When Rome was just one of many small states in Italy competing with its neighbours for influence and resources, the native troops that she could put into the field were overwhelmingly on foot. Her meagre cavalry was often supplemented by that of her allies at the time, of which the horsemen of Campania were the most renowned. Of course, over time, shifting alliances meant the allies of one day might be the enemies of another, so this set of Italian Allied Cavalry represents a number of different tribes, any of whom might fight with or against the Romans, or against each other. Even the Samnites, famously the opposition during the Samnite Wars of 343 BCE to 290 BCE, were at times Rome’s allies, and some conflicts of the period did not involve Rome at all, so these horsemen depict the elite of many tribal groupings during the 4th and 3rd centuries BCE.
Helpfully, with this set Linear-A identify each of the figures on the box, so below is a breakdown of those identifications:
- Italic Socius Warrior in Marcellina armour
- Coastal Samnite Warrior Standard Bearer
These descriptions suggest a very precise look for each tribal horseman, but in reality the differences between different tribes were probably quite subtle, and are mostly lost to us today, so we can only make assumptions based on archaeological finds. In practice such precise information is impossible to know, so most customers will probably treat all these figures are belonging to whatever tribe is convenient for their purposes, and there is no evidence to contradict that assumption. The one exception is the warrior from the Volsci tribe in the third row, who has a broad-brimmed helmet that seems to have been particular to tribes in the northern part of Italy and so may not be appropriate for a Campanian, for example. For the rest, the horsemen wear tunics with an array of body protection including a small round pectoral, a larger cuirass with the classic Samnite three disc design, a cuirass with a muscle design, or no armour at all. All of these are appropriate for such tribes, and nicely done on these figures. Every man wears a broad belt, which was an important symbol of masculinity common to many tribes of the region, and the majority also wear a cloak. The legs are sometimes bare, but some wear sandals, short or long boots or even greaves; the last being perhaps a little less common than the three poses wearing them here would suggest. Many will be particularly interested in the attic helmets they wear, which appear in many designs, with a variety of decoration, feathers or crests to make them more imposing. Everything about the costume and armour of these men seems reasonable based on the historical record and surviving examples.
The weaponry of these men is mostly spears or javelins, which is as it should be. Their length is mostly around 30 to 35 mm (2.1 to 2.5 metres), but one is 40 mm long, and the middle figure in our third row holds one 50 mm long (3.6), which is more like a medieval lance, and we would have thought very hard to handle while mounted. Each man as a sword as a sidearm, either straight or kopis-style, but only two carry a shield, which is fair as most such cavalry did not carry one. We were a little surprised however to see that both shields are held Greek style, with the forearm horizontal through a strap and grip, rather than with a central bar grip as was the case for infantry shields. The first figure in the fourth row seems to carry a streamer or belt attached to a pole, and the man next to him has something that is labelled as a standard. Such a standard, consisting of a half-oval of fabric with cords/streamers above and below, is illustrated by Connelly, but he does not give his source, and given that he identified items as standards which modern historians think are not, there must be some doubt over this item, particularly as it is so unconventional in design.
The horses, which are unique to this set, have some interesting features. First the poses, which are pretty good in the case of the first animal in each row, and pretty unnatural for the second in each row – the straight but airborne front leg of the last animal is particularly strange – though such poses are not unusual in such sets. However, we did like the mix, so not all the horses are at full gallop. Ancient artwork tends to show such animals being ridden bareback, but it is thought this does not represent actual practice, so happily all of these have a simple saddlecloth, plus suitable reins and bridle. Three of the four have a chanfron (armour protection on the face), one of which has a feather decoration. Two have broad straps across their chest, possibly armoured, and the other two ordinary, narrow straps, all of which are fine.
The sculpting of this set is pretty good, with nice attention to detail and a brave effort on the various helmet decorations. The javelins are as usual rather thicker than they should be – a limitation of what is practicable at this small scale – which means that where a man holds two, his grip looks rather awkward. There is quite a lot of flash on these figures, especially around the legs, and we were not happy with the fit of the man with the horse, which was okay in some cases, but too often the legs are too close together, causing the man to not sit at all and to ‘ping’ off.
Given the limitations of moulding figures with javelins, and since no one here has a separate weapon, the poses are reasonable and fairly lively. Some are clearly in a fight whilst others are not, so a nice mix, and one that works with the provided horse poses. Apart from the question mark against the standard, there is nothing in this set that seems inaccurate, and the quality of the sculpting is pretty good too, especially the complex helmets. So this is another good and useful set for the formative years of the Roman republic.