in politics on occasion. In the early years they had rarely appeared on the battlefield, but later, particularly when the emperor himself went on campaign, they justified their elite label in war. While mostly infantry, there was a small cavalry element to the Guard, and while these were sometimes not citizens those in this set would seem to be so.
When creating a wargame with a Roman army the inclusion of the Praetorian Guard adds an interesting element, but wargamers, and also manufacturers, have a problem. There is no good evidence that Praetorians looked any different to the legions apart from the painted designs on their shields. Certainly Praetorians are sometimes depicted with the exotic attic helmet and oval shields, as for example on the relief on the Arch of Claudius now in the Louvre, but it is generally thought that this is artistic convention rather than historical representation, so artists and modellers have no 'uniform' to follow for these troops. We can assume that the Praetorians got the best of everything when it came to supply, but their appearance changed over the years, so almost any legionary and even some auxilia could be used as Praetorians at various times. It is tempting then to adopt the same conventions as the ancient artists by depicting Praetorians with exuberant crests and what we might call today 'parade' uniforms, and this is what Strelets have done with this set.
The men seem to wear mail or scale corslets, mostly without shoulder pieces, although it is sometimes hard to see. Their helmets are of fairly standard legionary pattern for the first or early second centuries, but most have large crests. As we have said, the evidence for such crests on Praetorians is doubtful, and even more so when it comes to proving they were worn in battle, but by including them Strelets have at least given the modeller the option to use them, and they can be trimmed off if more historical accuracy is required. The first figure in the bottom row seems intended as an officer, and he alone has both an attic helmet with brow guard and a muscle cuirass, both commonly but erroneously associated with Roman soldiers. However as a cavalry officer both items are not necessarily unlikely, and do make for a splendid appearance, so we have no problems with this.
The rest of the clothing is conventional as far as we can see, as is the weaponry, with a mixture of spears and swords. All the men carry a hexagonal shield, which while not unique to Praetorians is quite valid, although an oval one would have been equally acceptable. As none of the shields are separate there is no option to interchange these however. The last figure on the bottom row has feathers in his helmet which would identify an optio, but he carries a vexillum standard with, perhaps unusually, an eagle on top.
We actually liked the poses, but some customers may be disappointed that there are no real fighting poses here. No one is thrusting with sword or spear, and several are not even holding any sort of weapon. The general feel of the figures is they are on the march or within sight of the enemy but not actually engaged, while one man is even carrying his helmet.
The first thing to be said about the six horse poses is all of them conform, more or less, to the actual manner in which a horse moves. This has been a real weakness in many Strelets sets in the past (and many others), so it is nice to report good news on this front. The poses, which have appeared in previous Strelets sets, range from standing to galloping, so something for everyone here, and they match the often relaxed posture of some of the men. A good attempt has been made at modelling the Roman saddle, and the various cloths and other horse furniture are well done and authentic.
The normal Strelets style has these men with good but somewhat enlarged detail, which on such relatively complicated figures makes some areas hard to make out. The anatomical proportions are not ideal but those that like the Strelets style will find this set very familiar, although for everyone else these are not particularly attractive models. The sculptor has taken some liberties with the way some of the figures hold their shield, with the forearm being diagonal across the back simply to make sculpting easier. However such a small detail is hard to notice, let alone cause much concern. The men fit the horses well, and with no ring hands or separate weapons or shields they are all ready to go straight off the sprue, while the lack of any flash or extraneous plastic is also pleasing.
For some using these ornate Roman cavalrymen as Praetorians will add a pleasing and obvious elite unit to the tabletop battlefield, while those of a less romantic nature might like to trim or remove the crests to produce a more conventional Roman cavalry unit. Either way there is some charm in this set and anyone who has a Strelets Roman army is likely to make sure they find a use for these figures.