When we first heard that Strelets were going to make a set of velites for the Imperial period we were a little surprised because there was no such thing. Velites had been light troops in the Roman ranks in the Republican era, but had disappeared with the Marius reforms of the second century BCE. From then on Rome relied on auxiliaries for most of its missile troops and other skirmishers, and did not refer to them as velites as far as we can tell. Therefore we will consider these figures as specialist light auxiliaries for the first and second centuries CE and ignore the title.
As can clearly be seen this set neatly divides into three troop types, the first of which we have pictured on our top row. These men all hold javelins and are in various throwing and advancing poses. Three of the poses are very good, including the last pictured figure, who has clearly just let go of his weapon. However the rogue figure is the second from the left, of the man running with javelin aloft. This is an incredibly flat pose which is impossible for the human form to take, and even if it could, no one could be running in this way. He has his legs exactly in line, which is ridiculous, and is holding his javelin over his head rather than the much more natural location of near the right ear. A strange feature of all these men is that they all wear an animal pelt over their helmet which extends down the whole of their back. This is the kind of thing that marked out velites of two centuries previously, but by this time only those with standards or instruments habitually dressed in this fashion. An auxiliary soldier on Trajan’s column seems to be wearing such a pelt, so it seems that this did happen, but we were very surprised to see every single figure with one. Not completely wrong then, but probably very unrepresentative and dangerously close to confusing them with those that fought the Punic Wars centuries earlier.
Row two shows a number of slingers, and here we are on much firmer ground. While the record is very far from complete it seems that auxilia sometimes fought in their own costume, and sometimes in what we would recognise as classic Roman auxiliary costume of mail etc. These men all wear a simple tunic and a cloak, but no armour. They all carry a sword but are busy using their slings instead. Again the poses are a nice sequence going through all the actions of using a sling, including having just released it, Three are holding a shield, which is depicted on Trajan’s column so must be acceptable, but the sculptor seems to have come up against the same problem we have with this arrangement, namely how to operate a sling with only one hand. Here the problem has been resolved by moving the shield of the man loading his sling to over his shoulder, although this seems impractical and more likely the shield was put down while reloading. Nevertheless we continue to wonder exactly how such a cumbersome arrangement worked in reality.
The final row shows a number of archers. As is so often depicted these men wear fairly standard auxiliary armour but over a longer tunic or robe, and with a pointed helmet of Eastern appearance. All that is fine, and so are most of the poses, with the figure holding his bow horizontally presumably resting his hand before returning the bow to the upright position ready to release the arrow.
The classic Strelets sculpting style means some smaller items are exaggerated in size and some arms are not well proportioned. We have already pointed out some of the very poor poses, although on the whole the poses are quite lively and appealing. The only separate item is the bow for the kneeling archer we so dislike, so all the shields are moulded on and therefore cause some compromises as they are of necessity held extremely close to the body in many cases. The best aspect of this set is those poses that between them cover all the actions of the particular weapon, making a more credible general mass then simply repeating one or two poses ad nauseum. However the flatness of some poses does rather spoil the party.
Strelets, and indeed all manufacturers, need to ask themselves a simple question when considering a pose. Can I personally reproduce the intended stance? If the answer is no then the pose either needs rethinking or abandoning. Apart from the running figure the poses are usable although too flat, and whether you like the blocky sculpting style is down to personal preference, but our misgivings about some historical aspects meant we were left disappointed by this set.