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Set 72044

Byzantine Infantry (10th - 13th Century)

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All figures are supplied unpainted    (Numbers of each pose in brackets)
Date Released 2012
Contents 48 figures
Poses 12 poses
Material Plastic (Medium Consistency)
Colours Tan
Average Height 24 mm (= 1.73 m)


Four centuries is a very long time by any historical standard, and it is little wonder that a great deal happened to the Byzantine Empire during these years. After a long period of decline, by 900 the late Romans no longer had to worry about a strong Persian Empire, but this still left plenty of enemies such as Turks, Arabs, Bulgars, Rus, Normans, Hungarians and Pechenegs amongst others. Yet by the middle of the 10th century Byzantium once again possessed an effective and victorious army, which over many decades reversed much of the previous decline, and was perhaps the best in the Western World. However later in the 11th century the Empire and its armies fell into decline once more, particularly after the disaster of Manzikert in 1071, following which the Turks made major gains in Anatolia. As the Empire shrank and was further weakened by civil wars, Byzantine armies used mercenaries more and more, leaving remarkably few native Byzantines who could be described as effective soldiers. Another revival followed, then further decline, with another disaster at the hands of the Fourth Crusade in 1204. The Empire still survived by the end of the 13th century, but it had been a story of long-term decline and frequent wars, which is where we find a place for the soldiers in this set.

While it is true that Byzantium, which was at least as much influenced by its Eastern as its Western neighbours, seems to have developed more slowly than the emerging Western powers, there were nonetheless changes in the appearance of their native infantry, and this set seems to be a selection from all parts of the period. The successes of the 10th century brought a revival in heavy infantry, and several figures here wear visible armour. This seems to be mostly mail (although hard to tell at this scale), which is fine, but only one figure wears clearly lamellar armour (in the bottom row), which we would have liked to see a little more of. The lengths of these corselets vary, which is proper, and in style they all look reasonable for the period. The man with lamellar armour in the bottom row also has pteruges protecting the thighs, which was common enough. Two other figures wear quite long quilted coats called kavadian, which are correctly shown with the sleeves buttoned up to leave the arms free for action. Armour was expensive, and often worn only by those in the front ranks, so it is good to see a decent number of men with none save a helmet. Again these tunics vary in style but all look good. Helmets are equally diverse, yet all are authentic, with a good representation of the slightly pointed type often worn by such men. The outstanding helmet on our friend with the lamellar armour mimics an extant original which is assumed to be that of an officer, and since this figure also has a sash around his body (called a pektorarion) he is clearly intended to be in charge here.

Much of the infantry carried spears or pikes of sometimes enormous length, and many here do so too, with the average length being 35mm (2.5 metres) but some being 45mm (3.2 metres) - both are perfectly correct. Several also carry a sword but only the officer has drawn his, and a couple have axes, which is correct and particularly puts us in mind of the Varangian Guard. We also find an archer and a crossbowman, both of which have been well done although the bow is rather smaller than would be the norm.

To a degree shields followed the changing fashions of Western Europe, although older shapes seem to have persisted far longer in the Empire. We find some men with round shields that would not look out of place on a Viking (again a link with the northmen of the Varangian Guard), while others have the almond-shaped kite shields that became fashionable later in the period. A couple of the poses have the small buckler shield, which is good, so all the shield shapes are accurate. All have designs engraved on them which look to be OK, but all have their backs nicely engraved to show planks of wood when in fact most shields were of faced wickerwork or cane. Also all the shields are completely flat, which while not completely wrong ignores the fact that many were in fact convex.

The production quality of these figures is a mix of very good and very bad. The good is in the sculpting, which is beautifully crisp and detailed with great proportions and nicely expressive faces. Little touches such as the beards many of the men have are really well done, so these must have been lovely masters originally. Sadly it all went badly wrong when it came to producing the mould. Orion have recently said publicly that the quality of their sets can vary greatly within one batch, and that many are much better than those we show on our site. Well that may be so, but no customer wants that sort of random factor when parting with their cash, and all we can say is those pictured above were the best to be found in our box. Some of the others were badly underformed, with gaps in lances and the archer holding nothing more than a short stick, and all suffered from serious amounts of flash. Perhaps your copy will be better - perhaps worse, but we don’t like to see such nice figures swamped by so much extra plastic and requiring a lot of work to make presentable.

Finally we consider the poses, and although there is some element of flatness here (because all the weapons and shields are part of the figure and not separate), we actually liked all of them. They aren’t fantastic, but all of them are very usable and manage to still look quite natural despite the limitations of the production process. You might struggle to form a standard Byzantine battle formation with what is on offer here, but that does mean you get more variety and some interesting poses which will please many.

Of course any set could have delivered more. In this case we would have welcomed some men wearing no helmet but only a turban or similar, and 12 poses makes it hard to cover all the possibilities yet still provide enough of each to construct a credible formation. However given the long time frame and the limit of 12 poses we thought Orion did a very good job of the design of these figures, and the sculpting rose to the challenge too. The flash and missing plastic was a considerable blemish, but if you find one of the supposed better sets out there than you will have something that is pretty hard to fault and goes some way to fill a gap in the little-depicted history of the Byzantine Empire.


Historical Accuracy 10
Pose Quality 9
Pose Number 7
Sculpting 10
Mould 5

Further Reading
"Armies and Enemies of the Crusades 1096-1291" - Wargames Research Group - Ian Heath - 9780904417081
"Armies of the Dark Ages 600-1066" - Wargames Research Group - Ian Heath - 9780904417159
"Byzantine Armies 1118-1461 AD" - Osprey (Men-at-Arms Series No.287) - Ian Heath - 9781855323476
"Byzantine Armies 325 AD - 1453 AS" - Periscopio - Dimitris Belezos - 9780897475778
"Byzantine Armies 886-1118" - Osprey (Men-at-Arms Series No.89) - Ian Heath - 9780850453065
"Byzantine Imperial Guardsmen 925-1025" - Osprey (Elite Series No.187) - Raffaele D'Amato - 9781849088503
"Byzantine Infantryman" - Osprey (Warrior Series No.118) - Timothy Dawson - 9781846031052
"Byzantium at War" - Osprey (Essential Histories Series No.33) - John Haddon - 9781841763606
"Fighting Techniques Of The Medieval World" - Amber - Matthew Bennett - 9781906626624
"The Byzantine Wars" - History Press - John Haldon - 9780752445656
"The Eastern Romans 330-1461 AD" - Concord - Raffaele D'Amato - 9789623610896
"The Fourth Crusade 1202-04" - Osprey (Campaign Series No.237) - David Nicolle - 9781849083195
"The Varangian Guard 988-1453" - Osprey (Men-at-Arms Series No.459) - Raffaelo D'Amato - 9781849081795

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