For the 16th and part of the 17th centuries, the Sipahi formed the largest element in most Ottoman armies. They were the cavalry element, always a crucial part of any Ottoman force, but unlike the various auxiliary forces the sipahi were required to answer the call to arms whenever they were needed, and were often given land grants (timars, for example) in order to sustain themselves. There were six regiments of sipahi in the imperial Household Army, the professional forces employed by the sultan, but the majority of sipahi served in the Provincial Army. In time of war they might be called to the gathering army, in which case nine in ten would answer and the tenth would remain behind to provide internal security and fulfil their normal duties such as tax collection. These very important warriors have at last been modelled in this hobby with this set and its sister Set 2.
Sipahi weapons at this time were mostly the bow, sword, lance or spear and mace. Gunpowder weapons were frowned upon as unclean, but faced with ever-better armed foreign musketeers pistols were issued, and reluctantly received, from around 1600. The six poses in this first set concentrate on the lance, with four poses holding this weapon in a variety of ways. The man with the lance horizontal is particularly impressive as this is a single piece, though the compromise is he is pointing the weapon considerably to his right rather than straight ahead, which is not impossible but less than ideal. We were not too keen on the man resting his lance in the second row, but the other poses are very good, even though the lance resting on the shoulder of the middle figure has been bent to make it fit the mould. The man using his mace against an enemy to his right is good too, but the last figure is a bit difficult to understand. He is resting his left hand on something which is presumably a bow (since he has arrows on his right side), but this is only partly modelled so looks odd.
With no uniform, such men dressed as they saw fit and as they could afford. The use of armour was quite widespread, and lasted much longer than it did in Western Europe, though only the wealthier men would have a complete suit, particularly in the Provincial Army. All these figures are well armoured, with fairly typical mail suits with plate or lamellar pieces to the chest and back. One also has a circular device on his chest, which may be a separate medallion or part of the armour, but is authentic either way. The helmets are also quite a mix, as the Ottomans sourced their helmets from many sources, but again everything is fine for the period. All of them have an aventail, which was common too. The helmet with the long spike suggests a Persian origin, and the various plumes and feathers look good, while one man has wrapped a turban round his.
The traditional shield for the sipahi and other Ottoman cavalry was round, as carried by the last two figures in our photos. All the lancers have much more unusual shields in a variety of shapes including teardrop and parallelogram, which put us in mind of the Hungarian non-symmetrical shield which was popular throughout Eastern Europe, including the Ottoman Empire. However these are not exactly the same as that, and one in particular is absolutely enormous, making us wonder whether such a thing could usefully be used whilst mounted. None of our sources have been able to positively confirm these shields, though we do not feel confident enough to suggest they are certainly wrong, so we will leave a question mark over them until we can find evidence for them.
As with body armour, so horse armour was a matter of wealth more than anything, though if you carried a heavy weapon such as a lance then horse armour would be a reasonable choice. There are just two horse poses in this set (the same two appear in Set 2), both of which wear an impressive and all-encompassing armour. Undoubtedly many sipahi never had such elaborate armour, and many had none at all, so we felt these were not a good representation of the horses that might be used, even though most of the poses are carrying heavy weapons. The style of the armour mirrors an extant example currently on display in Florence, so is certainly authentic, though it is highly likely that such armour would be hidden under a cloth trapping in reality. The two poses are of a galloping and walking animal, which is appropriate, and both are actually quite well done and natural.
The sculpting is very nice, with a lot of detail in evidence as would be required of this subject. The armour has been nicely done, and the faces look quite good. The sculptor has managed to avoid making any of the poses particularly flat, which is welcome, but has failed to make the men sit properly in the saddles – the majority have their legs too close together for backside to reach saddle at all, so without some serious trimming they will hover above their mount. In any case the knife will be called for as there is a fair amount of flash here, particularly on one of the horses, whose legs are engulfed in it (see sprue image).
Little points of concern over accuracy include the absence of the ball hand protector on the lances, but it is the shields that gave us more to worry over. As so often with RedBox the sculpting is good but the mould production is quite poor, and in this case the men could sit better too. This is not a representative reflection of the whole sipahi troop type, as these men (and the horses) are among the heaviest you would see, and the second set provides more weapons but still concentrates on the heavies. Use of horse armour declined rapidly from the mid 16th century, which further limits these models, so claiming a suitable period of two centuries was over-ambitious. Nevertheless, given the caveats on how typical some elements are, this is a nice set that deserved a better effort at a clean mould but would be a key element of most Ottoman armies of the 16th century.