When Darius II, King of Kings of the Persian Empire, died in 404 BCE, he was succeeded by his eldest son Arsames, who was crowned as Artaxerxes II. However another son, Cyrus (‘the Younger’) also had designs on the throne, and he immediately began building an army to usurp his brother. As Satrap of Lydia, he ruled a province of the empire that was close to Greece, and he hired about 13,000 mercenaries from all over Greece to bolster his forces, particularly with heavy infantry. Without telling his mercenaries or local levies what he was intending, he set off for Babylon, and met his fore-warned brother in battle at Cunaxa in 401 BCE, where he was killed. This left his army, and particularly the many Greeks, with no purpose, and while initially they set off to return home peacefully, soon they were attacked by Persian forces, and so began the famous retreat of the ‘Ten Thousand’. Under the leadership of Xenophon and others, they made their way north through Armenia until they reached the coast of the Black Sea, then west along the coast, arriving back in friendly territory in 399 BCE after much suffering, and having lost perhaps half their number.
The appearance of the Greek hoplite had changed much in the 80 or more years since their famous battles against Persian invasions such as Marathon (490 BCE) and Thermopylae (480 BCE). Gone were the crested Corinthian helmet, the bronze muscle cuirass and the linen corselet. Finding themselves vulnerable to light missile troops, of which the Persians had many, the Greek hoplite had been forced to become much lighter, so they could charge and reach the enemy before significant damage could be done. This meant they wore a much lighter helmet, the pilos, whose shape was based on the cap of the same name, and was both lighter and allowed better vision and hearing. Instead of the corselet they wore a simple tunic, generally the exomis, which allowed the right side to be worn off the shoulder, giving greater freedom to the weapon arm. As part of this move to lighten the troops, greaves were largely abandoned, and it is thought by some that the hoplite usually went barefoot.
We have just described the appearance of the hoplite as they would have appeared in the army of Cyrus, but sadly we have not described the figures to be found in this set. Using the notes on the box, the first five figures pictured above are of the heavy hoplite, but there are many mistakes here. All except the second man have the heavy Corinthian helmet, apparently without even hinges on the cheek pieces, and mostly sporting a large fore-and-aft crest. The helmet is believed to have dropped out of usage during the Peloponnesian Wars (431-404 BCE), and the fore-and-aft crest sometime earlier, early in the second half of the century, so not appropriate by 401 BCE. Its replacement, the pilos, could have been the original felt cap or the bronze equivalent, and is being worn by the second of these figures, although again the crest is doubtful. The first figure correctly wears the exomis tunic, but two others seem to wear the classic corselet. It is possible that such items were available at this time, made of leather rather than linen or metal, but it is unlikely to have been typical. Both the examples here include the pteruges covering the groin. One of the heavies wears a muscle cuirass, a heavy device that disappeared from use two or three decades earlier, although the one being worn by the officer (bottom row) is plausible as a mark of his rank. The clothing of the fifth heavy infantryman (second figure, top row) cannot be identified. Greaves largely disappeared along with the rest of the heavy armour, however in this case we have the word of Xenophon himself, who wrote a detailed history of the campaign (the ‘Anabasis’), that the men did wear greaves, at least during a review. In this set the one man with the muscle cuirass and the officer are the only ones wearing greaves. Greek hoplites (apart from Boeotians) are thought by some to have fought barefoot (famously following the Spartan example), but two of the heavies here wear sandals, and two others boots. However boots were worn in very cold weather, such as in the Armenian winter, and in any case these men are not fighting at the moment, so these are reasonable here.
Moving on from the heavies, the sixth figure above is identified as an Ekdromoi. These were lighter hoplites developed to deal with attacks from missile troops, as they would dart out from the phalanx and attack or chase away harassing troops. This figure is barefoot, wears the uncrested pilos and exomis, carries a spear of about 2.5 metres in length, and holds a large round shield. He is exactly how he should be, and much as the rest of the heavies should have been.
Figures seven, eight and nine are peltasts, lighter troops named after their crescent-shaped shield. There were over 2,000 of these in the original force, and here they all carry javelins. Each man wears a tunic and cloak and has the high boots often associated with such men, but their headgear is interesting. One man wears a cap in the Phrygian style, the second has a large sun hat and the third wears a typical fox-fur cap with ear flaps. All of these look good.
The middle two figures in the bottom row are identified as helots. Helots were subjugated people living in Lakedaimonian (Spartan) territory. Basically slaves, and extremely cruelly treated by their Spartan overlords, they were used to carry the kit of the Spartan hoplites. Although in extremis Helots might be used as fighters, the Spartans were understandably fearful of helot uprisings, and in this set these must be simple slave baggage-carriers for the Spartans. One is weighed down with his master’s possessions, including the spear, shield, helmet (another Corinthian) and bedding roll. For obvious reasons Spartans seldom entrusted their spear and shield to a helot, so the arrangement here is fairly unusual. The other helot has also been entrusted with a spear and shield, so again surprising, but he also carries an amphora, presumably containing wine or oil.
Finally we have the ‘Lakedaimonian Officer’, as the box tells us. Officers of all periods have tended to please themselves when it comes to appearance, and this one has a pilos helmet with a transverse crest – often thought to be a sign of higher rank. His muscle cuirass may not be fashionable or practical any more, but it was expensive and so an important symbol. The greaves would similarly have been mainly for show, and he leans on a staff with a ‘T’-shaped top, again a symbol of power much like the cane would be in a later age. He wears an ordinary tunic under his cuirass, and a very small cloak across his back.
Apart from the peltasts, the shields are all of the classic aspis design, round with a pronounced rim. Here they are about 10mm (720mm) in diameter. All are a part of the figure rather than separate, and none show the method of holding, but look fine. The weapons on display here are the spears and javelins, both of which are of a good length and nicely done. The men have swords, but none are drawn. Most are of the common cruciform shape, but a couple look to be of the kopis type from the shape of their hilt.
The subtitle of the set speaks of hoplites on the march, which could be the original journey with Cyrus or the hard retreat when they were in a hostile territory with no friends. It seems likely their appearance at these two points would have been quite different, but none of these poses seem particularly distressed, so they look more like they are simply casually moving forward. The spears are being held in very relaxed ways, and certainly the man with his across his shoulders (not the most useful of poses) can’t be too close to any of his neighbours! We liked all the poses, and the man taking a drink from an animal skin is particularly nice. The man carrying his helmet suggests he is hot with it on, so again seems nice and natural.
Sculpting is good, and the proportions of the men are well done. Detail is appealing, including the wicker shields, hairstyles and even the crests of the helmets, which do not face the mould. Facial hair too is good, and the only loss of detail is on the second figure in our top row, which is moulded as you see him, so has no detail on the front of his torso. Flash is certainly present, but mostly it is a consistent ridge running round the seam, and not particularly disfiguring. Figure three in the second row has some excess plastic around his shield, but otherwise there is none to remove.
Although the literal translation of ‘hoplite’ is ‘armed man’, the term usually refers to the heavy infantryman in a phalanx, and only half the poses here could be described as such. We can forgive that generalisation, but we can’t forgive the enormous liberties taken with the historic timeline. The Ekdromoi in the second row is good, as are the peltasts, but all the heavy infantry display a mixture of clothing and armour from about a century of Greek history, much of it irrelevant to the campaign of Cunaxa which is the advertised subject. The very occasional use of some out-of-date piece of equipment might be possible, but here such anachronisms are rampant, meaning the set does nothing to portray the typical appearance of the Ten Thousand. We also felt that the helots would not usually be carrying the weapons, and we even wondered at the accuracy of one carrying an amphora like this, yet there is no sign of a gylios, the basket generally used to carry a soldier’s possessions. We do not know where Linear-A got their information, but nothing we could find supports the many basic inaccuracies in this set, which as a result does not have much to recommend it to anyone with an interest in historical accuracy.