The Silk Road was neither a single road, nor did it only deal in silk. The term is a modern invention to label a complex pattern of trading over much of central Eurasia, stretching from China in the East to the Mediterranean world in the West. Many different routes were used, and much of the trade was carried partly or wholly by sea. The Romans were not the first in Europe to have enjoyed the luxury of Chinese silk, as this was even known in ancient Egypt, but over the centuries the trade increased, particularly at times when there was a strong central authority to provide security and stimulate trade. Of course no one traded along the entire length - the Silk Road was numerous traders moving goods along their familiar territory to where they could get a good price, and all the many civilisations and peoples along the route participated, passing on or keeping the goods as they wished. Not only goods, but ideas, religions and all manner of concepts flowed across the continent too, enriching all the cultures and making it a precursor to the globalisation which we enjoy today.
With no specified start or end date, and a vast geographical area, any set depicting the Silk Road has an enormous target to aim at. This box from Linear-A is however rather more specific about the intended subjects, as the box tells us that it contains figures of a Chinese leader, Greco-Bactrian warriors and a merchant, plus camels and yaks. The mention of Bactria means this set deals with the centuries before the rise of Islam, and by mentioning Greco-Bactrians we can say the period starts around the time of the conquests of Alexander the Great.
There are three poses that seem to be leading the animals, which we have arbitrarily placed next to each one. The figure in the top row is clearly the Chinese trader, with his long robe and cap, although he has a full beard, which seems to have been unusual for Chinese men of the time. The other two wear trousers and belted tunics, plus headbands, so are Bactrians. The merchant figure is also in the top row, and is dressed like the drivers with the addition of a cap and a short cloak which to our eye does not look large enough to offer good protection, although this may be because he is normally mounted. The remaining three figures are the 'warriors' mentioned on the box. Each man has a sword, and two also carry a round shield. Two are dressed much like the other Bactrians here, but one has visible armour of a linen Greek-style corselet, and all have helmets of different styles. Like the other poses these three are simply walking, so guarding the train.
The main beasts of burden in this set are the camels. Both have a very good pose with the legs in the right places, apart from the fact that, as they are walking, they would not have all four hooves on the ground at the same time as these do. Both these animals are of course two-humped Bactrian camels, as they should be, and they are loaded with bags and rolls which could be all sorts of produce. The size and general proportions of these camels are very good, so these are nice sculpts. The yak was also commonly used for carrying goods and was found along much of the trade routes, being particularly useful at relatively high altitudes. The creature here is certainly well loaded with more generic supplies, and his long shaggy coat and overall appearance looks very good. We might say the same of the pose, which is fine except that all four hooves are planted firmly on the ground, yet it is clearly walking.
The standard of sculpting is very good, as the folds of the clothing are well done, the human faces are particularly appealing, and the texture of the animals is also very convincing. Where detail is required, like on the woven shields, it is nice and clear, and the relatively simple poses mean there is no problem with excess plastic. Add to that the absence of any flash and there is really nothing to complain about with the quality of production on this set.
Non-military sets are few and far between in this hobby, and of course they can rarely match the excitement of men depicted in battle, but we felt this one is an excellent reflection of its subject. Obviously much more could have been done as the subject is so vast, but all the human and animal poses have been well chosen and feel like they faithfully recreate the appearance of some of these ancient traders as they followed their profitable but sometimes hazardous undertaking. It should not be forgotten that any army, certainly in ancient times, needed a vast array of pack animals and support people to carry all its supplies, so while these figures are engaged in a peaceful pursuit, they could just as easily be part of many a supply column following an army in many parts of central Eurasia.