The Cossacks were viewed with both trepidation and respect by their neighbours during the 16th century. The hard life they made for themselves roughly in the area between the Volga and Dnieper rivers fostered a tough and resourceful population that were excellent hunters and so good soldiers. Both Muscovy and Lithuania utilised numbers of such men to help protect their southern borders, and would later pay some to serve in their armies elsewhere. However their free spirit made them difficult to handle, and many were attracted to join them from Muscovy and elsewhere, fleeing serfdom, debt or other problems for a hard but relatively unshackled life. While some Cossacks served these states, others conducted raids into them, including one that reached Moscow itself in 1571, burning most of it to the ground.
The Cossacks absorbed influences from both their original Tartar heritage and from all the peoples that surrounded them, partly thanks to the flow of such peoples into their society. Their principal weapons were the same as those of others – spears, sabres, axes, bows and, later, firearms. The spears are provided in Set 1 of this three-set collection, and here we find the rest apart from the firearms. The two bowmen are good, although the first man is holding his bow with the string behind his left arm, from where of course he cannot use it. Better perhaps to have left the string off completely, as was done with the other bowman, although to be charitable we could say perhaps this man is not intending to use the bow, but simply holds it!
Many of the remaining poses are using sabres, and are a mixed bag in terms of pose. The second figure on the top row is pointing his sabre at the back of his own head, and is very flat, so a poor pose, and we were not enthusiastic about the man in the second row holding his at arm’s length behind him, but the other two are good. The men with axes are nicely done, but the fourth figure in the top row is a surprise. He seems to be using his arquebus as a club, about to jab the butt forward. Not an impossible pose of course, and fairly natural as done here, but not a very common occurrence, particularly as he has a perfectly serviceable axe by his side. Finally one pose has drawn his sabre but has raised a pistol. He sports a feather in his cap, but whether that is supposed to make him an officer is unclear.
The men all wear classic Cossack costume, including a range of fur caps, and everything looks good here. Three of the ten poses also wear mail shirts and helmets with a mail curtain, which is a surprise as while mail was certainly worn at this time, only a relatively few wealthier men did so, so this seems like quite a high representation to us. The men all have swords, knives and axes as side arms, and the fourth man in the second row also has all the panoply of an arquebusier, so we can guess that he has laid aside his firearm for a more personal form of fight.
The sculpting on all the sets in this series is hugely enjoyable, with plenty of fine detail and good proportions everywhere. Two of the swordsmen carry round shields, both of which have been clearly engraved with a complex pattern which we cannot authenticate but in any case would have preferred to leave plain. The one oversight seems to be the reverse of the arquebus butt, which is perfectly flat and undetailed, but otherwise everything looks great. There is a moderate amount of flash in various places on these figures, but no excess plastic, and no assembly, yet for the most part the poses are not noticeably flat.
These ten poses are part of the three-set series which delivers a total of 32 poses, which is a very good number compared to most ‘traditional’ sets. This second set seems to cover ‘the rest’ after sets one and three cover spears and firearms, so is not as focused and has only a few of each weapon type. Nevertheless the variety of weapons is good, as are most of the poses, and clearly the original sculpting was of a very high quality if with some poses we did not like much. All told then this is a very good part of the series and very necessary for anyone wanting to depict these colourful and sometimes unpredictable troops in an era and region of almost constant warfare and strife.