Used primarily as a civilian sword during the 17th and 18th century, the rapier was considered Europe's most iconic single-handed sword. Although the rapier was designed for civilian use, it became a common military sidearm due to its flexibility and length.
Initially named the espada ropera (translated to 'dress sword' in English), the sword was first forged in Spain around 1500 and had been designed to cut or thrust into opponents. True to its original name, the rapier was also used as a fashion statement by Europe's upper class. It was particularly popular in countries such as Italy, Spain, France, England and Germany. After its inception, many swordsmen would use the weapon to cut and slash opponents but slowly realised it was more effective when thrusting into a foe. This realisation started to become more widespread when an Italian master by the name of Rocco Bonetti, migrated to England in 1570. He began advocating for the sword to be used for thrusting because of its slender build and poor cutting ability despite having a double-edged blade.
Two variations of the rapier sword used across Europe.
Dimensions and Parts
On average, a rapier blade was 2.5cm wide, 104cm long and weighed 1kg. Each rapier also featured a hilt that was designed to protect the wielder's hand from oncoming attacks. Once it became a commonly used weapon across Europe, the rapier started to evolve and several countries began to create modified hilts. While the majority of the hilts were created as fashion statements, some were invented for additional protection.
Influence on Fencing
Featuring In Popular Culture
Rapiers had a huge impact on popular culture and began making it to the silver screen many years after the sword was phased out. A cult classic, The Three Musketeers, had several sword-fighting scenes that incorporated the use of the rapier since it was set in the Early modern period. Following its cinematic debut, the sword also emerged during box-office hits, The Princess Bride and Queen Margot.
After gracing the cinemas, the rapier began to emerge in TV series too. A Canadian action-adventure series called the Queen of Swords had characters from the 'mysterious circle' wielding the rapier throughout various combat scenes. In addition to the Canadian series, the rapier also featured in the popular science fiction series from the 90s, Highlander.
While the rapier appeared in many film series, it also featured in several novels and comic books. Famous Japanese manga series, Bleach, produced a scene where a character used a rapier handguard to modify his sword.
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Overall, the rapier has had a profound influence on both popular culture and the middle ages. Although the sword became defunct and was succeeded by French smallswords, the rapier has inspired the modern generation of blades and a variation of the sword is still used in Olympic fencing.