In the lands of the Medieval Rus an armed force would come from any of three sources. The elite were the druzhina, the professional knights who formed the retinues of the lords and were equipped with the latest armour and weapons, as well as usually being mounted. Below these were the urban militia, drawn from able-bodied men living in the towns, and at the bottom of the social ladder were the peasant levy. This set depicts the urban militia, which was almost exclusively infantry and had not been a significant force until its rise during the 11th century, when it became second only to the druzhina. The militia was composed of freemen of the towns, and could only be mustered by their administrators, so were not at the beck and call of the local prince. The men took their equipment from a central arsenal, the quality of which would therefore depend on the wealth, and inclination, of the town itself rather than the individual’s means. On occasion surrounding areas were also used to recruit men, but this was rare and such men were poorly provided for.
As we have said, such militias were usually infantry. For much of the medieval period cavalry was the dominant force on the battlefield, in Russia as elsewhere in Europe, and this was particularly so in the southern and eastern principalities which had to face the Steppe peoples and their light horsemen. In more northerly latitudes, and in thickly wooded areas, infantry was much more important, and in any event the role of infantry became more significant everywhere by the 13th century, although ironically the town militias themselves declined after the Mongol invasions of that century. All the poses in this set would seem to be in battle and most are quite lively enough. The variety of weapons makes for quite a mixed selection, and as designs all are fine. However in execution some are considerably flat, even given that this is a common complaint of so many sets anyway. Those waving weapons over their head do so exactly down the mid point of it, which is both unrealistic and, in the case of the first figure in the second row and others, anatomically impossible. Some like the swordsman in the bottom row are quite nice, but too many are a compromise to suit the needs of the mould.
Although the quality of weaponry depended on the size of the civic purse, for the most part urban militias were well supplied. Spears, axes, swords and bows were the most common, and all except the bow can be seen on these figures. We felt the bow was a significant omission here (apart from one on a man's back) as its use is well documented and certainly deserves to be represented. There are several flails and maces, which are quite reasonable but possibly somewhat over-represented. The single figure with a ring hand has been given a choice of axe or sword to hold. All these weapons look OK, but the nature of some depended on the locality, so while both straight swords and curved sabres are on show here, the former would be more likely in the north and west while the latter, as an eastern influence, would be more common there.
All the shields in this set are moulded with the individual, and there are ones that are round, 'kite'-shaped and also a rectangular one. The round ones were the oldest, with the kite only gradually appearing in Russia much later than in Western Europe. Surprisingly rectangular shields were also known at this time, although as they are described as being something like a pavise we would expect them to be bigger than the example carried here.
Militia would usually have worn some form of armour, and all these figures are so equipped. The variety is remarkable as there is mail, scale, studded and quilted, as well as two men wearing small plates on their chest held by thongs. All these are valid, and the rest of the clothing looks pretty good too. Thick boots and plenty of warm clothing is naturally the order of the day (warfare was often conducted in the depths of winter as the frozen rivers and ground allowed better movement), and several of the men have typical fur-trimmed caps. Other types of caps are also included, as are various hoods, and four of the poses wear helmets of different designs, including the nasal which reached Russia by the 12th century.
Most of the figures seem to have beards, but in general the faces are not much to look at. That really applies to all parts of the figures, where the normal Strelets chunky look is if anything somewhat more chunky here than usual. There has been much attention to detail but these do not make appealing figures, with awkward proportions adding to the sometimes awkward poses. Flash is minimal but there is a little excess plastic and in some places, notably where shields are held, things tend to melt together in an ill-defined jumble. A little filing is needed to ease the separate weapon into the large ring hand, but otherwise these figures are ready to go straight off the sprue.
This is a logical next step for the Strelets medieval Rus range, and these figures seem a realistic reflection of the functional and unflashy appearance of such militias. They match the rest of the range well enough but will not mix easily with similar figures from other manufacturers.