The Senate of Rome was a remarkably robust institution that endured from the first kings of Rome until the early 7th century CE. It underwent major changes during those centuries, and was often little more than a talking shop while the real power lay elsewhere, but it was always something of a symbol of the ruling elite of Rome and is repeatedly represented in films and TV, although often inaccurately, as on the box illustration for this set.
Perhaps the most obvious and curious feature of this set is that everyone is standing up. Sessions of the Senate lasted all day, and naturally the senators themselves were often elderly (the very name implies this), so most of the time they would be seated on benches down each side of the chamber. Why then is no one here sitting down? Certainly this makes it impossible to use these figures to construct a scene depicting the Senate in action, which you would think would be the most likely use for the set, so to our eye this is a very odd choice of poses. Some of the men in the first two rows look like they may be speaking, in which case standing would be a reasonable pose, and of course senators were not just to be found listening to the oratory of their peers, but the lack of seated men remains a big surprise.
Of course many of these poses are clearly not intended to represent the normal business of the Senate. The bottom two rows show a number of figures in very active poses, and frequently wielding daggers, so there is more going on here than the title of the set would suggest. Although violence and murder were no strangers to Roman politics, this was not something most senators would consider doing themselves; there were plenty of hired thugs and assassins to do that sort of dirty work after all. However the last two pieces in the bottom row show what the designer had in mind; the most famous moment in the history of the Senate - the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE. At this moment senators for once did the dirty deed themselves, surrounding Caesar and inflicting dozens of stab wounds from which he quickly died, but since murdering a major political leader was not common practice in the Senate there is really only this one incident for which these figures are useful. Unlike the first two rows, where the men are largely inactive, these much more animated figures are much flatter and sometimes in much less convincing poses. There is an old favourite of Strelets - the third figure in row three holds his dagger directly over the top of his head in a way the human anatomy simply cannot achieve, and wouldn't want to anyway, since the head would interfere with any downward stroke. The man next to him holds his dagger sideways, which is utterly pointless (yes, a bad pun we know!), so these two are really poor poses. Several others hold their daggers in more natural ways, and the first figure in the third row even holds his behind his back as if to conceal it from the intended victim, so some of the poses are reasonable. The second figure in the third row is hard to understand as his hands are in the air but he holds nothing, and there seem to be a couple of men who are unarmed and perhaps not part of the plot. The pair in the third row is also difficult to interpret. Both hold daggers but one holds the shoulder of the other, who is covering his face, so perhaps we are witnessing one murderer encouraging a reluctant co-conspirator. Presumably the penultimate piece in the set is the doomed Caesar himself, reeling from the blows, thus completing the murder scene.
So the poses are a contrast between relatively civilised debate and discussion, and a political murder. The costume, however, is much the same for everyone here. All Roman citizens were entitled to wear the toga, and today it is recognised as the classic Roman garb, but anyone that has worn one will tell you they are far from practical. They require help to put on, need attention to keep them neat, and are very hot and uncomfortable, so naturally they were very unpopular, and many statutes were created forcing Romans to wear them. They became worn only for formal occasions, and a sitting of the Senate was certainly one such event, so it is appropriate that everyone here wears one. Although there was some variety in this garment, this was not great and generally related to how it was arranged, but for the late republican period everything here looks OK. Round the back there are some more suspicious arrangements where this complex item has not been so well done, and some of the figures seem to have narrow strips of cloth over their left arm, which is nothing like the actual item, so this is not an easy apparel to understand but it could have been done better here. Several of the more active poses will very quickly find their togas disordered to the extent that they will need either attention or complete redressing, but that is to be expected as togas are not meant for this sort of activity. The Caesar character looks to have a laurel wreath round his head, which is fine, and all wear the normal tunic and sandals, which is also authentic.
The last piece in the bottom row, which Strelets have rather optimistically included in their count of the number of figures, is of course actually a statue. Legend has it that after Caesar was attacked, he fell at the foot of a statue of Pompey the Great, which is what we have here. The statue is a little larger than life size, and of course is not intended to reflect any real costume or pose, although it does closely resemble at least one statue known from the time, but on a very modest plinth.
This is one of those simpler subjects that better hides the shortcomings of the Strelets sculpting by making few demands on finer detail. The folds of the togas look pretty good to us, and there is no detail as such, though the faces and hands still reveal the limitations of these figures, which like all Strelets figures are sculpted in the final 1/72 scale size from the beginning. The faces are nice and lively, as they should be, but we were disappointed by the fair amount of flash on many figures. As we have said, many of those with daggers are quite flat, but the majority have a realistic stance and the proportions are better done than some earlier sets in the range.
'The Death of Julius Caesar', painted by Vincenzo Camuccini in 1798, seems to have been much of the inspiration for this set, although happily the sculptor has avoided some of the more fanciful and dramatic poses the painter has included in his composition. While murders were not a common sight during meetings of the Senate, since any citizen could wear the toga these figures can also be used to represent citizens that are not senators, and so are useful for more general street scenes etc., even though the toga was not so widely worn, especially away from Rome itself. This helps to give the set wider appeal, although we liked the idea of depicting historic events, even though not military in nature. While the subject matter is more forgiving of the Strelets style, the amount of flash was annoying and not all of the togas are well done, particularly over the crucial left arm. This is certainly an interesting and unusual set, but it has some missing elements which set 2 did not address.