Carthage, a city state located on the North African coast, was for a long time one of the major powers in the ancient Mediterranean world, with an empire of vassal states, many scattered colonies and an extensive trading network. Inevitably it would come into conflict with other states in the region, particularly Syracuse in Sicily, but ultimately it would be destroyed by the growing state of Rome after a series of epic conflicts known as the Punic Wars. The most famous of these, the Second Punic War (218 – 201 BCE), saw Carthage’s most famous son, Hannibal, invade Roman Italy and campaign there for many years, inflicting multiple defeats on the Romans but never able to force them to capitulate. Hannibal’s army, like all Carthaginian armies, was made up mostly of troops from its vassals, allies and by hiring mercenaries. Each of these fought in their own way, and it was down to the skill of the commander to make these different elements work together as an army. With this set from Ultima Ratio we are presented with Hannibal’s veterans.
While a soldier from any source could be a veteran, it is clear that in this case we are looking at Hannibal’s troops from the city’s North African domains, i.e. the Libyans or Liby-Phoenicians. These African troops were the core of the army, and since long before the Punic Wars they had been greatly influenced by Greek ideas; their appearance was Greek and they carried a spear and round hoplite shield. After Hannibal’s initial great victories, particularly Lake Trasimene (217 BCE) and Cannae the following year, he resupplied many such men from the vast quantities of captured Roman equipment, particularly the mail shirt, and it is such warriors that are to be found in this set. All the troops here wear the ex-Roman mail shirt over their ordinary tunic, although most have retained their original helmet rather than use the Roman Montefortino type. Some also have a sort of apron which appears to be quilted or made of lamellar armour, but we could find no evidence for this, and it would seem quite superfluous when worn over mail. The men also all wear a pair of greaves which cover the knee, and all have sandals on their feet. The standard bearer and officer still wear their more traditional kit, as you would expect, with a scale cuirass for the former and a muscle cuirass for the latter. Both also have suitable helmets, so everything here is correct apart from the mystery aprons on some.
Half the trooper poses carry a spear of about 33 mm (2.4 metres) in length, which is good, and the rest have drawn their swords, which are mainly straight rather than the kopis type. Most of the scabbards hang from a baldric on the left hip, but two are attached to the waist belt, one being on the right hip. Most of the figures carry the large Roman shield, but one retains the older round example. These shields are all engraved with various designs, all of which would seem reasonable, although we always prefer plain shields to allow the customer to paint a design of their choice (for example, the same design for all the poses rather than all different, as here). If these shields are captured Roman stock the designs must represent repainting by their new owners, but we cannot know if this was always done. Also the method of attaching the shield to the man means they have a distinctive domed boss, which is not authentic, and many lack the spine that was normally a feature of such items. The officer has not drawn his weapon, and the standard in the top row is generally accepted as typical and has been nicely done here.
The poses are mostly fairly typical combat choices, but as so often, some are quite two-dimensional. So the second spearman in our top row holds his weapon directly over the centre of his head, which is not a natural position, and the man next to him holds his sword directly behind his head, again awkwardly. The last two figures in the second row are much better, and this has been achieved by a separate right arm. Since all the shields are also separate, this too helps with the poses, and as can be seen there are a couple of extra right arms, which offer further variety of pose. This all helps to mitigate the fact that there are only five fighting poses here, but all the poses are useful.
The standard of production is about normal for this manufacturer. The figures are nicely detailed but are rather flat in the body when facing the mould, as most of them are. The spears are nice and slim, as are the shields, and the method of attaching the shield to the figure is the one we prefer – the shield with a hole in the centre fits over a lump on the figure’s hand, forming the boss of the shield, although as we have said the domed shape is not authentic in this case. This can make for a nice, firm fit, and in this set most are quite well done and secure, although the last pictured man has a much looser fit and needs fixing, while the hole in the round shield (which is held by the first spearman in the top row) needs to be drilled through first. The separate arms are much more of a problem, since they do not really fit on the shoulder at all. The two surfaces are not flat – the sculptor has attempted a very basic lump-and-hole to help with the join, but we found that join very vague and had to use a putty adhesive to get them ready for their photo-shot, which leaves a very fragile construction. The separate spear arm which is in our bottom row is a better fit, but the extra sword arm is a nightmare as it makes no attempt to match with either shoulder. Finally, there is quite a rough finish to the seam, resulting in a little flash which can best be seen on the raised spear in our top row, so while there is very little plastic to remove, all the seams need some tidying up.
Although this is quite a small set, it does its best to make the most of the poses with the separate and extra right arms. Unfortunately, the engineering is not really good enough for this to work well, although customers with sufficient motivation can do much to remedy this problem. Having three standard-bearers (all left-handed too) and three officers is many more than most people will want, although we particularly liked the officer pose, who is holding his helmet rather than wearing it, so apparently not in the thick of the action. These are better sculpts and poses than the corresponding HaT set, helped partly by the separate shields, and the accuracy is pretty good too apart from the mystery aprons and shield bosses, so if you are prepared to do some work to assemble them then these figures provide good troops for Hannibal’s efforts in Italy during the fateful Second Punic War.