Friday, August 4, 2017

Conte Viking Set No. 2 - Part 1

"a sword age... a wolf age"

These few words printed on the reverse of Conte’s Vikings Set No. 2 are used to depict the scourge of the Viking invasion of Britain which lasted several hundred years beginning in 793. While those words are often copied and used in the context of the Viking invasions they are in fact out of context, being extracted from a longer verse used in the Ragnarök, the pre-Christian Norse account of the end of the world (meaning literally fate of the gods). The symbolism is not lost however, because while the Ragnarök talks of the end times of the Norse gods it must have seemed like the end times for those hapless souls caught up in the violence and mayhem brought about by the invaders.

British history is said to have started with a raid by Vikings on the important island monastery at Lindisfarne in the kingdom of Northumbria on 8 June 793 (However, according to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle the first Viking attack occurred in 789 on the Isle of Portland when three Viking ships pulled into the harbor of Portland in Dorset on the southern coast. The local official – the reve – thinking they were traders went to meet them and was instead met with an untimely death by a volley of arrows!). Lindisfarne was important in being the resting place for St. Cuthbert and perhaps the holiest site in eighth century Britain. Treasures were stolen, the monastery trashed (but not completely) monks slaughtered, and all of it sudden and unexpected – much like the attacks on the Twin Towers on 9/11. Reverberations from the raid were felt throughout Britain.

British wealth in the form of gold, textiles, rich farmland, potential slave labor, and more must have been an overpowering obsession with the Norsemen and perhaps the Englishmen brought it on themselves by bragging about the richness of their land to foreigners. Raiding farms and sacking towns was a way of life in Scandinavia at the time and England was ripe for the plucking. Starting out as small hit-and-run raids, the intensity of the raids grew until by the end of the ninth century, much of Britain had been colonized by the Scandinavian’s and by the early 11th century the King of Denmark and the King of England were one and the same person – William the Conqueror. What had once been an island with five kingdoms (Wessex, Mercia, Kent, Northumbria, and East Anglia) became, through the auspices of Viking activity, one nation. To quote Thomas J. Craughall in “How the Barbarian Invasions Shaped the Modern World, “By annihilating six of the seven English royal families, the Vikings inadvertently transformed the country from a patchwork of little kingdoms into a single realm under one king. And once England was unified, it became a political and cultural powerhouse.” 

Modern sensitivities have bathed the Vikings in a more glorious light. We look at them as seafarers, navigators, and adventurers who reached as far west as the Americas and as far east as the Mediterranean. We’re awed by their shipbuilding prowess. Old Norse words have entered the English language such as: thing, Thursday – aka Thor’s Day, Tuesday, Happy, Heathen, and more appropriately ransack, slaughter, and berserker. They were able farmers, shrewd traders and merchants, and metal workers as well…

...but they gave us words like ransack, slaughter, and berserker!

Which brings us to a 21st century blog about toys - what a segue  Many toy manufacturers have put out Little Green Army Men – the generic term for all toy soldiers/warriors - but there are several which rise above all the others. Conte is one of them. To-date I’ve only reviewed one set of Conte ACW figures. Why not more? Dunno. Just never got around to it. You’ve read the blog, you’ve seen the photos. You know that everything is a moving target and even with the best of intentions I just can’t do all the things I’d like to.

Conte has been putting out beautifully sculpted military miniatures for many years and is considered a leader in authentically designed soldiers. This set is no exception – from the wooden shields, to the correct headgear, and the scruffy/rough clothing of these warriors one can truly imagine these guys ransacking a monastery, slaughtering a village, or going berserk on an opposing English army! This set, provided courtesy of, is made of a softer, more pliable, soft plastic than those of BMC, Marx, or the majority of toy soldier manufacturers. There are 16 figures in 7 poses and the standing figures are on average 2 ¼” (5.71cm) H from the bottom of the base to the top of the helm (54mm from the shoe bottoms to the top of the helm). The sculpting was done by world renowned master sculpture Ken Osen. Unlike the Tehnolog Vikings I previewed not long ago, these guys are actually doing something – everyone is in motion. By comparison, the Tehnolog Vikings, while fierce looking and nicely sculpted, are just standing there mean muggin’ (okay guys, look at the camera and scowl)! I’m gonna have to find a reasonably priced (aka ‘cheap’) figure painting service because these figures would look awesome painted – something I’m no longer able to do (and to think when I was younger I used to paint HO scale train figures – not any more!).

As usual when reviewing sets of figures, we’ll feature one per day. At the end of the series I’ll share a few pics of a quick and dirty set-up I did using these and other figures. Enjoy! Opa Fritz and Oma Bettina

To the left is a Tehnolog Viking which, as you can see, does not have a base

When you add a base - like this piece of cardboard - the Tehnolog Viking is the same height as the Conte allowing for his slight crouch

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