Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Middle Imperial Romans Review

Half a month into the new year, and I'm hoping you had a good start. Despite my desperate struggle to cope with the masses of stuff still to be finished for our Tactica 2012 presentation, I had a good one with issue 58 of the Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy magazine finally in print - more on that on another occasion, for now just have a look for yourselves. ;-)

Let's start here with a short review (or sorts of). That's been taken over from last year, when I promised Keith of Aventine Miniatures to have a look at their latest release of late 2nd century Romans. Keith very kindly sent me some samples, after we had discussed a few of my issues with the models, especially regarding their equipment. So I was able to base my opinion on the actual models - and could also compare them to my beloved 3rd century Armorum & Aquila miniatures. Both ranges are divided by a mere decade (at least by periodisation fetishists), so it's not too far a stretch using them side by side.

First off, an unassembled model by Aventine, just black-washed for the photo. As mentioned before, these models are set in the time frame of 160-190 AD. This, for example, is the period of the Marcomannic Wars, famously pictured in both the Column of Marcus Aurelius and Ridley Scott's Gladiator movie. Some figures sport segmented bracers (manicae) and greaves. They are all equipped with large rectangular shields, wearing Newstead patterned segmented armour and Niedermörmter type helmets. And that's whereupon I raised some questions to Keith, for I don't see Roman soldiers as uniformed as portrayed so often. Especially since it's rather futile to clearly assess Roman military equipment to a specific period of usage. There are quite a few other pieces, like the Niederbieber or the Imperial Italic G type helmets, which could be pre- or antedated with good reason as well.

The castings are of the highest quality, almost no cleaning required. The pila are to be clipped from a sprue, and I shortened the one pictured here a bit. (If you want to go mad, you could acuminate the end in order to get a ferrule.) The amount of detail on the armour is incredible, just look at those clasps and hinges! The shield features also good detail like spines on the back and an offset frame. Disappointingly its handle, actually a hole to plug the soldier's hand into, is too small. So the pieces won't fit easily, and you have to file down the hand a fair bit. That said, it's only a problem with certain models, others take the shields quite nicely.

Second, the same view on an A&A model. The soldier is also equipped with a heavy javelin of a different shape (bigger counterweight ball, no rivets). However, distinctive for a later period (c. 200-280 AD) are his long sword (spatha), the hinged plate to cover the neckline and the Heddernheim type helmet. The latter is often deemed to belong to cavalrymen - mainly due to the short neck peak and its decoration indicating elite status, but that classification is debatable. The fashion of long sleeves and trousers also sets this soldier apart from his slightly earlier comrade.

Again, the casting is clean, just beaten by Aventine's quality. The figure itself features good detail as well, but it's less defined than the Aventine one. Both armour and clothing look a bit 'puffy', especially compared to the sharp edges and slim appearance of the earlier model.

Here's the Aventine figure, readily painted and based. For this presentation I assigned it to one of the busiest Roman legions around, the legio XXX Ulpia Victrix (abbreviated leg XXX V V). From its formation under Emperor Trajan (98-117 AD), certainly in anticipation of the Dacian Wars, until the reign of Emperor Constantine (306-337 AD) this unit was involved in almost every major conflict.
In our given period the Tricesima fought in Lucius Verus' Parthian campaign (162-166 AD), before being designated to Marcus Aurelius' continuous wars on the Marcomanni in the West (165-180 AD). They were probably one of the units that had a devastating disease in their luggage which would haunt the Roman Empire for years. In 193 AD legio XXX immediately joined the usurper Septimius Severus, who would eventually end civil strife and become emperor (198-211 AD).

Their emblem was most likely a capricorn, but Jupiter and Neptune were also mentioned as the legion's patrons. So I opted for Neptune's trident here, a nod to the triple X as well. As a sidenote, one of the actual Niedermörmter helmets, found at Xanten, bears the inscription of a certain Lucius Sollionius Super, soldier of legio XXX.

Septimius Severus' ill-fated grandnephew Severus Alexander (emperor 222-235 AD) brought the Tricesima back to the Germanic provinces. Stout defenders of the Northern Rhine frontier, they became part of the EX(ercitus) GER(maniae) INF(erioris), the army of Lower Germany. This was some kind of "corporate identity" label, and it almost predicted that the legio XXX would join Postumus' Gallic Empire in the 260's in order to prevent being sent to far-off theatres again. In fact, the Tricesima would stay here for another 150 years until their disappearance from the records.

Once more, colour schemes and designs are purely conjectural. However, most of them are taken from artwork appearing in Osprey books or in the excellent issue II.6 of Ancient Warfare focussing on the "3rd century crisis". I fancied especially the blued metalwork on the helmet, some sort of rust prevention which, at the same time, looks quite impressive if combined with silver or gold. It was done here with GW's Asuremen Blue applied to a surface painted with dark silver.

Finally, a comparative shot of both miniatures side by side. As you can see they go together quite well - not the least since they are from the same sculptor. They are quite exactly 28 mm heigh models, measured from sole to the top of their head (or helmet for that matter). As said before, Aventine is the superior sculpt regarding proportions as well as animation. The poses appear to be more natural, and it gives a convincing sense of movement. However, I've seen one of my initial suspicions confirmed in that the Aventine models have elongated necks. That's in order to fit the helmet's huge neck peak onto plate-covered shoulders, and it probably supports my assumption that those pieces were never worn together. Otherwise, they are some of the best models I've seen in a while.

Eventually I might use both ranges to build up a party for "snack pot games", a term recently coined by Richard Clarke of Too Fat Lardies for a new trend towards large skirmish actions. The Roman Empire of the 3rd century has some advantages here: Not only can you choose from a wide variety of opponents - ranging from Parthians/Sassanids to Ancient Germans and civil war factions - without loosing too much the look of Early Imperial Romans. It is also a period of transformation that apparently enforced the use of light infantry and combined arms tactics. But that is, really, a theme for another posting.

Painted December 2011. Models by Aventine Miniatures & Armorum & Aquila Miniatures.


Brummie said...

Nice paintjobs and great weathering on the shield. Very crisp and neatly detailed they are bare

Mike said...

Nice review of the figures and then a very good paint job.
I very much enjoyed the article in WSS and look forward to a more detailed post.

Dalauppror said...

Very nice looking minis !

Best regards dalauppror

BigRedBat said...

Luvverly bit of painting there! Cor.


paint pig said...

My knowledge of the period has just expanded exponentially (starting from a pretty low base). A very interesting read, great review and some cracking paintwork, well done I thoroughly enjoyed this post.

JTW said...

Beautiful work, and the historical info is much appreciated. Really enjoy your blog.

JTW said...

Looking at these again, and I especially love the dirt effects on the shields. How do you achieve that?

Sire Godefroy said...

Thanks to all for taking the time to comment. Much appreciated!
JTW, it's just the basing colour (Vallejo Burnt Umber) stippled on with an old brush. You could use a piece of foam found in model blisters for that as well. Of course, in the first place it needs some courage to brush over a painted model, and so it won't work every time. ;)


Ed said...

Great article.

I love the Aventine line of Romans.

I am creating a Cohort from them and blogging my efforts:

I really enjoyed your article! And great painting you've done! Thanks for sharing it.


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