During the reign of the first Roman emperor (Caesar Augustus, 63 BCE – 14 CE), the Roman army became a permanent standing army for the first time, and during this period it greatly expanded the frontiers of Rome’s territory in many directions. These long-service professional soldiers enjoyed great success, often against larger but less well-organised ‘Barbarians’, although today it is their biggest failure which is perhaps the best remembered – the destruction of three legions in the Teutoburg Forest in 9 CE. This defeat was largely down to an opponent who contrived to fight them on his own terms, and where the Romans could not use their normal battle formations. The result was the massacre of the entire Roman column, as is depicted by this set.
Most of the poses here depict men in close-quarter fighting, often on the ground and being overcome by an opponent. Despite the use of arrows and slings, most ancient battles ended up being about individuals hacking and stabbing each other like this, even when a well-trained unit of men initially moved forward in formation. The three pieces in our middle row are the standout examples of this here, as each one is a pairing of one man on the ground while an opponent seems on the point of administering the final blow. One is of a Roman on top of a German while the other two are the reverse, and all are certainly energetic and dramatic. We must admit to having a soft spot for such pairings, perhaps because they are quite unusual, but sometimes this does mean the result is rather flat, as moulding two individuals as a single piece is difficult to do. Here however the effect is very well done. The middle pair of a German stabbing down at a Roman from behind his upraised shield is perhaps a little flat, but the other two look perfectly natural, and in truth we really liked all of these pieces.
Two of the other figures here are individual Roman casualties, so could also be paired with an appropriate figure of an opponent. We particularly liked the downed figure in the top row, but the man in the third row has a spear stuck in his back, yet it protrudes to the side rather than at 90 degrees to his body, so on the face of it the spear has not even penetrated his armour (it looks better in our image than it does in reality). In short, it is flat and not convincing, which is why such poses usually show a missile penetrating at the side of the body (Atlantic Trojans or General Custer for example). It is very hard to do with a normal two-piece mould, and this figure illustrates why it is not normally attempted. However, remove the spear shaft and you have a perfectly serviceable Roman on his knees, so still a useful figure.
The first two figures in our top row are the only ones that could reasonably be useful in quantities. Both are of a man holding his shield to the front and resting his pilum on its rim, so not apparently in action but perhaps waiting for the order to advance. These are the most likely to appeal to wargamers. The last two figures, of a centurion holding the legion’s eagle or aquila, and a crouching aquilifer with hand raised, can be put side by side to make a little pairing of their own, and reproduce an illustration in the Andreas Strassmeir book listed below. Perhaps the centurion is attempting to take the eagle from the aquilifer as he is cut down, so again a dramatic pose. However as with most of the poses here, it is hard to see why customers would want many examples of these poses, which hardly lend themselves to repetition on the field.
All the Romans here are wearing the segmented armour that was fairly new at this date, along with the Imperial Gallic helmet. Other armours and helmets would have been equally appropriate, but those here are fine. One man wears a hooded cloak over his armour, and the centurion has the usual phalerae on his chest as well as greaves on the legs, though he has lost the helmet that would have also indicated his rank. The aquilifer also has phalerae, and he wears a wolf pelt, plus he carries a small round shield rather than the usual rectangular variety. He also has fabric wrapped round his lower legs, presumably as some protection from the undergrowth of the forest.
The three Germans in this set all wear trousers gathered at the ankle, and two are bare-chested. The third wears a tunic and cloak. Two of these men have a top-knot, and the third is being held by his hair, rather destroying whatever hairstyle his tribe traditionally used. Still, all the Germans are authentic in appearance.
Linear-A sculpting is very good, with nice detail even on complex areas such as the decoration worn by the centurion and aquilifer. The centurion’s scabbard is only partly formed, and a couple of the straps on the men are missing portions, but the general impression is pleasing. We have already discussed where the poses are good and where they are a bit flat, but on our examples at least there was almost no flash.
This set has much to recommend it. The accuracy is fine, and the sculpting is particularly good too. The poses are dramatic and interesting, and for the most part work very well. However, it is the poses that are also the main drawback to this set, for although they are all valid and interesting, it is hard to see why someone would want many copies of most of them. Certainly a general scene of hand-to-hand combat could accommodate more than one of these poses if suitably scattered, but this is obviously not a set with which you could build up an army or even a unit. Of course it is just a part of a range of sets from Linear-A depicting the Roman disaster, and as such it does a splendid job of depicting something of the brutality of ancient warfare, an aspect that so many sets of figures gloss over.