The Cumans and Pechenegs were two of the many peoples of the Steppe that had originally moved westward from China, and first appeared in written sources from the early Middle Ages. The Pechenegs or Patzinaks had first been recorded in the 8th century, and lasted until the 12th. The Cumans appeared in Europe later, being first recorded in the 11th century, and eventually succumbed to the Mongols, after which their ethnic distinctiveness was lost. Both are typical of the Steppe peoples of the day, fighting each other and all their neighbours at various times, while at other times serving as mercenaries for those same neighbours. Neither had a rigid sovereign state structure, but shared many characteristics and formed an important element in the politics of Eastern Europe. The Magyars, Byzantines, Rus and many others had good reason to know these peoples.
Such Steppe peoples mostly had armies that were entirely mounted, and were justly famous for their mounted archers. Such men were brought up skilled in the use of the bow, and as light cavalry they were matchless in Europe. While this is the classic image of such people it would be wrong to assume this represented all their warriors, just as not all Mongols were light, fast horse archers. The Steppe people had their share of heavy cavalry too, which were naturally the wealthier individuals who could afford the weaponry and, in many cases, the armour to match their role. This set is split roughly equally between light and heavy cavalry, and while this may not be an accurate reflection of the actual proportions of each it does provide a good mix of such men.
All Steppe peoples were primarily archers, and all the figures in this set carry a bow, but for the poorer individuals this was their principal weapon, and four of the poses here are using this. The first such figure pictured is well armoured, but the rest have no armour and represent the ordinary warriors without any wealth. As with everyone else they wear layers of loose tunics, kaftans, loose trousers and boots, and many have a helmet on the head. Without the coif worn by the heavies it is possible to see the pigtail that was very common, and all these men also have a curved sabre (for the light troops) or a straight sword for the heavier type. All would also have at least one knife, but one pose also uses another implement that such men were familiar with, the rope. This would be used to bring down enemy horsemen just as it is used today to bring down animals. Javelins and axes would also have been suitable weapons here, but there are none of these.
The wealthy heavy cavalry have a range of lamellar and scale armour (although mail would also be valid). This clearly hides the clothing, but as with the lighter warriors everything here is authentic. The helmets, also a diverse selection, all look correct too, including those with the plumes. The principal weapon of the heavy cavalryman was the lance, and there are four in this set. Such men also carried the bow, of course, and the broadsword, so again these figures are fine. As with the lights, almost everyone carries a round shield which, while perhaps not as universal amongst the lighter horsemen as this set suggests, is nonetheless appropriate.
Like many Orion sets the standard of production can be described as both good and bad; good sculpting and bad mould production. Taking the good part first, the sculpting is excellent. The subject would call for well detailed sculpting and these have it in spades. All the intricate armour is beautifully done, while textures such as fur are thoroughly believable. The faces are a joy, but everything is very nicely done. The poses are a little flat, but largely realistic and well chosen. The horses, however, while quite nicely produced include some very unnatural positions (and are the same as those in the Orion Rus set). They are all quite simply equipped, which is fine although some of the heavier cavalry might be expected to have more decoration and even some protection for the animals. All the riders fit the horses well and should stay put without being bonded.
It is the quality of the mould that lets these figures down. There is a fair bit of flash, and in some places this is extensive, as can be seen in the above pictures. Because of the flat poses there is no hidden plastic, and the two separate lances, although not entirely straight, fit the ring hands well enough, but for some figures there is going to be a lot of trimming before the intended excellent figure can be rescued. The differences between Cumans, Pechenegs and other Steppe peoples are pretty trivial at this scale, so a combined set makes sense for a subject that perhaps has less appeal than many. If you are prepared to take the time to trim all the unwanted plastic from these figures then they represent a very good snapshot of these peoples, who had an important part to play in the history of the Byzantine Empire and much of Eastern Europe.