Long before any thoughts of an empire, Rome was just one of many city states or tribal groupings in Italy, living alongside others in a sometimes peaceful, sometimes aggressive competitive relationship that seems to be inevitable when human beings live amongst others yet have developed a tribal identity that they think sets them apart. Of these other groupings, the Samnites were Rome’s most formidable rivals, occupying territory covering the Apennine Mountains to the south east of Rome itself. The Samnites were a confederation of four major Oscan tribes, although they could unite when war was at hand. The Samnite Wars mentioned by this set are three key wars fought against Rome, in 343-341 BCE, 326-304 BCE and 298-290 BCE, which resulted in the ascendancy of Rome and eventually the Samnite identity disappearing.
The iconic item most associated with the Samnites is the triple-disc cuirass, a form of cuirass worn on both front and back, several examples of which survive to the present day. In this set three figures in our top row wear this, while it is just possible that the fourth man wears a muscle cuirass, although this is far from clear and the painted example on the box says he has a bare tunic. However the second and third poses in our second row are identified on the box as ‘unarmoured’, suggesting the rest are armoured, and indeed the first figure in that row may also have a cuirass. Either way is valid, and so too are the Attic helmets all are wearing, decorated with various arrangements of crests and plumes as seems typical. These men all wear greaves and are either barefoot or wear sandals. Their tunics are simple and accurate, and often quite short, as is portrayed in art of the time. The light infantryman holding the javelin up wears just a kilt, and the man on the end an ordinary tunic plus a greave on his leading leg. The archer in the bottom row has a full helmet as well as his tunic, as does the slinger next to him, so all poses here have quite elaborate helmets. It would seem likely that some Samnites would have none, or a much simpler form, but nothing here is inaccurate.
A couple of the poses have drawn their sword, one of which is of the kopis style, but the rest of the heavy infantry carry a spear. The light troops are represented by the man carrying the javelin, the archer and the slinger, so this is a fair mix of troop types. Everyone here has a shield (the archer has his slung on his back). These are either round or oval with a spine running top to bottom. Both are correct, and both are being held in the correct way, with a single handle for the oval ones and along the forearm for the round ones.
The sculpting is good, with particular attention paid to the texture of the crests and feathers, since these are generally not figures that require a lot of fine detail. However faces and hands are pretty good, and if occasionally body armour is not entirely clear then it does not impair the look of the figure, and even allows the modeller to paint them either with or without armour as they wish. Shields in all cases are a part of the figure, so there is a little plastic between these and the body, and of course for the swordsmen the shield is being held very close to the body for that reason. Also a couple of the spearmen have plastic behind the spear, where the moulds cannot reach, but again this is not too distracting. Some feathers on the helmets are somewhat askew, in order to allow the mould to see both without extra plastic. There is a noticeable ridge of plastic around all the seams, but no areas of excessive flash, so these are about average for neatness of presentation.
The poses are, on the whole, fairly standard, which is what most people will want to see. The third man in the top row is rather flat, and in particular has contrived to hold his spear between the feathers on his helmet, which would be tricky to do and obviously very poor technique! The reasons are obvious, but it does look a bit silly. The javelin man in the middle row has a more obvious problem however. His shield has a horizontal bar behind the boss by which it is being held, which is correct. How then is he able to hold his second javelin vertically? Worse yet, this is well off-centre, so can’t really even be reached by his left hand anyway. Clearly this pose has not been thought through. That apart the poses are fine, and we particularly liked the men stabbing with their spears from behind their shield.
All three light infantry have a full helmet and shield, which may well have been possible, but we would have been more comfortable with a lighter array for these men. With so much unknown about Samnite warriors it is hard to say with any certainty what is right or wrong here. The last figure, labelled as ‘standard bearer’ by Linear-A, is the most problematic however. Linear-A clearly follow the work of Peter Connolly very closely, and this author has interpreted some Samnite images as showing a flag much as modelled here. However every other author we could find says this is wrong, and the image shows the captured tunics and belts of a defeated enemy being paraded. We are inclined to accept the majority view here, and since we can find no evidence that a flag was used as a standard by anyone in this period of history, we feel Linear-A have been guilty of not checking their sources. Standards of the time were usually totemic, and might have symbols, animals etc., so again nothing can be proved, but we suspect the standard bearer is not historical.
Every man has the important wide Oscan belt, and apart from the banner man (whose banner can be cut off to deliver a perfectly acceptable spearman anyway), we have no concerns about accuracy here. The well-equipped lights may not be entirely typical, but not necessarily wrong either. The poses are good and pretty lively, and the sculpting is good too. This is a nice set that provides a fair snapshot of Oscan warriors at a key moment in the early history of the Italian peninsula.