Toy Review: Playmobil Roman Gladiator

One of my interests is ancient Roman history. I wouldn't call it a hobby; as George Carlin said, hobbies cost money (as I well know given a recent bill from Big Bad Toy Store), but interests are quite free. Anyway, I've been studying Roman history for the past few years and it's such an expansive topic that it can be a little overwhelming to wrap your head around. The Roman civilization existed in one way or another for 1200 years, from monarchy to republic to empire, with thousands of distinctive personalities pushing each other around in a hysterical brawl for political power along the way. But that's why I find it so interesting. Not to mention the incredible art, awe-inspiring architecture, and cool mythological literature. Neat stuff all around.

Recently, I got this Playmobil Roman Gladiator for my birthday. Playmobil is an interesting paradox: although its style is very much like that of a preschool toyline, its themes sometimes slant older. This gladiator is a good example. Would little kids really want to play with figures from Ancient Rome? Would parents really want their little ones re-enacting scenes of gladiatorial bloodsport? Maybe the intended audience is collectors. Or maybe there really are some kids out there that dig creating historical scenes from Rome. Whatever the case, Playmobil is a line that's more complex than its preschoolish designs suggest.

Playmobil figures remind me a lot of Lego people: the figures are all pretty much the same over-simplified sculpt, with unique paint detailing and accessories to distinguish individuals. In this case, our gladiator has a belt and collar that are separate attached pieces, and I'm sure the rest of the parts are cobbled together from other Playmobil figures.

He also includes some accessories including a shield, sword, wrist armor, helmet, and arm armor. The shield's handle is configured so that you can have the figure hold the shield perpendicular to his arm (like he's holding it out to block something), or parallel to his arm (like he's protecting his arm and shoulder). Put on the armor and he's ready for battle!

When I was taking pictures of the figure for this review, I attached the armor as it is depicted on the packaging. After taking all the pics, I noticed a review on that correctly stated that the figure as shown on the packaging is historically inaccurate: the full-arm armor should be on the sword arm rather than the shield arm. Duh... so I had to reshoot the figure in its more historically accurate configuration. That'll learn me.

I dig the look of the figure, although the helmet seems more "knight" than "gladiator". The helmets for the ancient gladiators were more abstract and gaudy, with solid sheets of metal for facial plating and circular holes for vision. Maybe there were some helmets that had the knight grill, but when I think of a gladiator helmet, I think of something like this. I suspect Playmobil re-used a helmet from one of their medieval sets for this figure. Despite all the re-used parts, the overall look works pretty well within the Playmobil universe.

This Playmobil gladiator has four points of swivel articulation at the neck, shoulders, wrists, and hips (for sitting). Hyper-articulation enthusiasts will balk, but it's enough to interact with vehicles and manipulate accessories, so it will work well with Playmobil's target audience.

This being a gift, I'm not sure how much the figure cost. Although the Roman toys look like they're retired (or at least they aren't part of the current Playmobil assortment), you can get a gladiator for $5 to $8 on eBay. That's certainly a reasonable price.

Overall, this is a cool little dude. A more Roman-specific helmet would have worked better, but this is a fun way to start a cool display of Roman Empire toys. And since Playmobil had a whole array of Roman figures and accessories, it looks like the gladiator will be getting some company soon. Check out more pics below!

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DISCLAIMER: All items reviewed on Dork Dimension were purchased by the reviewer unless otherwise noted. The opinions expressed on Dork Dimension are solely those of the author and are presented for entertainment purposes only.