Achille Marozzo was an Italian fencing master of the late 15th-mid 16th century. His 1536 fencing manual, known as the Opera Nova, or "New Work" lays out a system of fencing that is the foundation for what we now call the Bolognese style of fencing. In this new work Marozzo explains, among other things, how to fence with a sword in one hand and other weapons including a buckler, dagger, cape, or even a second sword in the other. The below images come from the Wiktenauer website, an amazing resource for anyone interested in historical fencing manuals.
Illustration from Achille Marozzo's 1536 Opera Nova
The beautiful wood cut prints that illustrate the volume clearly show many of the weapons involved. These detailed illustrations give us a clear view of the types of swords that were used at the time. In particular, many of the single handed swords depicted in this manual have relatively short grips or handles, with the bare hand taking up the entirety of the grip. This can be contrasted with many earlier single handed swords that have a grip of sufficient size to fit an armored hand. In our experience, a sword with a grip this short and a pommel of the correct shape and size serve to make the complex flourishes and cuts required in this system both easier and more effective.
Another illustration from the Opera Nova
Our Fornovo Sword is a wonderful example of the type of sword optimized for working in the Bolognese tradition. It has a classic wheel pommel and straight guard that terminates in swollen terminals and has a small peak in the center. The blade is a firm diamond cross sectioned type XVIIId with a viscously tapering point. Most importantly, the 3.2" grip paired with the contoured wheel pommel give exceptional leverage for the cuts from the wrist, elbow, and shoulder that are so common in Marozzo's system. When the pommel seats onto the back of the palm the fencer gains a level of control over both the thrust and the cuts that is rarely seen in other sword styles.
At just under 2.5 lbs the sword is quick and makes an excellent cutter with the stiff diamond sectioned blade. This style of sword is the type often illustrated on the hip of soldiers and archers of the period. The short width guard and moderate length would work comfortably hung from the belt or saddle.
As with most of our swords, the grip is ash wood covered in thin leather, shrunk on with bees wax, giving it a lovely historical look as well as exceptional comfort in use.
Here we can see one of the characteristics of a shorter grip when the hand nests tightly between the guard and the pommel, allowing the rear of the hand to power the short edge cuts from the back of the sword. The ability to adjust and control the grip is crucial in the ability to use a sword to advantage. If the sword wielder is unable to adjust from the handshake to a hammer grip and variations, it will leave some of the potential of the sword's lethality unused. For a deeper discussion of this check out Dimicator's excellent video.
We have named this sword after the Battle of Fornovo. The first battle of the Italian Wars where Charles the VIII of France and his army had made a drive to claim the Kingdom of Naples. This brought the disparate powers of Italian city states together in the Holy League and the ensuing battle.
Italian and French in conflict at Fornovo
The French army and its Swiss Mercenaries fought the opposing force to at least a stand still and were able to continue on their way through Lombardy and back to France. The Italian forces and their Balkan Mercenaries, Stratioti, took significantly more casualties and did not recover the French baggage train with its plunder, but did declare themselves the winner and celebrated as such in Venice. This style of sword could have been seen on both sides in this conflict.
So here is our video spotlight on the Fornovo Sword!
Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography. He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.
Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985.