In the beginning it had seemed that anything was possible. Alexander the Great had won victory after victory and conquered most of the world as he knew it. Yet the dream of a single empire ruling the world died with him, and the conquered lands were quickly split into rival kingdoms and empires, of which the Seleucid was by far the biggest. Encompassing most of Alexander’s Asian conquests, in the south-west it bordered the rival successor state of Ptolemaic Egypt, and the lands close to this border, Coele-Syria, would be repeatedly fought over by both during the Syrian Wars. 217 BCE saw one such clash, when the Seleucid king Antiochus III The Great tried to recapture the province from Ptolemy IV Philopator, ending in the decisive battle of Raphia. The Seleucids would lose this battle, and the province, but there would be plenty more fighting for them in the years to come.
Although Raphia was fought more than a century after the death of Alexander, the armies of the Seleucid Empire were still more heavily influenced by Macedonian traditions than they were by local ones. Nowhere was this more apparent than in the use of the phalanx, the formed body of heavy infantry armed with pikes that had devastated the Persian Empire so rapidly, and which still formed the core of Seleucid armies. It is thought that most and perhaps all of these troops were recruited from men of Macedonian descent; military settlers originally brought in to occupy the new empire, provide some security, and spread Hellenistic culture and influence. Such men made up a large part of the Seleucid army that formed up at Raphia that day, and were stationed at the very centre of the line. This first set of Seleucids from Linear-A concentrates solely on those troops.
It is believed that a typical phalanx had files of 16 men; that is to say that the unit consisted of 16 rows of soldiers, although this number could vary depending on the circumstances. Linear-A have labelled the eight poses in this set according to their position in the file, and have said that the two in our top picture are for the front or second row. The next four poses are labelled simply as ‘middle rows’, and the two men with pike fully upright are ‘back row’. Essentially there are two ways of identifying a figure as belonging to a particular row – amount of armour and position of pike. When in action the first four rows (or more depending on length of pike) would lower their pike to the horizontal, so we wondered why one of the men labelled as front row is holding his at an angle. The middle rows would hold their pike at varying angles to assist to some degree in deflecting missiles, and while one such man here has his pike lowered, the rest are indeed holding theirs in this way. The last two, who would be some distance from contact with the enemy, are correctly holding their pikes in the comfortable and manageable upright position, so on the whole the pike positions match the labels, though customers are not forced to follow these of course. In all cases the pike is correctly held, and while the two at the back have their left arm inside the shield, if called into action they would slip the hand forward to grasp the pike like their comrades.
The other method of identifying who gets to stand where is to look at the amount of armour, since the men with the most protection would be placed at the front, and the rows behind would be generally less well protected, with those at the back having perhaps little or no protection at all. To begin with every man here wears a helmet, in many styles, all of which are appropriate to the successor states. Some have a crest, while some are quite simple, and indeed the very last figure may be wearing a fabric pilos cap rather than the helmet of the same shape. The two front row men have body armour of mail and a muscle cuirass respectively. There is some debate over whether the front man always wore metal, but the cuirass here could be painted as metal or leather. The mail is more of a surprise, as it is unclear to what extent mail was used by the Seleucids at this date. It may have come from contacts with the Celts, but again it is very hard to be certain with so little evidence available. The four ‘middle’ men all appear to wear a corselet in the Greek style, presumably of stiffened linen, which would be reasonable, and perhaps so too does the very last man. The first figure in our last picture seems to wear lamellar armour, perhaps metal or leather, which also seems to have been an option. Under the armour of course all wear the usual tunic, and all apart from the man wearing mail have a double row of pteruges covering below the waist. Most of the poses here wear boots or sandals of various styles, and two, including one of the ‘first row’ men, also wear greaves on both legs. The two men in the back row have no greaves nor any footwear at all. The first figure in our top picture also wears a cloak – we wonder if this might not be a hindrance when in battle? Finally, one of the middle row men appears to wear a sash around his waist, knotted at the front. This is normally seen as the mark of an officer.
Naturally the key feature of any phalangite is his pike, or sarissa. All here are the same length, 74 mm, which scales up to about 5.33 metres. There is some evidence that by this date the pikes were longer than this, at more like 6.4 metres, but it is possible that this was an experiment and not actually used for long. Certainly the pikes here are of an impressive length, and if it transpires that the real thing was longer than this, well we feel the length here is more than adequate for the job, and certainly longer than any pike previously made in this scale. Each pike has a good head and spike at the butt, plus the weight towards the bottom to make handling easier, so unlike some pikes made in the past these look good. Each man also has a sword in a scabbard suspended from a baldric over his right shoulder. Generally the hilts of these are hidden from view, but a couple can be seen to have a straight hilt and one has a curved hilt suggestive of a kopis. The last item of equipment is of course the shield, and here all are of the same specification, round and about 8 mm (58 cm) in diameter. The correct size seems to be a matter of particular debate amongst historians, who have suggested anything between 45 and 66 cm for the real thing, so these seem like a compromise and are perfectly good for that. All are correctly suspended by a strap round the neck, and while the handles are mostly hard to see, everything looks to be in order there too.
One feature that strikes you as soon as you open the box is the enormous amount of flash on all the figures. At least that is true of our examples, as you can see above, and naturally that will be a painful process to remove. The next thing that strikes you is how bent the pikes are. Our image of the sprues was taken as they first appeared, and arranged in a circle like this the pikes are obviously far too long to comfortably fit into the box. An arrangement with rectangular sprues would have allowed the figures to fit both bag and box, and would have been a much more intelligent choice. However, we found that immersing the pikes in very hot water, or holding them in the vapour from a boiling kettle, causes the pikes to magically resume their original, straight form, so we can forgive Linear-A, since the end result looks good. More generally the sculpting of the figures is good, with some really nice detail (the helmets are especially well done). The proportions are good and the poses are not at all flat, while the inevitable extra plastic between pike and man is so minimal as to be almost impossible to notice. Although the pikes obviously reach out a long way, all the bases are up to the job and the figures show no signs of instability.
Were you to create a full phalanx with a scale of one man to one figure, this set would provide one and a half files, so you would need quite a few to get a reasonable unit. However the range of poses and appearance is sufficiently varied to allow mixing of figures such that the result would not look as regimented and artificial as many models of pike units usually seem. We also observe that this is described as ‘Set 1’, so perhaps there will be more phalangites in the future? Even if not, you get a decent array of pikemen in this set with a pleasing mix of costume and all the poses that you absolutely need to create a full phalanx. We failed to find any issues with accuracy, and the sculpting is to be enjoyed too, so a great set and pretty much the first for this period in human history (others for the same period have all been aimed at Rome or Carthage). So long as you can spend the time to clean them up, your armies for the Hellenistic successor wars have a good start.