Tuesday, April 9, 2013

My Review of Roman Velites by Agema Miniatures

Finally! Many years ago when I decided to tackle ancients I settled on the Punic wars as the period I wanted to concentrate on. Hannibal's motley assortment of mercenaries from a dozen cultures up against a young, scrappy Roman republic fired my imagination. I've been delaying committing to a manufacturer because I've been waiting for the plastic revolution to produce a line of Romans from the early Republic. I was excited by rumors of Warlord and Victrix getting into the period with new plastics, but was surprised when new manufacturer Agema Miniatures was first to market with a set of Roman Velites (light skirmishers) in plastic. Follow me for a review and pics after the jump...

What's a "velites"? 

Rome during the early Republic was not the military juggernaut of later legend. There was no professional standing army, but most Roman males could expect to spend a portion of the Spring and Summer fighting the neighboring tribes of the Italian peninsula It was the conflict with Carthage, when Rome began squabbling with a city state on a totally different continent (largely over colonies outside of Italy and maritime trade routes) that Rome evolved from a local, tribal power to one that looked beyond Italy to become the world dominating Empire hundreds of years later.

When they went to war the Romans of the 2nd and 3rd century BC fell into ranks based on age or experience. The rear line was held by the oldest men, the triarii who would only enter battle once the fighting got desperate. In front of the triarrii were the princepes and hastati, younger men who could expect to do the bulk of the fighting. Screening this main body were the velites (vel-it-TEEZ ), the youngest or poorest men who would would be the first to engage the enemy. Lightly armed with javelins and only a small buckler or shield, the velites were expected to disrupt enemy skirmishers, chuck a few pointy sticks at the enemy and then retreat behind friendly lines once the main forces converged.

Polybius describes the velites carrying "a sword, javelins, and a target...strongly made and sufficiently large to afford protection, being circular and measuring three feet in diameter. They also wear a plain helmet, and sometimes cover it with a wolf's skin or something similar both to protect and to act as a distinguishing mark by which their officers can recognize them and judge if they fight pluckily or not."
Save for the wolfskin "or something similar" there's not a lot to distinguish velites from similarly armed light troops that would have been found in any army at that time. So how did Agema Miniatures do?

Plastic Republican Roman Velites

I was psyched when I heard Agema Miniatures would be producing plastic 28mm Republican Romans, and they were kind enough to send me a sample sprue from their first release. The sprue comes with parts to build a pair if skirmishers, one armed with a gladius short sword and one with javelins. Three heads are included, two in helmets and a third in a wolf skin. A separate wolf cloak can be attached to accompany the wolf skin head for a complete pelt. All told, there's a good variety of options, although the choice to arm them all with either javelins or gladius would have been a nice perk.

The individual sculpting is excellent. Mold lines are minimal, but even the actual detail of the figures was surprising. The fingers on the hand poised to hurl the javelin are arched just so, holding the weapon lightly ready to be thrown. Even the fist gripping the shield has a slightly raised middle finger to accommodate the bulk of the figure's palm and shield handle, a detail that's likely to be obscured by the shield boss. The thigh muscles as well show the figure's weight distributed unequally from one foot to the other and the cloth tunic shows deep, natural creases. I was quite impressed with the level of detail on Agema's velites.

I'm used to fiddling with the poses of Wargames Factory figures (such as their vikings) to get a pose that looked natural. The flexibility of multipart plastics always seemed to come with a trade off in producing poses that look stiff and unnatural to me. That's not what I experienced with these velites. I tried several combinations of arms and torsos and was happy to find that any combination looked natural.

Naturally, the figures were a breeze to paint up. I tried out the Dallimore layering technique rather than my usual wash, but I'd really like to see how the tunic creases would take a wash or the dip. Pretty sure they'd look great.

Update: Based on requests I've added a few comparison pics. Sadly, I don't have many Republican Romans to compare the Agema velites to, so I had to make do with the figures I had on hand: a Crusader Miniatures officer, a Warlord Praetorian, and some Wargames Factory Caesarian Romans.

(L-R) Crusader Miniatures, Agema Miniatures, Warlord Games Praetorian

Agema Miniatures and Wargames Factory

Overall I was thrilled with Agema's velites. The realistic proportions, attention to detail, inclusion of an extra head, and the flexibility in posing were everything I was hoping for in early Roman plastics. The velites will be available at Salute at £9 for 16 figures ($13.80 US), and Agema is already soliciting feedback for the expansion of the range with the possibility of a Kickstarter to help ramp up production. I've got a few requests in mind for the rest of the line, but how about you? What would you like to see in a full line of plastic Republican Romans?

Sculpting: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Variety: ★ ★ ★ ★
Value: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Agema Miniatures available on eBay


  1. Fantastic review, thanks for that! I have been interested in these figures since they were announced and it is nice to see some thoughts on them from a fellow hobbyist. My only problem is that I am ready to start my Republican Romans now and without knowing how long it will take them to come out with a full line I probably can't wait.

    I want the full line of Republic soldiers! But I would love to see them come out with some interesting command figures that I could add to my army.

    Any thoughts or comparisons regarding sizing and proportions compared to other company's Punic figures like Aventine, Gripping Beast or Relic? Maybe I can match these with other manufacturers.


  2. Thanks for the review. I've also been looking forward to these, though I am not starting a Republican army. Yours look great and give me great hopes for Agema in the future.

    Of course if they do a Kickstarter I might find myself with the start to a Republican army, the better to fight Jonathan's Carthaginians.

  3. Great review! I have a hunch that Studio Tomahawk is going to move into ancients next and if so, I'd look at Agema for some of my Republic Romans. Yours look wonderful!

  4. The tunic and javelin was such common gear in the ancient world, I think you could use these figures as the basis for any skirmishers from antiquity with a few head swaps. I thought some interesting stretch goals for the kickstarter would be extra heads or gear to mod the base bodies into Samnites, Etruscans, Balearic slingers, Hebrew rebels, etc.

  5. Thanks for the review John, they look like great figures and your painted examples look excellent. It will be interesting to see what they release next. Victrix were supposed to be releasing Republican Romans as well.

  6. Great review - A republican army is a bit down my priority list but these look very interesting. I am surprised at all the companies coming out with one off plastic box sets - I hope they do well!


  7. Yep, handy, and timely, review. Going to link through to the club boards; there's some guys talking about this box.


  8. Thank you for the review. I'm interested in the figures as long as they were first anounced. Now I know I will not regret to buy them.

  9. Very nice, I will definitely be picking up a box (or two) of them at Salute, they are ridiculously cheap as well! They look easy to paint up two so with minor conversions it will be easy to have swarms of skirmishers for various Hellenistic factions too!

    1. Yes. I'm thinking of picking up some of Wargame Factory's Numidians to do head swaps for Numidian skirmishers, although at that point the price per figure might be edging towards metals.

      Enjoy Salute! Wish I could go! Some day....

  10. Great review and I'm very interested in these however, can you do a proper comparison pic with Warlord and Aventine Romans?

    1. I've updated my review with a few comparison pics. Sadly no Aventine on hand, but I hope these help!

  11. Very nice. My hope this that Agema will not be a 'one-hit wonder' with these plastics. I will wait and see what they get out before buying more than just one box to test out.