Small sword

Last updated
Sword of Napoleon, carried at the Battle of Austerlitz and which he kept all his life. Napoleon Austerlitz sword-IMG 0648-gradient.jpg
Sword of Napoléon, carried at the Battle of Austerlitz and which he kept all his life.

The small sword or smallsword (also court sword, Gaelic: claidheamh beag or claybeg, French: épée de cour or dress sword) 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.

Contents

The blade of a small sword is comparatively short at around 0.6 to 0.85 metres (24 to 33 in), though some reach over 0.9 metres (35 in). It usually tapers to a sharp point but may lack a cutting edge. It is typically triangular in cross-section, although some of the early examples still have the rhombic and spindle-shaped cross-sections inherited from older weapons, like the rapier. This triangular cross-section may be hollow ground for additional lightness. Many small swords of the period between the 17th and 18th centuries were found with colichemarde blades.

It is thought to have appeared in France and spread quickly across the rest of Europe. The small sword was the immediate predecessor of the French duelling sword (from which the épée developed) and its method of use—as typified in the works of such authors as Sieur de Liancour, Domenico Angelo, Monsieur J. Olivier, and Monsieur L'Abbat—developed into the techniques of the French classical school of fencing. The small sword could be a highly effective duelling weapon.

Militarily, small swords continued to be used as a standard sidearm for infantry officers. In some branches with strong traditions, this practice continues to the modern day, albeit for ceremonial and formal dress only. The carrying of swords by officers in combat conditions was frequent in World War I and still saw some practice in World War II. The 1913 U.S. Army Manual of Bayonet Drill [1] includes instructions for how to defend against an opponent with a smallsword.

A smallsword of c. 1760, showing the light construction and narrow thrusting blade of this type of sword Varja - Livrustkammaren - 82405.tif
A smallsword of c. 1760, showing the light construction and narrow thrusting blade of this type of sword

Hilt

The small sword guard is typically of the "shell" type, sometimes with two lobes that were decorated as clam shells. The shells were often replaced with a simple curved oval disk, which was still referred to as the coquille (shell). In later foils, the lobed type evolved into the lunette or figure-8 guard, and the disk became the modern foil "bell" guard, but the guards were still referred to as coquilles. Small swords with this type of guard normally included other features of the older rapier hilt, including quillons, ricasso, knuckle-bow, and a pas d'âne , although these were often atrophied beyond the point of usefulness, serving mainly as a decorative element. However, they were maintained in a usable state on some weapons, including the Italian foil, into the 20th century.

Hilt of the sword worn by students of the Ecole Polytechnique in dress uniform Tangente Ecole Polytechnique.jpg
Hilt of the sword worn by students of the École Polytechnique in dress uniform

In the 19th century, simple cross-hilt small swords were also produced, largely as ceremonial weapons that were evocative of more ancient types of weapons. An example is the Model 1840 Army Noncommissioned Officers' Sword, which is still used by the United States Army on ceremonial occasions. As the wearing of swords fell out of fashion and the small sword evolved into the duelling sword (forerunner of the modern épée), the older hilts gave way to simpler grips such as the French grip and Italian grip.

Use

Small swords were used both by the military (where they served more as a sign of a certain rank rather than a real weapon for close combat) and as a dueling weapon. The very height of the small sword's widespread popularity was (as mentioned above) between the middle of the 17th and the late 18th century, when it was considered fashionable by aristocrats ("no gentleman was dressed without his sword"  contemporary idiom of the middle of the 18th century), but it was still used as a duelling weapon until the middle of the 20th century. For instance, Gaston Defferre and René Ribière used larger and heavier versions of the épée, which both had small sword-blades instead of the flexible épée-blades (which have been used in sport fencing through the present day) in their duel on April 21, 1967 in Neuilly, Paris. The use of the small sword for infantry is covered in the US manual of 1861 titled "The Militiaman's Manual". It can be obtained here.

In modern times, the sword is often used as part of court uniform and dress. A German version of the small sword called "Trauerdegen" ("mourning épée") is still in use by the Reitendiener  [ de ] of the city of Hamburg in Germany.

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.

Rapier Slender, sharply pointed sword

A rapier 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 and as a military side arm, throughout the 16th and 17th centuries.

Hilt Handle of a sword or similar weapon

The hilt of a knife, dagger, sword, or bayonet is its handle, consisting of a guard, grip and pommel. The guard may contain a crossguard or quillons. A tassel or sword knot may be attached to the guard or pommel.

Sabre Type of sword used for combat on horseback

A sabre is a type of backsword with a curved blade associated with the light cavalry of the early modern and Napoleonic periods. Originally associated with Central European cavalry such as the hussars, the sabre became widespread in Western Europe in the Thirty Years' War. Lighter sabres also became popular with infantry of the early 17th century. In the 19th century, models with less curving blades became common and were also used by heavy cavalry.

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.

Academic fencing Sword fight between two male members of different fraternities with sharp weapons

Academic fencing or Mensur is the traditional kind of fencing practiced by some student corporations in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Latvia, Estonia, and, to a minor extent, in Belgium, Lithuania, and Poland. However, in Switzerland it is nowadays frowned upon to carry out this tradition, for it is considered unnecessary violence. It is a traditional, strictly regulated épée/rapier fight between two male members of different fraternities with sharp weapons. The German technical term Mensur in the 16th century referred to the specified distance between each of the fencers.

Foil (fencing)

A foil is one of the three weapons used in the sport of fencing, all of which are metal. It is flexible, rectangular in cross section, and weighs under a pound. As with the épée, points are only scored by contact with the tip, which, in electrically scored tournaments, is capped with a spring-loaded button to signal a touch. A foil fencer's uniform features the lamé. The foil is the most commonly used weapon in competition.

The yatagan or yataghan is a type of Ottoman knife or short sabre used from the mid-16th to late 19th centuries. The yatagan was extensively used in Ottoman Turkey and in areas under immediate Ottoman influence, such as the Balkans and the Caucasus.

<i>Épée</i> Largest and heaviest of the three weapons used in the sport of fencing

The épée, sometime spelled epee in English, is the largest and heaviest of the three weapons used in the sport of fencing. The modern épée derives from the 19th-century épée de combat, a weapon which itself derives from the French small sword.

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.

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.

Szabla

Szabla is the Polish word for sabre.

Spadroon

A spadroon is a light sword with a straight-edged blade, enabling both cut and thrust attacks. This English term first came into use in the early 18th century, though the type of sword it referred to was in common usage during the late 17th century. They were primarily used as a military sidearm in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, and for officers and NCOs in the latter part of the 18th and early 19th centuries. The type of sword also saw widespread use across Europe and America, though the term ‘spadroon’ is unique to the Anglophone world.

Outline of fencing Overview of and topical guide to fencing

Fencing – family of combat sports using bladed weapons. Fencing is one of four sports which have been featured at every one of the modern Olympic Games. Also known as modern fencing to distinguish it from historical fencing.

Gothic hilted British infantry swords (1822, 1827, 1845, 1854 and 1892 patterns)

The gothic hilted swords were a family of swords carried by officers and some NCOs of the British Army between 1822 and the present day. They were primarily infantry swords, although they were also regulation pattern for some other officers such as surgeons and staff officers. The term “Gothic hilt” is derived from a perceived similarity between the curved bars of the guard and the arches found in Gothic architecture. They were elegant aesthetically pleasing weapons, although they were considered by some to be mediocre fighting swords. The weapon and its variants had a very long service life.

Parrying dagger

The parrying dagger is a category of small handheld weapons from the European late Middle Ages and early Renaissance. These weapons were used as off-hand weapons in conjunction with a single-handed sword such as a rapier. As the name implies they were designed to parry, or defend, more effectively than a simple dagger form, typically incorporating a wider guard, and often some other defensive features to better protect the hand as well. They may also be used for attack if an opportunity arises. The general category includes two more specific types, the sword breaker and trident dagger.

Colichemarde Type of small sword

Colichemarde is a type of small sword blade that was popular from the late 17th century to the middle 18th century.

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

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.

This is a glossary of terms used in fencing.

References

  1. Infantry Drill Regulations, U.S. Army. New York: Military Publishing Co. 1911 With Text Corrections to February 12, 1917, changes No. 18.Check date values in: |date= (help)