The box for this set states that the target period for these figures is the century or two following the withdrawal of the Western Roman Empire from Britain, which dates it from the early fifth century. This withdrawal probably made little real difference to the inhabitants at first, but over time many of the Roman structures decayed, and the land would see influxes of Germanic tribesmen - warriors and settlers - particularly the Angles and Saxons, while Britannia became a collection of small kingdoms. These doubtless quarrelled with each other as well as attempting to resist foreign incursions, and it is in these times that the myth of King Arthur is generally placed. Sadly, this is also a period of very poor documentation in this part of the world, which is part of the reason why the term ‘Dark Ages’ is applied to the early medieval period. Perhaps too this is why there are very few figure sets for the period, with this being the first to depict the Romano-British themselves.
With so little documentary or archaeological evidence, this period is always likely to be a subject of debate on what is or is not historically accurate. Much of what evidence does exist may relate to the Germanic newcomers rather than the indigenous peoples, so accuracy must partly be assessed using evidence for the preceding late Roman period as well as information from elsewhere in Europe at the time. In terms of the appearance of the Romano-British, it is generally assumed that this was not a period of great change, although the clothing and technology probably became much simpler, with only the elite maintaining something of the standard seen in the days of the Empire. A simple tunic and trousers would have remained normal costume, along with shoes, cloaks and so on, and this is what we find on many of the figures in this set. There are however some surprises here, since one man seems to wear a sort of tabard, which was not a known garment at the time, and a couple have some form of dress that is slung over one shoulder, which again seems out of place here. A few of the figures seem to wear armour, which would have been expensive and relatively rare. Some of the armour looks to be scale or mail, but it is very hard to say for sure. The elite may well have attempted to model themselves on the previous Roman period and worn armour, so the handful of such poses here seems proportionate. Several wear helmets, which are very hard to make out, but mostly look to be of the spangenhelm or ‘ridge’ type, which is reasonable. Several have nasal protection, which would be appropriate, but individual design is very difficult to see, though nothing here appears to be unduly questionable.
The most common weapon of this and many ages was the simple spear, while expensive weapons like swords were limited to those who could afford them or otherwise get hold of one. There are four – possibly five – poses with a sword here, which seems a lot, though not so much as to seriously mar the set. Six are posed to hold a spear, and we also find one bowman (with a reasonable composite bow) and a slinger. The first figure in our third row holds something unrecognisable, and the rest are unarmed. As far as weapons are concerned then, this is a fair depiction. Shields are to be found on six figures, mostly fairly small and circular, but there is one oval model – both are likely to be accurate.
As always the poses speak for themselves in our pictures, but are pretty flat and only adequate. There is little in the way of movement on show, and indeed the majority seem not to actually be engaged in combat at the moment. A lot of standing around holding your weapon is all very well, but too much as here makes for a dull collection. The man with the staff and the woman (both in the bottom row) are more interesting additions even though neither are doing anything, and the monk holding aloft a large cross is perhaps either trying to inspire his Christian warriors or invoke divine intervention on his behalf. This man has a monk’s robe and possibly something on the head, but he is notable for wearing another large cross from a chain around his neck, making him look more like some modern gangster with a large gaudy chest decoration than a medieval man of God.
When these figures were first released, some slightly different to those pictured above, the manufacturer ascribed names or roles to some. These were:
- Row 1, Figure 2 - Vortigern (Warlord)
- Row 1, Figure 5 - King Arthur
- Row 3, Figure 5 - Sir Lancelot
- Row 4, Figure 2 - Merlin
- Row 4, Figure 3 - 'Religious Fanatic'
- Row 4, Figure 4 - Guinevere
Also more than evident from our pictures is the quality of these figures, which is very poor. Despite being relatively simple subjects in themselves, the detail here is very basic and the shapes of the body and clothing are badly done. It is often difficult to understand what is being sculpted, and the worse thing is that the front of these figures is by a long way their best side. What you cannot see in our images is the truly terrible mess that many of these figures have at the back, always flat and at times completely randomly shaped so as not to even resemble a human being. What our images do give a good view of is the ‘spears’, which are simply 65 mm long strands of plastic with which you are expected to fashion your own weapons. There are no spear heads, nor any attempt to actually model a spear, and in any case it would be a considerable effort to add such a device to any of the poses that clearly need one. None here have a ring hand, so if you want to attach a ‘spear’ to one of those poses with you will have to do your own drilling etc. Some poses have a cupped hand, but again this offers no serious prospect of actually holding the ‘spear’, and even if glued in place the result would look really bad and unconvincing. On the positive side, …well at least the figures are about the right height, although even this varies wildly.
The accuracy, in as much as it is possible for anyone to comment with authority, is the best feature of this set, despite the handful of curious fashion items which seem out of place here. The poses are mostly dull and often awkward, and the sculpting is at the bottom of the scale by any standards. The only thing that raised a smile about this set was Excalibur, the ‘sword in the stone’ piece at the end, not a useful item unless you like recreating medieval legends, but an unusual addition to what is an unimpressive collection of figures.