MiniArt 1/16 Spartan Hoplite, 5th Century BC
“I am Xerxes, the King, King of Kings, King of the lands…, son of Darius the King, the Achaemenian, a Persian, son of a Persian, an Aryan, of Aryan stock…”. This proclamation started a document that set in motion the second Persian invasion of Greece and led to one of the finest hours in Western history.
After his father Darius’ humiliation at the Battle of Marathon, Xerxes was determined to avenge that loss and burn Athens to the ground. So, in 483 B.C., Xerxes sent forth a proclamation to all the provinces (satraps) in the Kingdom of the Persians and the Medes, a kingdom that stretched from the borders of modern-day India to Egypt, demanding that soldiers of his army assemble. A year later, he had assembled and trained the largest army in the history of that region up until that time, an army estimated to have been between 250,000 and 350,000. This army began to move to the west late in 481 B.C. It was supported by a navy of at least 600 triremes manned mainly by Phoenicians and Egyptians. They seemed unstoppable.
To show what a swell guy he really was, Xerxes sent couriers to the Greeks warning them of what was coming and offering them a chance to save themselves from the horror that was about to engulf them. All they had to do was send a token of earth and water back to Persia as a sign of their submission.
Greece at this time was not even a country as we know it today. It was instead broken into dozens of fiercely competitive city-states. They spent most of their time fighting each other over centuries-long grudges and wrongdoings, both real and imaginary. Most of the city-states, mainly those who hated the Athenians and those most directly in the path of the invasion saw discretion as the better part of valor and complied with Xerxes’ request.
Since Athens was Xerxes main target, he did not offer them the chance to avoid destruction. Naturally, all of this was bad news for the Athenians. They turned to their old enemy and the only other real power in Greece, Sparta. They appealed to the Spartans as fellow Greeks to help them fight the Persians, warning that if Athens was defeated, surely Sparta would be next. Surprisingly, the Spartans agreed with that logic. When Xerxes couriers arrived in Sparta demanding the tribute of earth and water, reportedly the Spartans threw them into a well telling them they could find all the earth and water they needed there!
The Spartans, a very devout people, now consulted the oracle at Delphi as to how to proceed. The oracle, as cryptic as always, stated that either Sparta would fall to the Persians or they would have to suffer the loss of a king, a descendant of Heracles (Hercules). One of the two Spartan kings (yes, they had two), Leonidas, considered himself to be a descendant of Heracles. He asked the Spartan council for permission to lead the army against the Persians. Fearing that any defeat of the entire army would leave the homeland defenseless, the council only allowed him to take a small contingent to march north and try to slow down the invasion. Leonidas choose the 300 best men at his disposal. Each man chosen had to have a male heir to carry on the family name since Leonidas was certain that most of them would never return.
After consulting with the other city-states that had not capitulated to Xerxes, Leonidas decided that the best place to try to stem the tide of invasion was at a narrow mountain pass called Thermopylae. He marched his 300, along with about 7000 hoplites from the other city-states, north in 480 B.C. The rest, as they say, is history.
The MiniArt Spartan Hoplite kit is supposed to represent a typical Spartan officer of the Fifth Century B.C. around the time of Thermopylae. The box art shows a very stylized version of what the artist believes a Spartan hoplite to have looked like. While generally accurate, much of the representation is very fanciful. For example, the main weapon of the Spartan hoplite was the 6’ to 9’ heavy spear, known as a dory. The box art shows him armed with a sword. Also the dress of the hoplite was usually different from that shown on the box art. The black-lacquered Corinthian helmet as shown on the box would have been considered an unnecessary affectation by your average Spartan.
The kit itself consists of 53 pieces molded in a light gray soft plastic, the exception being the base which is a dark brown. Four of these pieces are not used in this particular kit, but are meant to be used in MiniArt’s follow-on kit of a Greek Hoplite at the time of Alexander the Great.
The instruction sheet is the weakest part of this kit. It consists of a one piece 7 1/8” X 10 3/8” sheet with printing on both sides. One side is a layout and numbering of the kit parts. Strangely, a spear is shown among the kit parts but is no where to be found among the sprues in the box. If one wants to do a realistic Spartan hoplite, then he must either make his own spear or do as I did and buy the follow-on kit of the Greek hoplite that contains the spear.
The other side of the instruction sheet repeats the full-color box art drawing with a rear view of the completed figure added. There is no assembly sequence, a fact which caused me no end of problems as we shall see. Instead, arrows point to different parts of the figure showing where the various parts are supposed to go. Also given are the color call outs for different parts of the figure based on a color chart given at the bottom of the page. This color charts gives paint numbers of four major model paint manufacturers and the name of each color indicated. This was useful.
Let me say that I painted the kit as I went along. The painting details are given below. I started by assembling the legs. Each comes in two pieces, basically front and back. The muscle detail and greaves (shin guards) are very well detailed, among the best that I have seen on a plastic figure. The sandals, feet, and toe details are rather soft. The toes in particular are rather indistinct and careful painting is required to delineate the individual toes and their nails. The fit of the legs was good with the seams mostly being eliminated with some judicious sanding. Only a little putty was needed to close a few of the more reluctant seam areas. The legs were mounted with super glue to a piece of scrap pine that I had. This makes painting and handling of the parts much easier.
Next the head was assembled. It comes in three pieces, two sides and the face. This is somewhat reminiscent of the old Aurora Knights figures. Since the head would mostly be covered by the Corinthian helmet, MiniArt gives you three hair pieces to glue to the bottom of the skull to represent hair not covered by the helmet. The fit of the various pieces of the head was adequate with more filling and sanding being required here than what I had done on the legs. On a personal note: the face molded here is of a bearded man and looks just like my good friend Earl Mullins! The expression is that good. Too bad most of it will be hidden by the helmet.
The arms and hands are next. Each arm comes in two pieces, top and bottom. The detailing of the arm muscles, tendons, etc., are the best I’ve ever seen on any kit; plastic, metal, or resin. The arms go together fairly well, but, like the legs, need some sanding, filling, and more sanding to blend them in. The right arm ends at the knuckles of the hand. A separate rest of the hand is given and must be glued onto the knuckles. Fit here was not so good, but some judicious scraping with an X-Acto knife blade (no.11), some filling with putty, and some very careful sanding yielded a nice result. The left arm ends at the wrist. The hand that attaches to the wrist is clenching the handle of the shield (hoplon). This was much easier to attach and did not require the same attention as the right hand.
The Corinthian helmet was next. It comes in three parts, a left side, a right side, and a nose piece. The fit of the helmet parts was excellent, only a little sanding was required to remove the seam left by gluing the two halves together. The nose piece had to be modified since its fit was incompatible with the helmet. A large gap resulted where the nose piece met the helmet. This gap was filled with super glue, hit with an accelerator, and sanded to blend it in with the rest of the helmet. Corinthian helmets had a horsehair crest adorning the top. This crest usually ran from the front of the helmet to the back giving the helmet the appearance of a Mohawk haircut. The back of the crest was a long flowing piece that looks kind of like an exaggerated ponytail. Some Spartan officers were thought to have worn this crest turned so that it went from side to side. Supposedly this helped the average hoplite recognize his officers in the heat of battle. The crest comes in three parts. The main part of the crest contains the bronze holder and the “Mohawk” part. Two “tails” are given so that one can do the officer version. I opted to do the regular hoplite with the front-to-back crest. The hair on the crest was further detailed, as was the head hair and the beard on the face, using a razor saw. I ended up drilling a hole in the helmet and the crest and inserting a cut-off piece of a straight pin to get a better fit of the helmet to the crest.
Next came the cuirass, or body armor. Not all Spartans wore this piece of armor, but since this figure has no torso, one must use the back and breast plates. The cuirass comes in two parts, front and back. The detailing on both is exquisite! After gluing the two halves together, there are six buckles that must be attached, two to the shoulders and two each to either side of the cuirass. The buckles are very poorly done with very soft molding. Therefore, the detail that I had come to expect from the rest of the kit was sadly lacking here. If I had not been doing a review kit, I would have made my own buckles and straps. The fit of the cuirass was easy since it came in two pieces in real life and therefore no filling and sanding was required to erase the seams.
The shield was next. The Greek hoplon was usually made of wood with a thin covering of bronze plated over the front. The boss of the shield was usually left as polished metal, but sometimes it was covered with a cloth. The hoplite slid his arm through a leather thong attached to the middle of the inner shield and grasped a handle attached to its rim. Since the shield was very heavy this grip allowed the hoplite better control over the shield. Around the edges of the inner part of the shield were short lengths of rope. These were used in case the hand grip broke during battle. The hoplite could then grab one of the lengths of rope to steady the shield. The kit provides the arm loop as well as several pieces to replicate the pieces of rope. Unfortunately, the rope pieces look more like tassels than rope. The fit of all parts here was very good.
The kit has two pieces representing the linen underclothing that the Spartans wore to keep the armor from chafing their skin. Four separate pieces are given for the linothorax style of armor that some of the hoplites wore as their only source of protection. This armor was made from thin strips of stiffened cloth, hides, and bronze sheets glued together. Like modern Kevlar armor, it was very effective. Stopping arrows and javelin points was apparently not a problem.
The sword and scabbard are next. The scabbard is a one-piece affair, very well detailed. The sword comes in two pieces, the handle and the blade. The fit of the sword parts is fair at best and some careful gluing, filling, and sanding were required to get the blade to blend into the handle. I drilled out the opening to the scabbard to give it some depth. No strap in provided for the scabbard, so I made one from a thin strip of painter’s tape. This was required since the average hoplite wore his sword slung over his shoulder so that he could get to it quickly in the heat of battle without having to lower his shield.
|COLORS & MARKINGS|
When painting figures, it usually follows that one paints the figure as if he were dressing the figure. This means that the flesh parts are first. To paint the flesh of the hoplite figure I used the painting techniques described by Brett Avants in his book, Getting Started Painting Diorama Figures in Acrylics (see references below). Mr. Avants highly recommends the Vallejo line of acrylics as do I. The colors you will need to paint Caucasian skin tones are: 804 Beige Red, 941 Burnt Umber, 981 Orange Brown, 982 Cavalry Brown, 955 Flat Flesh, and 950 Black. Before you start the acrylic painting, give you figure a base coat of white or gray primer, I use Floquil Reefer White. This allows you to spot any flaws that might have gotten past you on the initial building stage. If you find flaws, correct them, reapply the primer, and check your work. Repeat as necessary. Once the primer coat has dried, paint all of the flesh areas with a base coat of 804 Beige Red. I recommend thinning Vallejo paints with distilled water, available in many places for under a dollar a gallon. Tap water can have some funky effects on acrylic paints due to its mineral content.
The eyes are next. On most small figures you want to avoid using white for the eyes to avoid that popeyed look so common with first-time figure painters. However, with a figure of this scale you can get away with using white darkened with a little Flat Flesh. Next dot the eyes with your favorite eye color. Since I had never done green eyes before, I chose that color. Put a dot of black in the middle of the iris to represent the pupil. Mr. Avants recommends having your figure looking either left or right. This animates the figure as well as solving the problem of trying to get both irises centered in each eyeball. I have this figure looking to his left over the top of his shield which I hope gives him a “bring it on” attitude. The fact that I glued the head to the torso with a slight lean to the left helps with this attitude I think. Now by using various mixtures of the other colors with the basic Beige Red you can do the shadows and highlighting of the skin. When completed I recommend a final very light dry brushing of all the skin area with a very thin mix of the Beige Red to better blend the various skin tones. I know this goes against the current conventional wisdom that figures should be painted in a “dramatic” fashion, but I think this makes for a more realistic finish. I have seen faces on what are supposed to represent relatively young men painted so that the effect reminded me more of Gen. Claire Chennault than Audie Murphy! The beard and hair were painted black. I wanted my Spartan to represent a “seasoned veteran”, an older man of 50 or so. So I dotted the beard and the hair with Model Master Camouflage Gray, an almost white shade of gray.
With all of the flesh areas done to my satisfaction it was time to paint the rest of the figure. The helmet was airbrushed Humbrol Bronze metallic as was the cuirass. This paint did not need to be thinned and covered very well. The helmet crest is a separate piece. It was painted Liquitex Dark Blue acrylic using a hand brushing technique. After this paint had dried, a Pentel Bronze pen was used to paint the raised design on the crest. This made very short work of what could have been a tedious job. (The Pentel pen was also used to paint the greaves on the legs.) The crest itself was made of horsehair in real life. This was airbrushed with Aeromaster Mitsubishi Cowl Blue-Black acrylic, a color that unfortunately is no longer available. One can replicate the color though by mixing an equal part of your favorite brand of dark blue and black. After the paint had dried Humbrol Scarlet was used to paint the other color in the crest representing horsehair dyed in the Spartans’ “national” color.
Humbrol Scarlet was also used on the cloth undergarment. The linothorax armor was painted with Floquil Reefer White. The sandals were hand painted with Vallejo 982 Cavalry Brown then highlighted with a mixture of Cavalry Brown lightened with 981 Orange Brown. The shield was painted with Model Master Wood on its inner face. The outer face of the shield was at first painted Humbrol Bronze. The boss of the shield was masked off using tape cut with a circle template. Floquil Reefer White was then sprayed on the boss. When the tape was removed, I noticed that the edge of the white looked rather ragged in a few areas. This is where the beauty of the bronze Pentel pen came into play. I used it to repaint the outer edge of the shield in just a few minutes without having to remask the boss and then perhaps having to go back and forth until it looked right. The arm band was a separate piece and was painted Model Master Leather before it was glued in place. The hand grip was part of the right hand on the figure so it was painted, you guessed it, with the Pentel. The rope grips were next. They were painted Humbrol Scarlet in keeping with the theme and attached to their various points on the inner face of the shield.
By the time of Thermopylae the Spartans were mainly painting the boss of their shields with the Greek Lambda symbol although some still preferred to use personal emblems. The kit comes with a choice of either the Lambda or a stylized personal marking. I chose the Lambda. First the boss of the shield was airbrushed with a thin coat of Future floor polish. After this had dried overnight the kit decal was applied. I was pleasantly surprised by the high quality of the decal. It went on very smoothly, adjusted without tearing, and required no setting solutions. After the decal had dried, a second light coat of Future was sprayed to blend the decal in with the paint job. The next day a 50/50 mixture of Testors Dullcote and lacquer thinner was sprayed over the decal. I was pleased with the result.
The sword has a Humbrol Bronze handle and the blade was sprayed with Humbrol 11, Bright Silver. The scabbard was sprayed with the bronze and the bright work done by hand brushing Model Master Brass.
Next came the most frustrating part of this build. As mentioned earlier the instruction sheet leaves a lot to be desired. Usually one assembles a figure from the inside out. The body of the figure is assembled followed by the clothes then any armor and/or accoutrements. First I pushed the assembled legs into the bottom of the cuirass and glued them in place. The linen undergarment should have been next. Uh oh, the fit is atrocious! Out comes the grinding bit for my Dremel tool. After much grinding and thinning, still a bad fit. The linothorax armor was even worse. It too received the grinder. Still no go. By now the air was beginning to turn blue, then purple, above the modeling desk. In desperation I removed the leg assembly from the cuirass. Parts of the paint had been affected so they were touched up.
After much thought, I tried a different tact. I decided to dress the figure from the outside in, just the opposite of what one usually does. First the linothorax armor was glued to the bottom of the cuirass. After the glue dried the inner linen pieces were glued inside the linothorax armor. After that had dried, the leg assembly was again shoved into the bottom of this assembly. Lo and behold, it worked!!
After this near disaster, assembly went fairly smoothly and quickly. The head was placed in the neck hole of the armor and glued in place. The helmet and crest fit well over the head and were the next to be added. The arms fit into their respective sockets with little adjustment needed. The shield was glued to its hand hold in the left hand. The arm brace was then carefully slipped over the left forearm and glued securely in place. I should mention that the left forearm of the figure has a stub built into it that fits into a recessed area on the inner part of the shield to add strength to the assembly and to help center up the shield.
The scabbard was glued to the left hip of the figure and, as mentioned earlier, a thin strip of white painter’s tape was used to represent its strap as none is provided in the kit. The sword was glued into the right hand. I feel that the grip of the hand could have been better as the way the sword is placed into it doesn’t look natural.
With the figure ready I turned to the base. The base given in the kit is nice enough but I didn’t trust it to fully support this rather tall figure without it having the tendency to want to tip over too easily. So, I found a base that I had bought at a craft store, painted it Humbrol Scarlet, and used it to widen the platform for the figure. Next the kit base was painted. I wanted to show the Spartan standing in the pass of Thermopylae as if the underlying stone and ground had risen up. Strips of masking tape were placed in a random pattern around the kit base running from top to bottom at various angles. I didn’t worry about it when some of the tape strips didn’t meet or they overlapped each other. A stone gray paint was then airbrushed over the kit base. After the gray dried, the tape was removed. Next a hole was drilled into the center of the kit base and a corresponding hole drilled into the center of the craft store base. A wood screw was used to connect the two bases. The top of the screw showed at the top of the kit base. No worries. I took an Evergreen cobblestone street section left over from a recent tank build, cut out one of the bigger cobblestones, and glued it in place over the protruding screw head. This didn’t quite do the job, so I used Apoxy Sculpt two-part modeling putty to fill in any gaps. Apoxy is great stuff and I cannot recommend it too highly. The resultant “rock” was painted Model Master Neutral Gray.
The completed figure was glued to the base using “super” glue. Still, I didn’t like the look of the base, so I decided to add a little grass. When I was building dioramas, I used a lot of Woodland Scenics static grass, turf, etc. I keep these in old spice shaker bottles. This makes them easy to apply with little mess or wastage. A layer of Elmer’s White Glue was applied to the top of the kit base making sure to get the glue right up to the sandals. You want the figure to appear to be standing in the grass not on top of it. That’s better, but, to add a little more life to the scene, I made some tall weeds or reeds using broom straws. These were added using super glue. A little more Elmer’s around the base of the weeds followed by a little more turf and it was finished.
I used to teach history. The story of the Spartan stand at Thermopylae has always been an inspiration to me. So when Scott told me that one of the kits he had received for review was a Spartan hoplite, I literally begged him to give me a chance to build it. I’m glad he agreed. Although I had my rough patches with this kit, I thoroughly enjoyed building and painting it. The only place that the kit really falls down is in the lack of a decent instruction sheet. Had it had one, 90% of my building problems would have never occurred. That said I can heartily recommend this kit to anyone interested in this era in Western Civilization or to anyone else for that matter. As mentioned, I recently bought MiniArt’s companion kit of the Greek hoplite.
Avants, Brett. Getting Started Painting Diorama Figures in Acrylics. Letterman Publications, 2001. 58 pp. Profusely illustrated.
Bradford, Ernle. The Battle for the West: Thermopylae. McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1980. 455pp. Highly recommended reading for anyone interested in not only the Battle of Thermopylae but also of the Second Greek-Persian War.
300. A fun movie that mixes fact with outright fantasy.
The History Channel. Last Stand of the 300. Two hours of good background info as well as descriptions of dress, arms, and tactics.
There are also several websites on the internet that go into more detail about the history and equipment of this era. I was surprised to find that not only are there reinactors of Greek warfare but websites that sell replicas of the equipment!
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