The further back in history you go, the more difficult it is to be sure of the appearance of the people (though there are some very notable exceptions to this rule). The Persian empire is not as well documented as some, but enough evidence survives to give a fair idea of the look of the cavalry. This set from Zvezda attempts to cover all types of Persian cavalry, and also includes a device peculiar to the Persians at the time - a chariot.
The chariot is the centre-piece of this set, and takes up half the sprue by itself. From several descriptions we know that the Persians made use of chariots in battle, and included ones with metre-long scythes attached to each axle, others attached to the yoke, and even blades under the carriage. The chariot was a fairly basic box, either open or closed at the rear, in which a crew of at least two operated. This model is a very good representation of such a vehicle, and includes all the blades that in theory made this such a fearsome weapon. Naturally the kit comes in several parts, but we found they fitted together well and required no extra work with the knife. The four horses fit onto pegs in their sides, but are in such close proximity to each other that this is not evident and does not spoil the look of the model. Overall however the model conforms to all the available evidence on how these chariots appeared.
Two crewmen (seen in the third row above) are provided, and they fit into holes in the floor of the chariot. One is the driver, and the other is about to throw a short javelin. Three such javelins are provided, which can be slotted into the holder on the side of the chariot, though we found these weapons to be warped and bent while still on the sprue, which is a real shame. Zvezda have added a nice touch with these crewmen in that they have also provided two bases with the necessary holes to allow both to stand by themselves if required. This is an excellent idea and goes to show that a little thought can add value to a set at very little cost.
With so much space being taken up by the chariot, there was little enough left for the mounted cavalry. The result is just eight figures in five poses, with two of those poses being a standard bearer and an officer. Each man is dressed and armed very differently. One man wears a good deal of armour and is carrying several javelins. The quantity of armour suggests he is heavy cavalry, and a similar designation seems appropriate for the man with the helmet who is carrying a long spear and seems to be leaning in to a blow on his right. The third trooper is an archer, and he wears no armour - at least none visible - so he would be much lighter. Alone of the figures he carries a shield - opinion seems divided on whether Persian cavalry carried shields or not.
The three horses include one that has armour across its breast - clearly an animal for the heavy cavalry. However there are also separate pieces of horse armour which clip onto the animal's neck, creating a spectacular appearance as seen here, and allowing either of the other animals to be used as heavy horses as required.
Zvezda have produced many splendid models, but sometimes they can have accuracy problems. Here the officer figure has an erect tiara, which was reserved exclusively for the king, so this figure can only be Darius, and Darius is famously portrayed in a chariot rather than mounted. Also he carries a bow, which is unlikely for a king. The second heavy cavalryman and the chariot driver both have armour around the throat, which is a feature that does not appear in any pictorial evidence although it is referred to in some texts and is therefore reasonable.
Zvezda quickly established a reputation for first rate sculpting and very dramatic figures, and this set is no exception. Almost everything is beautifully done and a delight to behold. The warped javelins are disappointing as they are very difficult to straighten, but the man problem in our eyes is that by combining two subjects in one box it was not possible for Zvezda to do justice to both. The chariot is excellent, but only providing three trooper poses to cover all types of Persian cavalry, nice though they are, is not likely to provide the depth of coverage many wargamers and diorama builders would be wanting. Also, the majority of Persian cavalry was light, yet is badly underrepresented here. A much broader range is supplied by HaT, though the Zvezda figures are compatible with those from HaT, so both would probably be used together.