Rapier

(Espada, Espada Ropera, Spada, Espée)
15th – 18th century.

rapier

German rapier (side-sword), c.1600, Italian cup-hilt rapier in the Spanish style, c. 1660, Italian swept-hilt rapier, c. 1600, Philadelphia Museum Of Art.

This type of sword is characterized by its civilian use for the duel and self-defense. The espada ropera, or “dress sword,” first appears in Spain in the late 1400s. However, this sword was very different from what the rapier would later become. There are many variants of this civilian sword, which makes it difficult to define precisely. We recognize two categories designated by the manner in which the weapon was used. The first category is the spada da lato or “side-sword”, which are modern terms used to describe civilian swords designed to be equally adept at both cutting and thrusting. Fencing treatises of the 16th century optimize the capacity of this weapon with their cut and thrust oriented methodology. The second category is what is usually today considered as the true “rapier”. By the last quarter of the 16th century systems underwent major changes, mainly in Spain and Italy, placing more emphasis on thrusting technique. This caused changes in the design of the weapons. There were two major types of hilt design in these weapons; the swept-hilt and the cup-hilt. These hilts were mounted with blades of a variety of cross sections. Although these longer, slender blades were more suited to thrust-oriented type of combat, they were still capable of delivering effective cuts. There were a variety of training weapons but there was no agreement among masters as to what constituted a proper training tool. In Italy the term fioretto makes its first appearance in the late 16th century in reference to a practice weapon for the rapier. During the last quarter of the 16th and through the 17th century, the Italians used a variety of terms for this training and practice tool such as spada nera, spade da marra, smarra di lettione and as previously mentioned fioretto. In Spain the term for the practice sword was espada negra or espada para licionar, while the French seem to have commonly used varying forms of the term fleuret (e.g., floret).

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