From our perspective the history of Assyria seems to be one of almost constant wars with their neighbours, from Egypt to modern Iran, which is not to be wondered at since they built an empire that was without precedent in recorded history and was not to be matched until that of Rome centuries later. After Assyria was freed of Mitanni domination in the 14th and 13th centuries BCE it began to expand its territories and vassal states, becoming the pre-eminent power in the region until it was suddenly destroyed in 612 BCE. This was not however a tale of rise followed by fall, as the empire had many ups and downs over the centuries and was at its strongest towards the end of its existence. However war was a constant theme throughout this period as conquests were made, punitive expeditions undertaken and rebellions (sometimes unsuccessfully) resisted. Considering the enormous importance of this empire on the 'cradle of civilisation' it is remarkable that this set from Caesar was the first ever made in this scale and material.
This set delivers the now standard Caesar selection of 12 poses, with four each of all but two. The poses consist of swordsmen, spearmen, archers and slingers - the last two being much the most important elements of the Assyrian army. All the poses are very nicely animated and well done. The middle row shows the most important elements - the missile troops. The first two are heavy archers and are dressed in the normal costume of the time. The third figure is a light archer, probably an auxiliary from a province, vassal state or a mercenary. From the hair and costume our guess would be that he is Syrian, but he could serve for other nationalities. The final figure is of a slinger, another important troop type and again well realised here. One apparent omission is there are no shield-bearers for the archers, but that can be explained by the dating evidence (see below).
Apart from the auxiliary archer all the men wear much the same costume of a tunic of scale armour and the classic Assyrian pointed helmet. All have weapons which are correct for the period and all wear a sword; or rather all except the missile troops, which is wrong as these too should have them. It is natural to suppose that such troops would have some bladed weapon for self defence, and plenty of sources suggest that this was the case. The only exception is the light archer, who it seems went without and therefore is correctly sculpted here. Most of the shields are round and convex, which is authentic, as is the larger shield with the straight base and rounded top. Even the arrows are sculpted on the correct (left) side of the bow (a detail often missed in other ancient sets). The uniformity of dress is correct, although it suggests that these men may be native Assyrians rather than one of the many foreign contingents or mercenaries who also served in the Army.
When discussing accuracy we cannot avoid trying to place a more precise date on these troops. Seven centuries is a long time and the look of the Assyrian army did change over that time. However there are clues in this set which help us be more precise. Firstly, although they are obviously a very ancient form of weapon, slingers were not introduced into the Assyrian army until around the start of the seventh century BCE, less than a century before the final fall of the empire. Next, the helmets have integral ear covers, which again dates from the seventh century BCE. Thirdly, all the men have footwear, which seems to have been common only from the reign of Sennacherib (704 BCE onwards), and the armour on the archers and lack of shield-bearers also suggests this sort of date. Finally the large all-body shield only appeared around, you guessed it, the early seventh century. So, although Caesar make no mention of date we would humbly suggest the first half of the seventh century BCE is appropriate, which is convenient as this is when Assyria was at its height, fighting amongst others the Egyptians and, as always, the Babylonians.
This is already a long review, and we haven't even mentioned if the figures are any good or not! Well, fear not as they are excellent. If you own any of the previous Caesar sets then all you need to know is this is exactly the same high standard of sculpting. The figures are covered in huge amounts of gorgeous detail, right down to the hair and beards, which were important to the Assyrians, and not a trace of flash anywhere. The first three figures on the top row come with ring hands, as does the penultimate figure on the bottom row. The set comes with eight spears and eight swords, so there are slightly more weapons than needed and of course where we have shown a figure with one weapon you could easily use the other. Needless to say the weapons fit the ring hands perfectly and are tight without requiring any special effort. The shields are separate in all cases, with 20 round and four large shields per box. All those figures shown above with shields have a peg on the arm to take either type, but this is merely a guide as the peg is not tight in the hole. However when glued the shields fit well, although we did worry that those without a peg should also carry a shield, though of course there are not enough to achieve this.
The Assyrians made many innovations in the art of war, including the increased use of body armour and archery. However an Assyrian army, like many imperial armies since, was made up of many different nationalities, each with their own look, so this set might be better described as Heavy Assyrian Infantry, leaving plenty of scope for the lighter and foreign elements to be produced in the future.
In conclusion, this is another exciting set of figures from Caesar. Apart from the lack of some sidearms the only criticism we have is that the first figure in row one is a bit overbalanced when he carries his shield, making him easy to knock over. This is a set that could easily make even those with no interest in ancient history rethink their 'no ancients' policy.