As a university student currently studying the Roman army to write a paper for my BA-degree, when I first saw Luca Piergentili’s box-art for this bust, I instantly knew that I had to have it.
The United Empire Miniatures bust represents a Roman cavalryman in sports-armour of the late 2nd century AD. The scale is approximately 160mm (judged by comparing it to 200mm Verlinden busts and a 75mm Pegaso figure). Shane Tarry sculpted the figure while Luca Piergentili painted the box art.
The (not so) Roman cavalry
From very early on Rome relied heavily on her allies and the conscripts of conquered peoples (as one of the clauses of the peace-treaty) to provide cavalry troops. Her own cavalry was often of a dubious quality where both scouting and battlefield performance were concerned. In fact these factors contributed significantly to the disastrous Roman defeats against Hannibal.
One of the things Caesar did when arriving in Gaul was to acquire some German cavalry at the first possible opportunity. They quickly became his elite-troops and his personal guard. Germanic horsemen from the lower-Rhine area were prized for their skills, including swimming across rivers while fully armed, a feat marvelled upon by numerous Roman writers, and according to Roman historians impressive enough to intimidate opposing troops into immediate surrender, or at least abandoning any idea of attacking the Romans. This deed seems to have been something only performed by them, and they boasted about it on their gravestones.
The Romans relied on tribes from outside Italy, and even outside their territory to provide their cavalry throughout the existence of the Empire. Until the victory of Constantine over Maxentius, the Imperial Horse Guard consisted mainly of horsemen of Germanic origin, initially most of them from the lower Rhine, later predominantly from the middle and lower Danube.
These units of cavalry practised regularly, and especially the most prestigious engaged in what was called the “Hippika Gymnasia”, or cavalry sports. The favourable comments by the emperor Hadrian after attending one of these displays were recorded in stone for posterity. Hadrian might also have composed a few epitaphs found on the gravestones of horsemen of the imperial guard.
The historian Arrian (ca 90 AD – post 145/146. Better known for his “Campaigns of Alexander”) also wrote a military manual in 136/137, the Technè Taktika, the part about cavalry training surviving, in which he describes these exercises. As governor of one of the strategically most important provinces of the empire, Cappadocia, he successfully fought the Alans, and must have had some of the top cavalry units of the empire under his command. According to him, many of the aspects of these displays went back a long time.
What is in the box?
Tightly fitted in the box are two castings: one big casting consisting of the upper body, face and rear of the helmet; and a second one (in a zip-lock bag) consisting of the face-mask.
Also included in the box are a written painting guide and a historical background, research for which was done by Dr. M. Thomas.
The pieces are in a white-creamy resin which does not feel as brittle and rock hard as resin used by Verlinden. The casting-plug is still attached to the torso, but is so clean that it can be used as part of the display stand. If not it is easy to sand it of.
The figure as represented is a member of an allegedly elite cavalry unit, presumably dressed up in armour for sports-displays. However, the find of a face-mask of what is traditionally to be thought “sports-armour” at Kalkriese (the supposed site of Varus’ defeat in 9 AD) and a badly worn gravestone from Germany suggest that this type of helmets might not have been exclusive to cavalry and suggests that they were at least taken on campaign, perhaps even worn in battle.
The sheer numbers of masks (or “sports equipment”) found, and the fact that Romans did combine a high level of decoration with utility in military equipment might point in the same direction. Imagine a group of horsemen, fully armed, almost completely clad in metal, no human face visible, with colourful plumes on their helmet swim a river the size of the Rhine, jump on the horse and be ready to charge.
First let me start with the main piece of resin, the torso.
The scale-armour is well sculpted, with each link clearly defined. In some places there is even some clear overhang of the top-row over the bottom row. The breastplate has quite well defined relief figures (not identical). To some degree they might look a bit odd, in a sense that to me they do not look 100% anatomically correct. The pin that holds the two pieces of the breastplate together is clearly defined, as is the rope/chain that prevents the pin from getting lost.
The mantle: The mantle is plain. The folds do look natural to me and are quite well defined. It is held together over his right shoulder by a very simple brooch, again with quite sharp detail. Over his left shoulder runs a mould-line.
The helmet: Again well done. The relief meant to represent the hair and other ornamentation is well sculpted and looks quite “natural” and a good likeness to what I have seen of originals and reconstructions.
The face: this is kind of a two way street, in my humble opinion. If you want to display the figure with the helmet closed, the face is very well done, and in many ways overdone, as much of it will be hidden behind the mask.
If one chooses to display the figure with the mask off (or opened), the detail of the face is suddenly a bit soft, rough or sketchy. Thinks like the “crows’-feet” and wrinkles in the forehead are missing. The details are a bit more “suggestive,” almost like looking at an impressionist painting, both compared to the rest of the figure (the armour) and the face of Young Miniatures’ Death Hussar I put next to it for comparison. The face still has character though, with well-defined eyes, nose and mouth. So, in my opinion, a good painter should still be able to make the face look really good (see the box-art).
The facemask: A thinly cast piece, well-defined details. A beauty. Test-fitting it revealed that fit is mostly good, with only on one side a gap that was to my taste a bit on the large side.
Casting: I think as well as can be done. I did not find any large or hard to remedy air-bubbles. Those bubbles that I did find are at the bottom of the torso, with only one in the actual sculpted surface. It should not be difficult to clean up the one mould-line. The only other casting imperfection I found was in the right eye, where at the junction with the nose some excess resin seems to have been collected. An exacto-blade or needle should be sufficient to scratch that away. I have not found any flash yet.
An interesting twist to the far more common subject of Roman busts. The casting is about as good as can be expected, and among the best I have seen so far (with figures and armour kits and update/conversion sets). The solution of casting the mask separately adds to the realism of the figure.
The very subject of this bust leaves a lot of options open for the painter as well. As this bust could well represent someone from the Imperial Horse Guard, into which the very best riders were recruited and recruits from all over the empire are attested, one can paint the soldier as a blond and blue-eyed Batavian, or someone from North Africa (including Moors), Egypt or Asia Minor.
The helmet can be used as a base for a conversion to personalize the figure. The basic shape was in use for over two centuries. Changing the hairstyle (real hair or another embossed hairstyle), the mouth cut open, air holes, adding one or more plumes, adding a neck-guard or hammered out ears are all possibilities.
The same possibilities are open for variation of the metal: Plain bronze, polished or not, tinned (white silver), silvered, or in some cases even gilded; details highlighted in bronze or gilded; Paint the scale-armour in one colour or opt for creating a pattern in two colours. The choice is yours.
This figure is highly recommended to everyone.
Goldsworthy, A: The complete Roman army
Speidel, M.P: Riding for Caesar
(Cambridge Mass, 1994)
Reference included with the figure Roman helmets (and further information)