The Arms and Armor Three Ring Italian Rapier is a classic example of a late 16th century civilian sword. Today we show off one of these elegant historical weapons, giving you a close up view of all parts of the sword. A replica of a piece in the Museo Poldi Pezzoli in Milan, inventory number 2537, this sword is exceptionally beautiful. Its complex form is highlighted by by the austerity of its decorative elements.
Rapiers were primarily civilian weapons used for self defense and dueling. They evolved to support a form of combat that was thrust centric, necessitating a well balanced blade that was both quite long and sufficiently rigid to punch through the frequently thick cloth armor worn by the more affluent male members of 16th century Southern European society. The complex hilts of these swords served two primary functions. First, the guard provides some significant protection for the hand and forearm when in a fight. This was quite important as the fencing style of the day emphasized maintaining a position with the sword extended in front of the body, making the hand an easy early target.
An illustration of a guard position with extended sword from Nicoletto Giganti's 1608 fight book, courtesy of Wikitenauer, probably the world's best resource for information on historical European fighting arts.
The other function was aesthetic. These swords were valued for their beauty and were usually one of the most prominent pieces of jewelry worn by men of the time, showing off their taste and wealth, along with their martial prowess and willingness to defend their honor from anyone who might insult or threaten them.
Check out the vlog in its entirety below!
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.