Ancient armies were largely built on what we would now call militia lines, where ordinary citizens would leave their usual occupation and go off to fight when called. They might have some training or experience with weapons, depending on the warrior tradition in their society, but apart from a few elite units it was patchy. Initially Rome worked the same way, but after the Marian reforms towards the end of the second century BCE, Rome acquired a more professional army with standardised equipment, tactics and training. These professional soldiers would build the largest empire yet seen, and owed much of their success to their training, when they learned not only how to fight, but also how to act in unison and respond to the commands of their leaders.
This set of recruits in training concentrates on just one aspect, swordsmanship. All the recruits here carry a wooden sword and a wicker shield and are practising their use. These items were about twice the weight of the real thing, to build the muscles of the recruit, and to make the real thing seem much easier when actually in a fight. They were trained to strike with the point of the sword rather than to slash, and they would practise this against a man-sized wooden post (palus) such as is included in this set. They must do this while still covering themselves with their shield, which all of these poses are doing pretty well, so we liked all of these poses. The first figure is of course the instructor, standing with staff in hand to help emphasise a point or punish a transgression.
All the figures wear the usual Roman tunica, which on most here has short sleeves. The two figures in the middle wear little else, and have their tunica tied with a thin belt or cord round the waist, although the folds may be hiding a more substantial belt. The instructor and the last man both wear full military belts (balteus), with decorative metal fittings, which were highly prized possessions of all legionaries and an important sign of being a soldier. The last man is also in full armour of the type now called lorica segmentata, which dates him from perhaps the early first century CE to the end of the second. With the helmet this is the classic Roman look, and of course it was necessary for the men to become accustomed to performing all their learned actions whilst in full armour. All wear the same sort of open sandal (caligae) which dates from the same period as the armour, so is fine.
The sculpting on these figures is pretty good, with nice work on the armour and the wicker shields, all of which are a part of the figure rather than separate, yet look natural and have no unwanted plastic. The simple tunic is nicely done too, and we liked the fact that the one worn by the instructor is of a different but equally valid style to that of the recruits. Even the post is nicely done, covered with nicks and scratches as it suffers the attentions of the squaddies. The pose holding his ‘sword’ over his head is one we have often criticised in the past, but this is because the sculptor usually has it directly over the middle of the man’s head (easier to mould that way, but physically impossible). Here however the arm is in a much more plausible position, so works well. There is some flash, but this is variable and some seams are quite clean.
This small set only covers one aspect of the training of a legionnaire, but these are pleasing figures accurately and nicely done. Having just the four poses clearly compares poorly with a full set, but the chances of a full set of trainees in action is probably remote anyway. Of more concern is that you only get one of each pose in the box, when surely including multiples of the sprue would add little cost but make the set seem better value.