As in any society the market was a hub of any Roman community. Those who farmed the land brought their produce to sell while craftsmen of all kinds did likewise, and as well as local produce there would be items imported from further afield and perhaps some luxuries brought in from lands of which the customers knew nothing at all. It all sounds exotic and exciting, but in reality it was rather more hard-nosed than that, with merchants coming close to harassing the passers-by and many stall-holders spreading their wares out over the public footpaths, causing the emperor Domitian to pass an edict forbidding the display of goods in the street. The Romans were human after all, and the drive to make more money by aggressive selling techniques was as familiar to them as it is to us today. Nevertheless the market was a very important part of Roman life, and it is good to see it depicted in this set from Linear-B.
As you would expect this set offers us a range of traders and customers, with a variety of goods on offer. Many figures could be used in various ways, but for what it is worth here is our take on what these figures are doing.
Row 1 has a number of traders, beginning with a man standing next to a pile of jugs. These could be stacked empty amphoras, although that seems very unlikely, so they are either empty vessels being sold in their own right or else filled with some liquid such as wine or olive oil. Stacking jars like this does not seem particularly wise, or safe, however. Next to him is a man holding a bolt of cloth open for inspection, and beside him we might suppose to find a butcher. Certainly we have a man with a yoke from which are hanging several sides of meat and some birds, although he could just as easily be a customer buying for a large household. Finally there is a man carrying two amphoras, again perhaps selling or buying wine, or maybe just off to a particularly promising party!
Row 2 begins with a rather stout man wearing a cloak, a sword/dagger and holding a whip. The temptation is to see this as an overseer or seller of slaves, and that is probably the intention here, but he could simply be selling whips! Beside him is a poor wretch almost naked and with hands bound. He has the look of a Gaul (is that a torc around his neck?) and may be a prisoner from some war - in any case he is surely for sale here as a slave. However he may not be the only slave in this set. Many stall-holders were slaves or freedmen, and in the towns slaves often did the shopping for their masters, although only this kneeling figure resembles the myth of all slaves as half-naked captives. The third man in the row holds a knife and a loaf of bread, so a good candidate for a baker, particularly as he appears to wear some protective apron over his normal clothing. Finally we have a sitting figure, also wearing some form of apron. He seems to hold a hammer by the head in his right hand and has something on his lap. Our thoughts turned to a cobbler, but one of various craftsmen could be just as good.
Row 3 starts with a table which might have served as a counter, and then comes a man sitting on a chair. You can take your pick as to his role, from money-lender to tired shopper. Beside him is a stool with some things on it, and then the first woman in the set. She carries a basket with the head and neck of a goose or similar sticking out. Judging by the size of the head we felt the bird must have an incredibly petit body to fit into that basket, or else she folded it with considerable efficiency beforehand, so while this is a fun figure we did not find it convincing.
And so to row 4, where we start with two more figures of the female persuasion. The first has her hair well dressed but her gown is more revealing at the chest than would normally have been the case for everyday wear, so perhaps what she is selling is more of a service than any merchandise? However it seems that she was intended as a partner for the baker, standing by the table rolling out dough, at least according to the Strelets website. Beside her is another woman, this time holding a child. By the tatty state of her dress we are presumably supposed to gather that she is poor, which is fair enough, as the poor too had to shop. Certainly it is a touching figure and a refreshing change from the military figures we usually study. The last three figures are all of men, but more than that we cannot say. They could be buyers, sellers or just spectators. Something has gone very wrong with the hands of the last single figure, which are a riot of flash and bits of plastic that were perhaps intended to be fingers. Whatever he is supposed to be doing, it has been lost in the sculpting or figure production.
The simple costume on these figures all looks fine, as are the accessories like the purses several have on their belts. The sculpting is not that good, with the chunky look that we are very familiar with by now. However these are not figures that have intricate and precise uniforms, so more than usual these figures do get away with it. The faces are OK and the folds of the clothing are not bad either, and apart from the ill-advised man in the bottom row there is no flash anywhere.
Although these are not the most attractive of figures, this is quite a fun set which has some interesting characters in it. Ultimately it is just a set of civilians going about their business, and the enterprising military modeller could certainly use them in all manner of more war-like scenarios providing logistics for their Roman legion. However sticking just to the concept of a market, we liked almost all these figures, and even the goose’s head can easily be removed if it offends. With no apparent accuracy problems this makes a very worthwhile means of populating some Roman town centre or port.