Although full independence from the Golden Horde had effectively been obtained in 1480, the army of the Muscovite state remained Steppe in nature. By 1514 (the date of the Battle of Orsha mentioned in the title) most of it was still cavalry, and the most important element was the noble cavalry. This was where nobles of Muscovy and subject lands turned out to serve the Tsar, and brought along a number of retainers also properly equipped at their expense. Such men could on occasion number in the tens of thousands, and for such troops the 16th century was something of a golden age, before infantry and firearms started to achieve the importance that they had in Europe.
This is the second set covering the action at Orsha, and one of six covering the century in general. The first set contained mainly lancers, but this one is focused on men with their small arms drawn, as if about to enter close-combat. Three are wielding swords, which all such men would have carried. Such swords were often curved in the eastern style, as one is here, but the slightly curved pattern seen on the other two is also valid for the period (as indeed are straight blades). The figure in the second row has drawn an axe instead – while he possesses a sword as well, such men could to a degree choose their weaponry, and axes like this are known. The bowman on the left of that row is reaching for an arrow, while the parade of figures is completed with a man doing nothing in particular – possibly reaching for his bow. We were a little surprised that only four of these six poses have been given a bow, since the bow was the most important weapon of Muscovite cavalry, but glad to see every man has a knife or dagger at his belt. So all the weapons are reasonable and nicely done here.
The poses are not very lively, as every man has a straight back and is looking forward, so no one here seems to be in combat with an opponent to one side, nor riding down enemies on foot. This is a common feature of cavalry sets, which basically means all that can be done with the figures is to model a full charge, but for that purpose these are not bad. The middle swordsman is holding his sword directly across the top of his head, which as always is fairly unrealistic, but the others look natural.
Boyars provided their own kit (but not the weapons of their retainers), so what they wore was down to personal choice and the depth of their purse. All these figures conform to the typical costume of the day, with most wearing mail or scale armour, including one having an extra plate covering the chest. One man may have a brigandine instead, which would probably have been fairly unusual for such men, but still perfectly valid. Some also have a vambrace on the lower arm, and all naturally have a helmet. These are mostly of the pointed type, and some are particularly long in the point, which was still fashionable in the early years of the century. The rather less ostentatious helmet worn by the man with bow in hand is also valid however, so everything looks good. Two men carry a shield, which helps to date them to the early decades of the century, and the designs engraved on them look authentic too.
The six horse poses in this set are exactly the same as in the other five products in this mini-series from RedBox, so our comments on these are identical for all. The poses are all moving rapidly, but some of the poses are far less natural than we would have liked. We also felt that the general anatomy of the horses was not quite as good as for the riders. Noble cavalry at this time most commonly rode Noghai ponies, so the relatively small size of these animals is about right. The saddlery is much simplified though. The Mongol-style saddles, that all should have, seem to be replaced with a simple couple of cloths, lacking all the usual items like the pommel and cantle, although the decoration on parts of the harness seems reasonable.
The detail on these complex figures is really well done, while swords are nice and slender and the bearded faces are very appealing. Since the poses are a little staid there is no problem with excess plastic anywhere, nor are there any separate parts to assemble, and for the most part the men are remarkably free of flash. Just a couple of larger tabs need to be removed, which makes the task of preparation much easier. The men fit the horses easily, but do not grip or otherwise stay put by themselves, so will need to be anchored. The horses are rather less clean then the men, with a fair amount of flash on some seams as well as some larger lumps. Also the hind legs of one pose are joined since the mould could not get between them, so more work would be required there.
Like Steppe archers anywhere, these men rode with a short stirrup so they could stand over the saddle to use their bow, but all these figures have a long straight leg, which is incorrect. They are also just a shade bigger than they should be both in height and body mass, although this is not really noticeable. The detail is certainly a delight, as is the clean seams on the men, so most of the points dropped on this set can be attributed to the horses. When viewed as part of the whole six-box range these are very usable figures which may not be depicted in particularly interesting or dynamic poses, but serve their purpose well enough for most and are an essential element of any Muscovite army.