Carthage was established by Phoenician settlers in the 9th Century BCE, and initially had to pay tribute to the local Berber Libyan kingdoms. However, as the city grew rich on Mediterranean trade, it gradually looked to building an empire to secure ports and open new markets, starting with major trading partners, and later on expanded inland into Africa. By the mid 5th century BCE the tables had turned, and the Libyan kingdoms were vassals of Carthage, heavily taxed and required to provide troops for the city’s military adventures. In time this burden was eased to some degree as the North Africans were seen more as vassal citizens of the empire, but they continued to contribute significant numbers of troops to Carthage – whether paid or conscripted is still debated (probably both at various times). With assimilation and inter-marrying, Libyans became part of the larger group known as Liby-Phoenicians, and as such formed the core of many Carthaginian armies; such levies made up a quarter of a Carthaginian army in 310 BCE, and more than half of the infantry Hannibal took to Italy.
Little is known of the look of Libyan troops early in the period, but inevitably in time they were influenced by the styles of Carthage, and through them of the wider Mediterranean world, including Egypt and in particular Greece. We can imagine that the richer Libyans would have the means and opportunity to acquire fashionable Greek equipment, or to gain it as booty from the many wars against Greek states and colonies, so by the time of the Punic Wars they would have appeared much the same as many other North African troops. Initially armed and trained as hoplites, during the wars with Rome this changed, and the troops lost the hoplite look, taking on an appearance that is captured well in this set. Here the figures wear the knee-length unbelted tunic and a variety of helmet styles, all of which look reasonable. Some have no more than this, but several of these poses have body armour, again very much in the Greek tradition, with linen corselets and a couple of muscle cuirasses, plus one man that seems to wear scale armour with particularly massive scales. Some have pteruges round the waist or shoulders, and some of the more heavily-armoured men also have greaves on both legs. Everything here looks authentic for the post-hoplite period.
The main weapon here is the spear – not the long hoplite weapon but one of about 2.5 metres in length, which again is accurate, and can be trimmed down a little to provide javelins instead. Three of the poses carry a sword, all straight, although all the others also have such a sidearm, carried by a baldric over the right shoulder. The shields are in most cases large ovals (thureos), sometimes with a central spine, and all engraved with different designs, including geometric ones and ones based on popular Carthaginian symbols such as horses and palm trees. One man has a round shield, held along the forearm rather than with the central grip of the others, but this is quite flat and so not like the Greek shields of old.
The quality of these figures is pretty good, with plenty of detail that is not quite as sharp as some, but nicely done and looking very natural. There is a certain amount of assembly require here, beginning with the last man in our second row, who has a ring hand to accept the separate spear. We found this ring had to be enlarged to an extent before it would accept the weapon, but nothing too terrible. Three of the poses have a separate shield (easily apparent in our photos as those with the rim facing the camera), and this is attached by sliding the shield onto a lump at the end of the man’s hand. We have always liked this realistic and secure method of attaching a shield, and in this set the fit is pretty good – certainly good enough not to need support or gluing unless being handled roughly. The other element of assembly is the right arm of the second man in our second row, who has a separate right arm and spear. This fits, if that is the right word, into a cavity at the shoulder, but the fit is poor and needs to be anchored in some way. However, this does offer the ability to vary the angle of the arm by quite a lot, so the mid-position we chose could just as easily be upright or horizontal. However this is the most awkward part of the set, which is low on flash, but most of the seams have a rough finish that many will feel need to be trimmed and tidied before battle.
Despite the pitfalls, the man with the separate arm does make a very good pose when put together, and the separate spear and shields also add to the quality of the poses. A couple of the other poses are a bit flat, but we have seen much worse, so for example the first man in the second row really is holding his spear aloft, but not directly over his head as lazier sculptors have done in the past. Overall the poses are quite energetic and should look good in action.
As a set of Libyans for the Punic Wars this pretty much ticks all the boxes in our view. There is no sign of the later re-equipping from captured Roman stock that happened in Italy, so these figures retain the look and feel of their homeland, which is a good thing. The sculpting is good, as are the poses, and only the fragile right arm of one man offers any particular problems for the modeller. A very worthy set for one of the key elements in many an army throughout those turbulent times for the commercial city super-power.