While Rome’s road network has become legendary, it was constructed largely for the benefit of the army, although of course civilians could make use of it too. In an age when most ordinary people walked to where they wanted to go, much of the traffic on the Empire’s roads was made up of wagons moving produce, officials on government business and the very rich, who could afford homes in town and country as well as travelling for its own sake. There were many sorts of Roman vehicle, however, not all of which were definitively described or illustrated at the time, so our knowledge on this remains imperfect. However while the title of this set merely refers to 'transport' the box artwork suggests the emphasis is on the logistics for the Roman Army, so we will concentrate on that aspect for this review.
As might be expected of such a highly-organised army as that of Rome, the logistics were also carefully considered, and played their part in the success of many campaigns. While not averse to local requisitioning or simple plundering, any Roman army would also have a considerable baggage train. The term 'Marius' mules' was applied to the Roman legionnaire to illustrate the amount he had to carry on his own back, but naturally this could not include sufficient rations for a whole campaign, and then there was the officer’s baggage, ammunition for the artillery and so on. When on the march the baggage took up station behind the legion that it served, but in front of any auxiliaries.
Much baggage was carried on pack animals, of which there are four in this set. Wheeled vehicles could carry much more, but were mainly restricted to the good roads and flatter landscapes, while pack animals could go virtually anywhere. The mules in this set have pegs on the top and both sides of the harness, to which any of a number of supplied packages can be attached. Most seem to be shaped to go on the back, but there is a nice sack that looks good slung on the side. Naturally any unused pegs can easily be removed.
Perhaps the centrepiece of the set is the wagon. It comes in a number of parts (see sprue image) which fit together fairly well. However the model is a very primitive one, being just a rectangular box on wheels. By the Roman period all the basics of wagon design had been developed, and their construction was almost identical to those of the 20th century, but this model is very rudimentary and ignores all semblance of gear or the ability to steer. The wheels are spoked, which is fine, but they are much too small for the size of vehicle. The motive power comes from the two oxen, which we thought were very nice models. However the manner in which they are attached to the wagon is pure fantasy. They are attached via a curved pole that hooks onto the yokes well above the heads of the animals, which would have been a tremendously inefficient means of harnessing their power, and of course the Romans did no such thing. As a result the whole thing looks little like any Roman wagon, and is much more of a toy which represents such a vehicle.
The figures are a motley collection of the sorts of people that might attach themselves to an army on the move. All the men wear the simple tunica apart from the captive in the top row, who wears only a kilt. A couple have hooded capes and most are either carrying goods or attending to the animals. The driver of the wagon wears a convincing broad-brimmed hat, and one man taking a drink has a cap. The legion’s servants, who might attend the baggage train, would have dressed this way, although so too would civilian contractors or other followers, so all these figures are fine.
There are four women in this set. Women often accompanied the army as wives of the soldiers, but of course there were also others offering goods and/or services of one sort or another. One is walking along giving a child a piggyback, another is holding the hand of an older child, a third is just standing while the fourth is walking and carrying a sack. The presence of the first two is a little difficult, as an army on campaign was no place for children, although on occasion the families of legionnaires did accompany them, so both these must be wives of the men, and thus bring a touch of humanity to the column. The third woman holds a jug and has 'suffered' a clothing malfunction such that a breast is in plain view. She of course could be a wife also, but there is no avoiding the fact that an army on the march has long been a great place for prostitutes to ply their trade, and there is not much doubt that that is what the designer of this piece intended to show. The final woman, wearing a hooded cloak and carrying a bag, is clearly heavily pregnant and so we must assume she belongs to the family category rather than the 'other' category! However along with most of the women in this set she wears a dress with an extremely low neckline, revealing a lot of cleavage. For the 'fallen woman' this seems understandable but would be much less appropriate for wives with families. It would seem, as is so often the case when female figures are sculpted, that the sculptor has let his (we assume a male) imagination carry him away. Perhaps that is a perk of the job, but this kind of overt sexual display is out of place on most of these women, and worse yet their costume is not at all Roman. Roman female costume was simple in construction and modest. They wore a tunica similar to the men's but usually longer, and sometimes a stola, which was a kind of overdress. If outdoors (and we surely can assume these ladies are outdoors), then they might also wear a palla, which was essentially a wrap for warmth. None of that is here, but instead an array of quite tightly-fitting dresses that come from a much later age. The shaped neckline is particularly inaccurate, and while of course female fashion was varied and changed over time, we could find nothing remotely like this in any contemporary illustration or modern reconstruction. The women’s hairstyles look good however, and the children wear miniature versions of adult dress, which is quite correct.
The style of sculpting is chunky and lacking finesse. The clothing is undemanding in terms of detail, but the folds are fairly well done. The faces are quite nice, even on the children, and the items these people carry are also quite good. It is unclear how the middle figure in the top row is holding his burden, but we must assume there is a strap there. There is no flash to speak of, and the wagon is fairly easy to put together, while the baggage for the animals fits well (there being none for the wagon).
The poses for the mules are not brilliant, but better than many horse poses we have seen, and the oxen are fine. With such a potentially varied subject matter there are probably few inappropriate poses and no absolute must-haves as there would be in most military sets, but we liked everything here and thought they had been nicely thought out and well executed. Without the need to give everyone weapons (and shields) it is much easier to produce convincing, natural poses without making them seem flat, and all these are good.
As a whole then this set is a mixed result. We liked the figures and animals, although the woman’s costume is very poor historically speaking. The style of figures may not be to everyone’s taste, but the wagon is really much too simple for ours, and those tiny wagon wheels which barely reach the people’s knees make it look completely unconvincing and, as we have said, very toy-like. Something more like the box illustration would have been much better, and could have been useful for many other historical periods too, but as it is we see this as an interesting and mostly useful set of figures with some nice beasts of burden and nothing more.