The period of Greek history known as the Mycenaean is not on everyone’s radar, and indeed it would be even less so were it not for the literature surrounding the Trojan War, the most famous event of the roughly five centuries from 1600 BCE during which this culture flourished. The study of this period was practically kick-started by Heinrich Schliemann, whose discoveries in the 1870s revealed a wealth of new material as well as some eye-catching finds, although in truth the evidence remains scarce and much still has to be inferred from what little there is. It appears that the nature of Mycenaean warfare changed during the 13th century, with the abandonment of lightly clad heavy infantry with enormous shields in favour of men wearing body armour and carrying much smaller shields. This is possibly how the warriors looked as they went off to Troy, and this later period is that covered by this set.
A discussion about historical accuracy has to be considered whilst bearing in mind the lack of absolute evidence. Assumptions about styles of dress and equipment have been made based on sparse archaeological evidence and literary sources (inevitably those of Homer), and all the modern discussions talk of this or that element being 'likely' or 'possible'. However we can consider these figures based on those conclusions, and the results look good. All of them wear body armour, the majority of which are plate cuirasses which look to be fine although their decoration is entirely speculative. Three of them have corselets made of strips or bands of metal laced together to form a more flexible armour, which is perhaps a more flexible version of the Dendra armour and is considered to be a possibility. Also plausible is the single figure apparently wearing quilted armour. Some of the figures have the large shoulder guards we know to have existed, and several have what look to be very clumsy bands of solid armour round their lower abdomen, protecting the groin, and presumably attached to the bottom of the cuirass or a belt. Evidence for this is largely circumstantial but seems to be a possibility, so odd though it may appear these too may be accurate.
All the figures are wearing greaves, some of which are metal and some fabric. Bronze greaves seem to have been a fairly short-lived fashion, although this is far from clear and so the presence of these here seems quite reasonable. By this stage warriors were wearing footwear, as are those here, and we were pleased to see several with the curled up toe that was a feature of the time. At the other end of the body, the most famous example of a Mycenaean helmet is of course that made of boar's tusks, and the middle figure in the top row appears to wear such an item. However bronze helmets are likely to have been much more common, and all the rest wear these, in various styles and with an assortment of crests and plumes. From the fairly crude representations of them in contemporary illustrations it is hard to be precise about form and style, but all those here seem reasonable. A couple have horns, which is fine, although one only has a horn on one side, which looks wrong now and surely was then too, so perhaps it has been lost in battle.
Moving on to weapons, the primary one was the spear, with the sword secondary and largely for use when the spear was broken or lost. In previous centuries the spears had been long, some four metres in length, but by this time they were more like two metres, so the five examples here, which range from 30 mm (2.2 metres) to 38 mm (2.7 metres), are a little long, but are easily cut down. This is partly because most have no sign of a spear head - they are simply poles with which the warriors must hope to poke the enemy to death! The swords are of a reasonable length, although it is hard to comment further as they are pretty crudely done here. All are correctly carried in a sometimes tasseled scabbard on a baldric over the right shoulder, and in one case this has been decorated with discs, as described by Homer.
As we have said, the shields were about the most visible sign of the new heavy warrior, as the large full-body examples gave way to smaller round ones. Sometimes these had a crescent shape area removed from the bottom to facilitate running (the inverted pelta), and it seems sometimes that larger shields with cut-outs on either side were also carried, and these are the types we have here. There is also a larger, full-body shield supplied, which recognises that we cannot be sure if this type of shield disappeared entirely, so overall we were happy with the design of the shields, although some fully round ones would have been good too.
We have had a lot to say about accuracy, and all of it is good. We have a lot to say about the sculpting too, and most of that is bad. These are really poor figures, for although the detail is not too bad the proportions are horrible. No one has a neck, and on some the nose is almost in line with the shoulder. The faces are terrible, and the hands frequently disappear or melt into the weapon they are supposed to be holding. We thought all the figures looked very fat - much more so than the solid cuirass could explain. The headless spears have already been mentioned, and the swords are pretty crude too, with a square line running very roughly up most sides in lieu of a rib. The scabbards are sometimes too short and undetailed, but the shields present the biggest problem. As you can see above, they are mostly attached to the sprue with thick connections that significantly damage the shape of the shield, taking a long time to delicately extract the shield itself. Also the shields are perfectly smooth on the back, and there is nothing on the arm to attach it to, so this is a straight connection of two smooth surfaces, on quite a small area, so the bond will not be the strongest. Finally there is a good deal of flash here, although it is patchy and in many areas the join between the moulds is very smooth.
There is no excess plastic at all, and that is partly because the poses are very flat. Very flat. More than one of the poses is completely impossible to replicate with the human body, particularly with regard to how much elbows and wrists can turn to hold the weapons as these do. Raised swords and spears are often along the mid-line of the figure, which makes it easy to fabricate the mould but is both unnatural and sometimes impossible in reality. Even if you could, why would you hold your sword above your head like figure three in the top row, or figure three in the second? The upside is that as none of the weapons are separate we are spared having to put those together, but it means many of the poses are bad in our view.
At a time when some manufacturers only seem able to repeat subjects already well covered, the Mars philosophy of expanding ranges and covering unusual eras has always impressed us. Even if this was the first ever set of Mycenaeans though, we would still have to say that there is not much to recommend them apart from the good accuracy, which is a start but not really enough for most. As it is Caesar made a frankly beautiful set a few years ago, which only serves to highlight how ugly these Mars figures really are, and how much hard work they are for little reward.