History of rapier
A history on the rise and fall of rapiers
Rapier first appeared in late medieval period, a time when commoners, merchants, and townsfolk prospered through war lootings, expanded trade opportunities, and bigger markets. The rise of middle class able to afford the trappings of a Renaissance gentleman fueled the demand for personal fashion and civilian defense. It seemed that economic progress has reached to some lucky members of the grassroots.
Late Medieval Rapiers
Towards the end of 15th century, the knight swords and heavy plate armors were not anymore practical in a battlefield employing heavy artilleries and firearms. Moreover, they were very heavy in moving around the town since the knights and soldiers were requried to wear complete battle gears when they went out in public. What’s worst was, the long and wide-bladed sword was ineffectual and could not be used when street brawls and gang wars broke out suddenly.
Swordsmen dropped the wearing of armors and protected themselves with chain mails. It was soon apparent that there were some parts of the body that can be lethally stabbed and wounded. Late medieval rapiers were thus produced in 1530’s. The espada ropera from Spain is thought to be the first European rapier. It was a cut-and-thrust sword intended mainly for personal—rather than battlefield—use. The Spanish rapier was effective in accurate, precisely-timed thrusting attacks to these vulnerable spots.
Other European countries followed suit. German rapiers became fashionable in 1570. Like all others at that time, it was a cut-and-thrust sword intended for primarily for private use.
Rapier as a word
No one knows exactly how and when a thrusting sword became known as a rapier. Most European languages have probable claim for its coinage in the middle of the 16th century. For instance, the Spanish espada ropera (ropera means robe, espada means sword) could actually point out that rapiers were forged as dress swords. The French on the other hand have started to call extremely long swords as “la rapiere” in 1470.
The First rapiers
The first rapiers lessened the burden of the nobles, civilians, and new feudal lords. They were shorter, lighter, and more decorative than the arming sword of the knights. Later on, they were made even slimmer, thinner, and more slender. In the process, they made it possible for noblemen to carry less frightening and lighter swords at their sides. The rapiers at this time were used in urban self-defense. They were also used in private duels conducted to resolve insults, exact revenge from imagined slights, and secure honor in society.
As the rapier become popular, it took over half a century for rapiers to take its final form. From a cut-and-thrusting weapon, it evolved into very long and slender blades that were mainly employed for thrusting. With the new weaopn, new fencing methods were introduced, and scholarly discussions on new swordplay and footwork flourished in European martial arts at this period.
The designs of the hilt and the lengths of the blade varied widely across different cultures. The appearance of the hilt can sometimes be a giveaway to its origin. For instance, the Spanish rapier is recognizable by its cupped hilt, the English rapier by its flat oval finial, the German rapier for its two clamshell-like covers, and the French rapier for its intricate, complex hilts.
Cutting Swords versus Thrusting Rapiers
Cutting swords were also discarded because of their inability to inflict lethal wounds. The trend among Renaissance swordsmen was that in a civilian duel, stabs that strike deep to internal organs were preferable than surface cuts. Also, cutting stances can be easily predicted and parried. Attacks made by rapiers on the other hand were accurate, precise, and if not dodge in time, deadly.
The end of rapier
By 1715, the rapier was ultimately replaced by the lighter small sword. The reason was motivated by convenience. The small sword was lighter and could be carried around and drawn out with better ease. The rapier on the other hand was very long, and its intricate hilts were distracting and heavy. Changing social tastes and customs also signified the demise of the sword. There were fewer urban wars to use the rapier for, and instances for duel challenges were scarce.
Moreover, rapiers were fragile and vulnerable. They snapped when they were struck by heavy blows or used for blocking an attack. The fighter had to use parrying daggers, cloaks, or other items for defense. The small sword in comparison was very functional. Its fencing style included a parry and counter-attack as one movement. Thus, there was no need for a dagger or other parrying swords.
Rapiers of the Modern Day
Today, the tradition of rapier fighting is kept alive through sporting events and the continuity of European schools for sword fighting. In fact, the prestige of these sports is made manifest by Summer Olympic Games, where fencing is a fully established sport. Although rapiers are not anymore used as the primary sword, the fighting strategies and theories on swordplay are continued to be practiced to this very day. Read the article fencing rapier for more discussions.
Tips on collecting rare rapiers
If you would like to be a discerning sword collector, you need to find out some of excellent qualities that make a standout antique rapier. Here are some of the important reminders for you to remember in selecting some collectible swords:
• Be armed with knowledge on history. Rapiers have only 150 years of history to its name. This is an advantage in your collection since it enables you to find interesting artifacts that could become precious, rare, and expensive as time wore on.
• Be always on the lookout for interesting, novel rapiers. There are about hundreds of transitional rapiers that lasted for only a generation, and are produced in limited numbers. Remember, rarity is proportional to antique sword prices.
• Be ready to purchase rare rapiers that represent artistic movements. European swords and their decorations are subject to the aesthetic attitudes of the time, so always go for rapiers with a rococo, baroque, or neoclassical ornamentation. They usually are traded at higher antique sword values than other swords.