Syracuse was the biggest and most important of the Greek colonies set up on Sicily, and in the later fifth century BCE it was of much the same size as Athens. Although very much a part of the Greek world, it had not been directly involved in the Peloponnesian War, but as it was founded and populated by Dorian Greeks, its sympathies were with the fellow Dorians of Sparta rather than the Ionian Athenians. Its chief local adversary was Carthage, with whom it fought for control over the island, but when Athens sent a large fleet and army to attack it in 415 BCE it found itself in conflict with the Greek power. After initial despondency, the city-state successfully resisted, and with the help of Dorian allies from Greece it destroyed the invaders two years later. Thus the ‘Sicilian Expedition’ ended in triumph, leaving the city to focus once more on its rivalry with Carthage.
As a Greek city, Syracuse followed the rest of the Greek world, which meant its armies were primarily made up of hoplites using the phalanx formation. The appearance of these men was also similar to those in the Greek homeland, although some influence from the Italian mainland was inevitable. Our top row shows three Syracusian heavy hoplites, which do indeed look very Greek in equipment and weaponry. All wear the linen corselet over their tunic, and have pteruges protecting the lower abdomen. Greaves are another feature of the heavy hoplite which are found on all these figures, and two wear a full Corinthian helmet, while the third wears one in the Attic style. Two are armed with a spear of roughly 34 mm in length (2.45 metres), and the third has drawn his sword, which is straight-bladed and with a cruciform hilt – the most common form at this time. The swordsman is holding his shield to his front and appears to be in immediate contact with an enemy, while the other two are advancing rapidly, perhaps engaged in the charge as contact with the opposition drew close. All of this is perfectly reasonable for such men, and our only complaint about these three is that, while they correctly hold the classic round hoplite shield, it is only about 10 mm (72 cm) in diameter, so really rather too small (in reality they were normally closer to a metre in diameter).
Our second row shows the Syracusian light hoplites, and here again the look is much the same as for any other Greek army. These men have no cuirass, but two still wear greaves, and one has acquired a Corinthian helmet. The helmet of the other two is Boeotian, with the two straps worn up rather than used to hold the helmet in place. Again, they have a spear and very small shield, but are in very diverse poses. The first is relaxed – so much so that he rests his shield on the ground, but the second is thrusting his spear forward in a pose we thought was very lively and one we particularly liked. The third seems not to be in action, but is in a state of readiness, though like most of the other poses he holds his shield to the side rather than in front.
With row three we are introduced to a major ally of the Syracusians – Corinth. The Corinthians, who were also Dorians, sent troops to aid the city against the Athenians, and all four of these poses are Corinthian hoplites. Their panoply is much the same as other Greek states, with two wearing body armour and two without. The man with the raised spear has no more than a band around his head, but the rest wear crested helmets which are, not surprisingly, Corinthian. These are all very active poses, with some nice aggressive spear poses and a swordsman who is not so animated but still works well in a battle scene. The third man is perhaps a little clumsy as a pose, since this is a difficult one to do with a single-piece figure (as these all are), so he is somewhat flat, but an appealing pose nonetheless.
The final two figures are of a Boeotian hoplite and a Syracusian commander. The Boeotian wears a pilos cap or helmet (both would be equally appropriate), and otherwise has the usual heavy hoplite panoply but without any greaves. He holds his kopis-style sword in the air in a slightly flat pose, but this is certainly a useful figure. The commander has an Attic helmet and a muscle cuirass as you might expect of a man of rank and wealth. Commanders at this time often fought in the thick of the action, but this man does not seem to be engaged at the moment, though he has drawn his sword.
The appearance of these figures is very good, lacking nothing in terms of detail and with very natural anatomy and posture. We were particularly impressed with the way the sculptor has managed to get good facial features on figures where the face is largely hidden from the mould by the helmet, but we again wondered at the odd way that the spear has been done on the first figure in our second row, since it has some ridges on the shaft and an odd shape where this meets the head. As we have said, there are no separate shields or weapons, yet the poses look good. In a couple of examples this has meant there is some excess plastic between spear and body, but this is not particularly obvious, and we felt it was worth it for some very nice and innovative poses. There is very little flash, just a bit of a ridge round the seam, so on our example at least these are nice pieces requiring little preparation before painting or sending into action.
While some sets of hoplites concentrate on building a phalanx, which is perfectly valid, this one has more of a feel of men engaged in individual combat, holding their shield a little to the side to allow access to their opponent, and with some really nice thrusting and running poses. Whilst we have reflected the identifications given to each man on the box, it would be equally valid to describe the whole lot simply as Greek hoplites without worrying unduly about individual nationalities, since different styles of armour and helmet might be found in almost any Greek army. In that sense this is another reinforcement for your Peloponnesian War hoplites, and we would say a pretty good one with some great poses that complement those found in other sets from Linear-A for the period, but it is nice to see more of the city states represented, as well as an acknowledgement that not all fighting was done in rigid phalanxes. With great sculpting and imaginative design, these figures are part of an increasingly impressive range from Linear-A for the ancient Mediterranean world.