Epirus was a kingdom located in what is today north-west Greece and southern Albania, and often lived in the shadow of its illustrious neighbours of Macedonia and the various Greek city-states. When prince Pyrrhus came to the throne for good in 297 BCE the country gained a dynamic and ambitious war leader who looked to expand his territory and to influence affairs farther afield. Even during his lifetime, Pyrrhus was seen as a great general, and the armies that he commanded both at home and abroad included large elements of foreigners who may have been allies or mercenaries. The success that he achieved with such men was legendary, but alas for him these were often achieved at great cost, spawning the term ‘Phyrric victory’ to mean a victory bought at such high cost as to be little better than a defeat.
The position of the country and the success of Alexander the Great in the fourth century BCE meant that Epirus naturally followed the fashion as regards things military, which meant in the first instance the Macedonian phalanx. Of course the army was about much more than just such men, and this set seeks to illustrate this with a range of figures which together represent all the major elements in any army of the day in the eastern Mediterranean. To begin with, lets list the labels Linear-A have given to each of our pictured figures, starting with the top row and reading left to right:
- Macedonian Officer
- Epirote Soldier
- Officer of Chalkaspides Royals
- Greek Mercenary from Magna Graecia
- Greek Mercenary from Magna Graecia
- Cretan Mercenary Archer
- Mercenary Archer
As we said, this is a broad spectrum of the men that fought in the armies of Pyrrhus, both locals and allies/mercenaries. However the first figure, who comes from Liguria on what is now the north Italian coast, is a mystery as we could find no connection between these people and the armies of Pyrrhus. The figure comes wearing a fur cloak (?), which was an export of the region, and also a particularly splendid horned helmet with central plume. While there are modern illustrations of just such a figure, we do not know the justification for it, and would suspect this would be either ceremonial or at least a sign of some rank rather than ordinary warrior garb. More to the point the reconstruction refers to the later third century BCE, when Ligurians served as mercenaries for Carthage and Syracuse, but long after Pyrrhus was dead, so why it is in this set is unknown. The next man is a Macedonian officer, of whom there would have been many in the armies of Pyrrhus, and he is followed by a local, a soldier from Epirus itself, armed with the popular kopis sword and a shield. This man wears a Boeotian helmet generally associated today with cavalry, so he may be a dismounted cavalryman or simply a foot soldier that has acquired such a helmet. Finally there is an officer of the Chalkaspides, a Macedonian phalanx regiment.
- Arcananian Slinger
- Tarentine Mercenary Thureophoros
- Epirote Commander
The second row contains some of the more usual elements that Pyrrhus would recognise. The first two are mercenaries from Magna Graecia, the first clearly looking like a senior officer with an impressive crest on his helmet. The third man is a mercenary archer from Crete, a land well known for such soldiers, and the fourth is simply another mercenary bowman.
The last row begins with a slinger from Acarnania (due south of Epirus) who wears a kausia cap, which may have been more widely worn as a sign of a mercenary in the army. This is a particularly nice and active pose. Beside him is a peltast – the term refers to the lighter shield that he carries, and he would normally have carried a shorter, lighter pike too. This one however is only armed with javelins, and so is presumably supporting light troops. The penultimate figure is again from Magna Graecia, specifically from Tarentum, and is a Thureophoros, which is to say he carries a long oval shield as well as a couple of thrusting spears, although here he has drawn his sword. This figure is unarmoured apart from his helmet, but later in the period many such men had body armour too. Finally there is an Epirote commander, thrusting forward with his sword.
While information is very scarce on many of these troops, we could find nothing here that caused us concern. The peltast was a bit of a surprise as such men were not light troops at this time, but is perhaps not unlikely. The shields are smaller than those usually held by the pikemen, which is correct, and both weapons and costume look reasonable based on what is known.
The style of these figures is the same as for other recent sets from Linear-A, so they are quite attractive and nicely done, with good detail. The poses all look quite good, with a good deal of action about most of them. Apart from one large but easily removed lump of flash on the Epirote soldier, we found these figures to be very clean and with almost no extra areas of hidden plastic.
The set is subtitled ‘Infantry Allies/Mercenaries’, yet some of these are clearly Epirote locals, and we have no idea why the Ligurian is here at all (which cost the set an accuracy point). Clearly these men would never have fought side-by-side as this is a broad sweep of types to be found in armies of Pyrrhus, particularly during his campaigns in southern Italy, so as you only get one pose for each type our pose number score is very low. As such then they work better as game markers, since you cannot build any sort of a unit with this selection. However since such complete sets are highly unlikely, such an assortment is probably the best that we can hope for, and enterprising modellers can use them as a starting point for other desired units. An eclectic and at times baffling array, these are nevertheless nice figures well made that should delight anyone with an interest in the Hellenistic World or the enemies of the Roman Republic.