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Rapier / espada ropera
Rapier, first half of the 17th century
Type Sword
Place of origin Spain [1]
Production history
Designedaround 1500
Massavg. 1 kg (2.2 lb)
Blade lengthavg. 104 cm (41 in)
Widthavg. 2.5 cm (0.98 in) to sharp point

Blade  typesingle or double edged, straight blade
Hilt  typecomplex, protective hilt

A rapier ( /ˈrpiər/ ) or espada ropera is a type of sword with a slender and sharply-pointed two-edged blade that was popular in Western Europe, both for civilian use (dueling and self-defense) and as a military side arm, [2] throughout the 16th and 17th centuries.


Important sources for rapier fencing include the Italian Bolognese group, with early representatives such as Antonio Manciolino and Achille Marozzo publishing in the 1530s, and reaching the peak of its popularity with writers of the early 1600s (Salvator Fabris, Ridolfo Capo Ferro). In Spain, rapier fencing came to be known under the term of destreza ("dexterity") in the second half of the 16th century, based on the theories of Jerónimo Sánchez de Carranza in his work De la Filosofía de las Armas y de su Destreza y la Agression y la Defensa Cristiana ("The Philosophy of Arms and of their Dexterity and of Aggression and the Christian Defence"), published in 1569. The best known treatise of this tradition was published in French, by Girard Thibault, in 1630.

The French smallsword or court sword of the 18th century was a direct continuation of this tradition of fencing, adapted specifically for dueling.


The term rapier appears both in English and German, near-simultaneously, in the mid-16th century, for a light, long, pointed two-edged sword. It is a loan from Middle French espee rapiere, first recorded in 1474. [3] The origin of the rapier is more than likely Spanish. Its name is a "derisive" description of the Spanish term "ropera". The Spanish term refers to a sword used with clothes ("espada ropera", dress sword), due to it being used as an accessory for clothing, usually for fashion and as a self-defense weapon. The 16th-century German rappier described what was considered a "foreign" weapon, imported from Italy, Spain or France. [4] Du Cange in his Middle Latin dictionary cites a form Rapperia from a Latin text of 1511. He envisages a derivation from Greek ραπίζειν "to strike." [5] Adelung in his 1798 dictionary records a double meaning for the German verb rappieren: "to fence with rapiers" on one hand, and "to rasp, grate (specifically of tobacco leaves)" on the other.

The terms used by the Italian, Spanish and French masters during the heyday of this weapon were simply the equivalent of "sword", i.e. spada, espada, and épée (espée). When it was necessary to specify the type of sword, Spanish used espada ropera ("dress sword", recorded 1468), and Italian used spada da lato "side-sword" or spada da lato a striscia (in modern Italian simply striscia "strip"), sometimes also called Stocco.The Spanish name was registered for the first time in las Coplas de la panadera, by Juan de Mena, written between 1445 and 1450 approximately. [6]

Clements (1997) categorizes thrusting swords with poor cutting abilities as rapiers, and swords with both good thrusting and cutting abilities as cut and thrust swords. [7]

The term "rapier" is also applied by archaeologists to an unrelated type of Bronze Age sword. [8]


Rapier on display at Chateau de Chillon Rapiere exposee au Chateau de Chillon, Suisse.jpg
Rapier on display at Château de Chillon
Degen by Wendelin Boeheim.jpg

The word "rapier" generally refers to a relatively long-bladed sword characterized by a protective hilt which is constructed to provide protection for the hand wielding the sword. Some historical rapier samples also feature a broad blade mounted on a typical rapier hilt. The term rapier can be confusing because this hybrid weapon can be categorized as a type of broadsword. While the rapier blade might be broad enough to cut to some degree (but nowhere near that of the wider swords in use around the Middle Ages such as the longsword), it is designed to perform quick and nimble thrusting attacks. The blade might be sharpened along its entire length or sharpened only from the center to the tip (as described by Capoferro).[ citation needed ] Pallavicini,[ citation needed ] a rapier master in 1670, strongly advocated using a weapon with two cutting edges. A typical example would weigh 1 kilogram (2.2 lb) and have a relatively long and slender blade of 2.5 centimetres (0.98 in) or less in width, 104 centimetres (41 in) or more in length and ending in a sharply pointed tip. The blade length of quite a few historical examples, particularly the Italian rapiers in the early 17th century, is well over 115 cm (45 in) and can even reach 130 cm (51 in). [9]

The term rapier generally refers to a thrusting sword with a blade longer and thinner than that of the so-called side-sword but much heavier than the small sword, a lighter weapon that would follow in the 18th century and later,[ citation needed ] but the exact form of the blade and hilt often depends on who is writing and when. It can refer to earlier Spada da lato and the similar espada ropera, through the high rapier period of the 17th century through the small sword and duelling swords;[ citation needed ] thus context is important in understanding what is meant by the word. (The term side-sword, used among some modern historical martial arts reconstructionists, is a translation from the Italian spada da lato—a term coined long after the fact by Italian museum curators—and does not refer to the slender, long rapier, but only to the early 16th-century Italian sword with a broader and shorter blade that is considered both its ancestor and contemporary.)[ citation needed ]

Collection of early modern swords (17th to 18th centuries) at the George F. Harding Collection of Arms and Armor, the Art Institute of Chicago Different Rapiers.jpg
Collection of early modern swords (17th to 18th centuries) at the George F. Harding Collection of Arms and Armor, the Art Institute of Chicago

Parts of the sword


Rapiers often have complex, sweeping hilts designed to protect the hand wielding the sword. Rings extend forward from the crosspiece. In some later samples, rings are covered with metal plates, eventually evolving into the cup hilts of many later rapiers.[ citation needed ] There were hardly any samples that featured plates covering the rings prior to the 1600s. Many hilts include a knuckle bow extending down from the crosspiece protecting the grip, which was usually wood wrapped with cord, leather or wire. A large pommel (often decorated) secures the grip to the weapon and provides some weight to balance the long blade.


Various rapier masters divided the blade into two, three, four, five or even nine parts. The forte, strong, is that part of the blade closest to the hilt; in cases where a master divides the blade into an even number of parts, this is the first half of the blade. The debole, weak, is the part of the blade which includes the point and is the second half of the blade when the sword is divided into an even number of parts. However, some rapier masters divided the blade into three parts (or even a multiple of three), in which case the central third of the blade, between the forte and the debole, was often called the medio, mezzo or the terzo. Others used four divisions (Fabris) or even 12 (Thibault).

The ricasso is the rear portion of the blade, usually unsharpened. It extends forward from the crosspiece or quillion and then gradually integrates into the thinner and sharper portion of the blade.

Overall length

There was historical disagreement over how long the ideal rapier should be, with some masters, such as Thibault, denigrating those who recommended longer blades; Thibault's own recommended length was such that the cross of the sword be level with the navel (belly button) when standing naturally with the point resting on the ground. [10]

Off-hand weapons

Rapiers are single-handed weapons and they were often employed with off-hand bucklers, daggers, cloaks and even second swords to assist with defense. A buckler is a small round shield that was used with other blades as well, such as the arming-sword. In Capo Ferro's Gran Simulacro, the treatise depicts how to use the weapon with the rotella, which is a significantly bigger shield compared with the buckler. Nevertheless, using rapier with its parrying dagger is the most common practice, and it has been arguably considered as the most suited and effective accompanying weapon for the rapier. Even though the slender blade of rapier enables the user to launch quick attack at a fairly long and advantaged distance between the user and the opponent and the protective hilt can deflect the opponent's blade when he or she uses rapier as well, the thrust-oriented weapon is weakened by its bated cutting power and relatively low maneuverability at a closer distance, where the opponent has safely passed the reach of the rapier's deadly point. Because of such insufficient cutting power and maneuverability at this situation when the opponent passes the deadly point, this scenario leaves opening for the opponent to attack the user. Therefore, some close-range protection for the user needs to be ensured if the user intends to use the rapier in an optimal way, especially when the opponent uses some slash-oriented sword like a sabre or a broadsword. A parrying dagger not only enables the users to defend in this scenario in which the rapier is not very good at protecting the user, but also enables them to attack in such close distance.


The espada ropera of the 16th century was a cut-and-thrust civilian weapon for self-defense and the duel, while earlier weapons were equally at home on the battlefield. Throughout the 16th century, a variety of new, single-handed civilian weapons were being developed. In 1570 the Italian master Rocco Bonetti first settled in England advocating the use of the rapier for thrusting as opposed to cutting or slashing when engaged in a duel.[ citation needed ] Nevertheless, the English word "rapier" generally refers to a primarily thrusting weapon, developed by the year 1600 as a result of the geometrical theories of such masters as Camillo Agrippa, Ridolfo Capoferro and Vincentio Saviolo.[ citation needed ]

The rapier became extremely fashionable throughout Europe with the wealthier classes, but was not without its detractors. Some people, such as George Silver, disapproved of its technical potential and the dueling use to which it was put. [11] [12]

Allowing for fast reactions, and with a long reach, the rapier was well suited to civilian combat in the 16th–17th centuries. As military-style cutting and thrusting swords continued to evolve to meet needs on the battlefield, so did the rapier continue to evolve to meet the needs of civilian combat and decorum, eventually becoming lighter, shorter and less cumbersome to wear. This is when the rapier began to give way to the colichemarde itself being later superseded by the small sword which was later superseded by the épée. Noticeably, there were some "war rapiers" that feature a relatively wide blade mounted on a typical rapier hilt during this era. These hybrid swords were used in the military or even in battlefield. Gustav II Adolf's carried a sword that was used in the Thirty Years' War and is a typical example of the "war rapier".

By the year 1715, the rapier had been largely replaced by the lighter small sword throughout most of Europe, although the former continued to be used, as evidenced by the treatises of Donald McBane (1728), P. J. F. Girard (1736) and Domenico Angelo (1787). The rapier is still used today by officers of the Swiss Guard of the pope. [13]

Historical schools of rapier fencing






The classical fencing tradition

Classical fencing schools claim to have inherited aspects of rapier forms in their systems. In 1885, fencing scholar Egerton Castle wrote "there is little doubt that the French system of fencing can be traced, at its origin, to the ancient Italian swordsmanship; the modern Italian school being of course derived in an uninterrupted manner from the same source." Castle went on to note that "the Italians have preserved the rapier form, with cup, pas d'ane, and quillons, but with a slender quadrangular blade." [18]

See also

Related Research Articles

A sword is a bladed melee weapon intended for cutting or thrusting that is longer than a knife or dagger, consisting of a long blade attached to a hilt. The precise definition of the term varies with the historical epoch or the geographic region under consideration. The blade can be straight or curved. Thrusting swords have a pointed tip on the blade, and tend to be straighter; slashing swords have a sharpened cutting edge on one or both sides of the blade, and are more likely to be curved. Many swords are designed for both thrusting and slashing.

A longsword is a type of European sword characterized as having a cruciform hilt with a grip for two-handed use, a straight double-edged blade of around 85 to 110 cm, and weighing approximately 1 to 1.5 kg.

Small sword Light one-handed sword designed for thrusting

The small sword or smallsword is a light one-handed sword designed for thrusting which evolved out of the longer and heavier rapier of the late Renaissance. The height of the small sword's popularity was between mid 17th and late 18th century, when any man, civilian or military, with pretensions to gentlemanly status would have worn a small sword on a daily basis.

Swordsmanship or sword fighting refers to the skills of a swordsman, a person versed in the art of the sword. The term is modern, and as such was mainly used to refer to smallsword fencing, but by extension it can also be applied to any martial art involving the use of a sword. The formation of the English word "swordsman" is parallel to the Latin word gladiator, a term for the professional fighters who fought against each other and a variety of other foes for the entertainment of spectators in the Roman Empire. The word gladiator itself comes from the Latin word gladius, which is a type of sword.

Historical European martial arts

Historical European martial arts (HEMA) are martial arts of European origin, particularly using arts formerly practised, but having since died out or evolved into very different forms.

Martial arts manuals are instructions, with or without illustrations, specifically designed to be learnt from a book. Many books detailing specific techniques of martial arts are often erroneously called manuals but were written as treatises.

Classification of swords

The English language terminology used in the classification of swords is imprecise and has varied widely over time. There is no historical dictionary for the universal names, classification or terminology of swords; A sword was simply a double edged knife.

Spada da lato Renaissance-era sword type

The spada da lato (Italian) or side-sword is a type of sword popular during the late 16th century. It is a continuation of the medieval arming sword, and the immediate predecessor of the rapier of the Early Modern period. Its use was taught in the Dardi school of Italian fencing, and was influential on the classical rapier fencing of the 17th century. The equivalent Spanish term, espada ropera is the origin of the term rapier. Italian antiquarians use the term spada da lato for rapiers typical of the period of c. 1560–1630, the Italian term for the fully developed rapier of the later 17th century is spada da lato striscia, or just spada striscia "strip-sword".

Italian school of swordsmanship

The term Italian school of swordsmanship is used to describe the Italian style of fencing and edged-weapon combat from the time of the first extant Italian swordsmanship treatise (1409) to the days of Classical Fencing.

Francesco Alfieri

Francesco Ferdinando Alfieri was a master of fencing of the 17th century, representative of the Venetian school of fencing and “Maestro D’Arme” to the Accademia Delia in Padua in 1640. Alfieri originally from Padua, at that time it was considered the territory of the Venetian Republic.

Salvator Fabris Italian fencer

Salvator Fabris (1544-1618) was an Italian fencing master from Padua. During his life he taught in various European countries, most notably in Denmark where he was the fencing instructor of King Christian IV. It was during his time in Copenhagen that he published his treatise on rapier fencing, Lo Schermo, overo Scienza d’Arme, in 1606. The treatise became a fencing bestseller around Europe, and was reprinted until 1713 and translated into several languages, notably into German, and again in 2005, into English.

Ridolfo Capo Ferro Italian fencer

Ridolfo Capo Ferro da Cagli was an Italian fencing master in the city of Siena, best known for his rapier fencing treatise published in 1610.

Nicoletto Giganti

Nicoletto Giganti was a 17th-century Italian rapier fencing master. The frontispiece of his 1606 work names him as “Nicoletto Giganti, Venetian”, although evidence suggests he or his family, moved to Venice from the town of Fossombrone, in Le Marche, Central Italy.

French school of fencing

The known history of fencing in France begins in the 16th century, with the adoption of Italian styles of fencing.

In fencing, forte is "the strong part" of the blade—the one third-closest to the hilt. The "strength" refers to the control established over the opponent's weapon upon contact of one's forte with the opponent's foible.

The oldest surviving manual on western swordsmanship dates to around 1300, although historical references date fencing schools back to the 12th century.

Gérard Thibault dAnvers

GérardThibault of Antwerp was a Belgian fencing master and author of the 1628 rapier manual Academie de l'Espée. His manual is one of the most detailed and elaborate extant sources on rapier combat, painstakingly utilizing geometry and logic to defend his unorthodox style of swordsmanship.

Basket-hilted sword Sword with basket-like hand protection

The basket-hilted sword is a sword type of the early modern era characterised by a basket-shaped guard that protects the hand. The basket hilt is a development of the quillons added to swords' crossguards since the Late Middle Ages. In modern times, this variety of sword is also sometimes referred to as the broadsword.

La Verdadera Destreza is the conventional term for the Spanish tradition of fencing of the early modern period. The word destreza literally translates to "dexterity" or "skill, ability", and thus la verdadera destreza to "the true skill" or "the true art".

Italian martial arts include all those unarmed and armed fighting arts popular in Italy between the Bronze age until the 19th century AD. Among them, we can find the use of weapons. Each weapon is the product of a specific historical era. The swords used in Italian martial arts range from the Bronze daggers of the Nuragic times to the gladius of the Roman legionaries to swords which were developed during the renaissance, the baroque era and later. Short blades range from medieval daggers to the liccasapuni Sicilian duelling knife.


  1. https://www.aceros-de-hispania.com/rapier-sword.htm
  2. Grimm, Deutsches Wörterbuch s.v. "Rapier" cites an Ordnance regulation of Speyer dated 1570 requiring all infantry to be equipped "with good, strong sidearms, namely, either two-handed [swords] or good rapiers" (mit guten starken seitenwehren, nemlich zu beiden händen, oder guten rappieren).
  3. TFLi "1474 (Arch., JJ 195, pièce 1155 ds GDF.); 1485 rapiere (Archives du Nord, B 1703, f o 100 ds IGLF). Dér. de râpe*, la poignée trouée de cette épée ayant été comparée à une râpe (FEW t. 16, p. 672b, note 6)."
  4. Meyers, Joachim (1570). A Thorough Description of the Free Knightly and Noble Art of Combat with All Customary Weapons.
  5. Du Cange, Glossarium mediae et infimae Latinitatis, s.v.:
    RAPER, Gladius longior et vilioris pretii, Gallice Raper. Monstræ Factæ apud Chassagniam: Claudius Jornandi habet unam bonam Rapperiam et unam dagam. Ducit Borellus a Græco ῥαπίζειν, Cædere.
    Raper adjective sumitur, in Lit. remiss. ann. 1474, ex Reg. 195. Chartoph. reg. ch. 1155: Icellui Pierre donna au suppliant de ladite espée Raper sur la teste, etc.
  6. Onrubia de Mendoza, José (1975). Poetas cortesanos del siglo XV. Barcelona: Editorial Bruguera S.A. ISBN   84-02-04053-5.
  7. Clements, John (1997). Renaissance Swordsmanship: The Illustrated Book Of Rapiers And Cut And Thrust Swords And Their Use. Paladin Press. ISBN   978-0-87364-919-3.
  8. Molloy, Barry P. C. (9 January 2017). "Hunting Warriors: The Transformation of Weapons, Combat Practices and Society during the Bronze Age in Ireland". European Journal of Archaeology. 20 (2): 280–316. doi: 10.1017/eaa.2016.8 .
  9. Wilson, William. "Rapiers". Elizabethan Fencing and the Art of Defence. Northern Arizona University. Retrieved May 16, 2017.
  10. Thibault, Girard (1630). Academie de l'Espée.
  11. "Paradoxes of Defence, by George Silver (1599)". pbm.com.
  12. "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-06-29. Retrieved 2015-04-11.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  13. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2021-03-10. Retrieved 2012-06-30.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. Rubboli and Cesari (2005) date this work to 1500–1525. Leoni and Reich of the Order of the Seven Hearts
  15. "Salvatorfabris.com". Salvatorfabris.com. Retrieved 2013-01-13.
  16. 2006 class handout Archived September 28, 2011, at the Wayback Machine
  17. Chicagoswordplayguild.com Archived March 30, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  18. Castle, Egerton (1885). Schools and Masters of Fence: From the Middle Ages to the Eighteenth Century. London: George Bell & Sons. pp. iv, 257. Schools and Masters of Fence.
  19. "The Three Musketeers". 29 March 1974 via IMDb.
  20. Behind the scenes Destiny page 1
  21. Anthony DeLongis Behind the scenes, page 2 https://www.webcitation.org/5xGLPijWW?url=http://www.delongis.com/LaReina/Destiny.html retrieved 21 April 2016
  22. "CR-7 R.A.P.I.E.R. Engine - Kerbal Space Program Wiki". wiki.kerbalspaceprogram.com. Retrieved 2019-11-23.

Further reading