Mithridates VI, the Great, King of Pontus, was one of the most charismatic and colourful of the rulers of the ancient world. He technically came to the throne in c.120 BCE, but only asserted himself as sole ruler a few years later, after which he ruled his domain until his death in 63 BCE. At the start of his rule that domain, Pontus, was a fairly small area in what is now northern Turkey, but he greatly expanded this so that at its greatest extent he ruled most of what is modern Turkey as well as parts of modern Georgia and the Ukraine. Many of his enemies and allies have long been modelled in the hobby, but this is the first set to depict Pontic troops themselves.
Perhaps one of the reasons for the reluctance to model Pontic soldiers is that there is very little information available on what they looked like. Naturally its location meant Pontus took influences from all parts of Anatolia and the Black Sea, and the largest and most important part of the Pontic army was the cavalry. However Mithridates, although of Persian ancestry, also claimed ancestry from the successors of Alexander the Great, and he very closely associated himself with both Alexander and the wider Hellenic world. When he came to recruit heavy infantry - something that was not a local speciality - he is likely to have taken many and perhaps most such men from Greece, where he was extremely popular, meaning they would have had a strong Greek appearance. This would have greatly appealed to his identification with Alexander the Great, but the problem is that there is also little information on the appearance of Greek troops at this time. The Hoplite glory days had long disappeared and Greece was now a land occupied by the Romans, with little military strength of its own. The figures here wear a very varied range of armours, with no two figures being similar. There is scale and mail armour as well as some that looks like the stiffened linen cuirass of old. Some of the men wear no body armour at all. Helmets are completely diverse, with all sorts of styles and crests, some harking back to a traditional past and some more like the contemporary fashions of Rome. The men wear a mixture of types of greave, some on both legs, some on the left only and some none at all. All this reflects what we suspect was the case in the heavy infantry of Mithridates; what each man wore was largely down to wealth and chance, and followed no one style, although the overall look was Greek. As a result we have no problem with anything on show here in terms of authenticity.
The set contains four poses with swords and eight with spears or pikes. All the men have round shields, which fits perfectly with the general Greek style, and all are armed with a sword as you would expect. The style is hard to make out, but at least one seems to have a kopis type, which makes sense. Two thirds of the poses carry a spear, which are provided separately in two lengths as shown. These are 39mm (2.8 metres) and 62mm (4.5 metres) in length, and relatively simple. All these men are holding them with both hands and at waist height. Two (in row three) have a ring hand, into which the spears fit easily, but the rest have cupped hands. Oh dear. How many times have we had to report figures holding spears or pikes in this way, and had to say that the hands do not line up, causing the weapon to be bent, in some cases severely, so that both hands can be in contact. Exactly the same problem here. A grand total of just one pose (first figure, bottom row)
can properly hold the spear without bending it, so for the rest they just look ridiculous. Why it is so hard to get hands that are sufficiently far from the body to actually hold a spear we do not know, but the sculptor of this set certainly has not learnt what must surely be a relatively simple skill. Sadly this makes those five figures very hard to use at all unless a lot of filing and bending is done, which is very poor.
Aside from the poor forethought on the spear poses the sculpting generally is fair - nowhere near the best on the market today, but quite useable. Detail is quite good, although slimmer objects such as scabbards can be exaggerated in width. All the shields come as part of the man, yet every single one is placed where you would expect it to be; between the man’s body and any enemy. Far too many sets have shields held behind or out to the side, so it is refreshing to see a set without separate shields yet still placing them all very well. The sword arm of the second man in the top row is poor though; try this pose yourself, and you will see that it is very difficult to do and a highly unnatural position for a soldier to be in. The third swordsman in that row simply does things with his sword arm that human anatomy cannot achieve, despite this flat pose being quite common. There is a bit of flash, but not much, although we should point out that while the shorter spears are nice and straight some of the longer ones are decidedly wiggly (see sprue image).
So we can have no complaints about authenticity, and the sculpting is reasonably good too. The hands that are not aligned for a spear are the main problem with this set, which seriously reduced our score for the sculpting and is very irritating. Also all the spear poses have their weapon levelled, so are in the front rank, which means you cannot build the deep formation these men would have actually presented to an enemy, which is a pity. In other respects however this is a pretty decent collection of figures for a very important ancient subject that fully deserves to finally be represented.