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Romans versus Gauls
Travel back in time to the battles fought between the Roman and the Gaul armies as we look at some of the plastic figures available to represent these historic warriors.
Travel back in time to the battles fought between the Roman and the Gaul armies
For regular readers of TSC it should be fairly obvious that I am very interested in all things Roman, having written a number previous articles related to this awe inspiring and colourful period of history. This issue I wish to concentrate on the fierce power struggle that the Empire endured against one of its toughest adversaries, the Gaulís. Naturally there is a heavy emphasis on the toy soldiers available to collectors interested in this period and in particular I will cover two manufacturers who have produced suitable Romans and Gaulís in recent years, namely A call to Arms and Italieri.
Gaul, or rather Gallia as the Romans knew the Celtic dominated region of Western Europe, covered a huge area made up of modern day Northern Italy, France, Belgium as well as parts of Switzerland, the Netherlands and Germany. It was a very widely spread and diverse area and a logistical nightmare for anyone attempting to subjugate its scattered population.
The Gaulís sacked Rome around about 390 B.C., so the Romans knew fairly early on the serious threat posed by these collective tribes which they thought of as Barbarians. Not wishing to bore anyone with very in-depth history lesson the basics thereafter was that Julius Caesar began the conquest of these predominantly Celtic tribes. The Gallic wars of 58-51 B.C. waged by Caesar culminated with a decisive victory in 52 B.C. at the battle of Alesia, possibly modern day Alise-Sainte-Reine in France, though there is some doubt over the exact location. It was not so much a battle as a bloody siege. The Gaulís, numbering some 80,000 strong under the leadership of Vercingetorix found themselves outwitted by Caesarís clever enclosing tactics, even though at one point in the battle they outnumbered the Romans by five to one. The Gaulís attempted to break out many times but in the end the Romans, whom also had Mark Antony within their ranks, won the day and effectively the war.
With the future secured the Empire grew in strength and Gaul was divided into four administrative areas in 27 B.C. by the emperor Augustus (this management scheme lasted right up until the 4th century A.D.) This new system worked mainly because the Romans introduced their way of life and culture to the Gaulís making them feel a part of, rather than parted from, the Empire. Today we take things such as a clean water supply and sanitation for granted but in those far off darker days seeing an aqueduct bringing in a constant and steady stream of fresh water, as the Romans introduced at Nimes in Gaulish France, was not only welcome but an awesome example of the power of the Roman Empire. The Romans also gave the Gaulís access to other Roman treats, arenas, theatres, bathhouses, temples, all the while slowly and with each successive generation subduing and integrating Gallia into the bosom of the Empire. It was surely a far more appealing lifestyle to a ĎBarbarianí than what he/she had been used to up until this point. A comparison would be what it must have been like when country folk were drawn to the big cities after hearing tales of wonder and progress during the Industrial revolution in England, where a better way of life with higher wages was promised, of course we now know this wasnít necessarily the case. Ultimately for most Gaulís it was probably a case of if you canít beat them join them.
So where did it all go wrong for the Romans in relation to Gaul? Well, it didnít really. Emperor Diocletian reorganised the Empire in the late third century A.D. At the time there were some signs of rebellion from certain parts of Gallia, but the new structure soon suppressed the danger and everything went along relatively well. Then in the 5th century the Empire, like all Empires before and after Rome, began to crack and show signs of weakness. The Romans departed our own British shores in 407 A.D. and I often wonder what the world for us would have been like had they stayed a while longer, certainly our erratic winding country roads might have been improved. The downfall of the western sphere of the Roman Empire was instigated by invading Goths, Franks and Huns who all took advantage of the clear weaknesses. In 486 A.D. the last outpost of Roman influence in Gallia was lost to the new power, effectively ending not only the Romans but the Gaulís too.
There are many toy soldier manufacturers making good quality Roman soldiers as civilians for this period although Gaulís are not so easy to find. A few years ago, around 2000 if memory serves me correctly, Italieri released some excellent 54mm figures, great news for us as collectors of toy soldiers representing the ancient world. Here we had a group of eight unpainted macho looking warriors, one of them almost completely naked, enough to scare the life out of any rival Roman, and the only time in my life I hope I have to find myself painting a manís bottom! On purchase the unpainted figures comprise swordsmen, spearmen and a Ďmusicianí, this last chap has a sling in his right hand while blowing on a carnyx, or war horn, which is held in his left hand. In all honesty the instrument looks a bit short to me from the examples I have seen elsewhere, but itís still a good figure and one which fills a gap in the market. Another of his battle hardened comrades runs with a boar effigy atop a standard. Overall I found the detailing and musculature on these Italieri figures very good and as an exercise in painting an absolute joy. Whether I have their clothing correctly painted is difficult to say, but hey lets remind ourselves that these are toy soldiers and if they give me pleasure both from the painting and finally when introduced into a diorama thatís the main thing.
The A Call to Arms Romans, available since around 2004, are a completely different bunch altogether. Firstly the diversity is very limited, yes they are Roman infantry, yes they wear the correct looking bits of kit, but each of the four poses from the 16 figure set are basically too similar to be of great lasting interest. The artwork on the box suggests something far more exciting than what is inside. To paint they are extremely taxing. The shields do not join to the main body very well leaving a sort of no manís land where they meet. Then there is the largest obvious drawback, the shield design itself! Or rather the lack of one. Transfers would be a massive help or slightly raised guidelines as are on the Gaulís shields from Italieri, which incidentally are detachable unlike the fixed Roman shields. I have done them as best I can, but not I feel to a professional standard. Having now painted two complete sets of these figures I have no desire to go there again, thatís my gripe out of the way. On the plus side when they are finally painted up they look very colourful and mixed in with rival manufactured Romans do very nicely.
All in all for me the Gaulís by Italieri win this battle hands down, unlike the real history. Hopefully A Call to Arms can produce more Roman soldiers with better and more imaginative poses and give those pesky Gaulís something to think about once again!
Date Published Wed, 12/02/2009 - 19:40
Author: Dennis Diamond
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