Maybe you are a Roman citizen running for office, and you want people to know about you and hopefully vote for you. Or perhaps you are a wealthy individual that needs to provide some entertainment for a party you are preparing. In both cases the answer might well be to put on a gladiator show, either a small affair in your own home or a series of games in the local arena. Gladiatorial contests had their origins in funerals to honour the deceased, but they became increasingly popular as pure entertainment, so anyone looking to make a good impression might stage them, both to please and to show that they could afford such an expensive spectacle. Despite how they are often portrayed in modern films, gladiators were usually paired up and carefully matched to give the audience an entertaining fight, and often also an opportunity to bet on the outcome. There were various types of gladiators, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, and Ultima Ratio have already produced a very good figure collection featuring several of these types in their first gladiators set. Now we have this second set, and as the title tells us, this one expands on the types of gladiator, as well and providing a few spectators.
The box tells us immediately that here we have two types of gladiator. In our top row we picture the three Thracians, which are identifiable by their helmets with full face masks and large crests that were meant to suggest a griffin. These men carry a short, curved sword called a sica, and a rectangular shield. They have the usual wrappings round the limbs that were common to most gladiators, and as Thracians they also have long greaves on both legs. Further protection is provided by articulated segmented armour on the sword arm, which all three poses have, so these are very typical of this type of gladiator and would have been instantly recognisable to the fans.
Our second row showcases the Hoplomachus gladiators, who were meant to be based to a degree on Greek hoplites. In fact they were very similar to the Thracian type, with similar helmets and body protection, but were armed with a spear and carried a smaller, round shield. Like these figures, the real thing tended to have fabric protection on the whole of the leg, not just the lower part, perhaps because of the smaller shield. Again, these are typical of the type as far as we know, and interestingly one has a mail covering for his sword arm rather than plate segments; a feature that appears later in the empire, from the second century CE. The basic garb of a gladiator – a loin cloth and wide, sturdy belt - are correctly modelled on all these figures, and the various designs of helmet and body armour all look perfectly authentic.
As with the first set, Ultima Ratio have also provided some other participants in the gladiatorial contests. This time we find a very excitable man wearing a toga, sitting on a couch and throwing his hands up in the air while still holding a goblet, suggesting that this might be the citizen that has organised the show, or else a visitor who is duly appreciative of his host’s efforts. Curiously, he also wears a laurel wreath on his head, which seems a bit too formal unless he really is a triumphant Roman general, or an emperor of course. Beside him is a lady also holding a goblet of wine, sitting in a chair with a bowl of fruit close at hand. Her left hand is beside her ear – perhaps adjusting the tiara that she wears. Her wardrobe is completed by a long, low-cut dress which looks very modern to our eye. It looks something like a stola, but is clearly not worn over a tunic, thus showing much more cleavage than would be considered appropriate for a respectable woman in public, but then again, perhaps she is not a respectable woman. These two people of quality are having their needs attended to by a servant, who holds a large jug, presumably of wine, horizontally on his shoulder, so let’s hope it is at least half empty! He also holds a cup, which is not under the jug, so if he is refilling it then he is making quite a mess. He wears just a loin cloth and interesting boots, but his most striking feature is his hair, which seems to be set so as to be sticking out directly from the head, a little reminiscent of the lime-washed hair of the Celts.
Aside from our reservations about the lady’s clothing, all the clothing and equipment on show here is accurate and realistic. The couch on which the man is sitting is rather small and thin, and he looks to be practically falling off it as a result, but the chair of the lady is remarkable because it is triangular, with solid sides rather than legs. We could find no evidence for such a thing in the Roman world, and indeed it looks rather uncomfortable and far from stable, so again, huge doubt on that piece unless any Roman furniture makers can tell us otherwise.
The gladiators are in nice, active poses and all are clearly in a fight. Presumably almost any posture might be considered possible when in a one-on-one combat, but we would have to say that the man in the top row with shield lowered and his foot in the air was not a favourite of ours. Also, as the sica is quite a light sword, almost a dagger actually, it would seem unlikely that someone would bear down on an opponent with it held high in the air like the first pose – much more likely to hold it close, looking for an opportunity to get round the opponent’s shield and stab or slash.
The first thing we thought when we saw these figures was that they were rather thin, by which we mean not as deep as they should be. This is particularly true of the man on the couch, who is more perching on the edge of his seat than actually sitting on it. Obviously this is not something that is evident from our photos, but for the gladiators the shallow depth is not really an issue anyway, though it perhaps explains the strange features of the furniture here. The level of detail on all the figures is very nice, and they look well -proportioned, but as you can perhaps see above, the seams where the moulds meet are rather untidy, with a few areas of considerable flash, particularly round the three figures in the bottom row. The bases are remarkably thin and shallow, and in the case of the first gladiator in particular, barely big enough to keep the figure upright. The two spectators and their seating come as two separate parts each (but not as a figure/furniture pair, as you might think – see sprue image), and these go together in a quite vague way. We used sticky putty to put these together, which was fine for their photo shoot, but less ideal generally, and we would imagine that gluing them would be very challenging. Luckily nothing else needs to be assembled.
In conclusion we would say the gladiators are nice figures, completely accurate and in appealing if sometimes unorthodox poses. For the reasons stated we were not so enamoured with the three figures in the bottom row. The ideas were good ones, but perhaps such a shallow mould meant they were unlikely to come out as well as they should. Still this set provides some interesting gladiators which more than hold their own against the various other sets of gladiators available in this hobby.