Renaissance Swords and Accoutrements

Cut & Thrust Swords: ‘Spada da Lato’

The term "cut and thrust sword" is a general one that can be applied to a whole range of blade forms. However, the Renaissance military sword is generally characterized by a swept or compound-hilt, a narrow cut & thrust blade with stronger cross-section, and tapering tip. A direct descendant of the medieval knightly sword, the cut and thrust sword was used by lightly armed footmen as well as civilians in the 16th and 17th centuries. During this time they were employed against a range of armored and unarmored opponents. They were popular for sword & buckler and sword & dagger fighting. They utilized an innovative one-handed grip fingering the ricasso (a dull portion of blade just above the guard). Renaissance cut & thrust swords should not be referred to as "early Renaissance swords" since they were actually in use throughout the period. Military and civilian forms of them existed before, during and after the development of the rapier. For example, similar blades (with and without ricassos and compound hilts) saw use in the English Civil War and even later. They should also not be referred to as "sword-rapiers" or "early rapiers", although in a sense, some of them were. Renaissance cut & thrust swords were their own distinct sword types. Sometimes considered a "transition" form, as they were both the ancestor and contemporary of the rapier for which they are often misidentified.

The Rapier

Popular in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, the rapier was a dueling weapon whose form was developed from cut and thrust swords. Its use was more brutal and forceful than the light sport fencing that we know of today. Originally, starting about 1470, any civilian sword was often referred to as simply a "rapier", but it quickly took on the meaning of a slender, civilian thrusting sword. There is also an English document from the 1500's that uses the term "rapier-sword" for advising courtiers how to be armed, indicating the understanding that there were new slender blades coming into civilian use. Eventually developing into an edgeless, ideal thrusting weapon, the quick, innovative rapier superseded the military cut & thrust sword for personal duel and urban self-defense. Being capable of making only limited lacerations, earlier varieties of rapier are still often confused with the cut and thrust swords, which gave gestation to their method. As a civilian weapon of urban self-defense, a true rapier was a tip-based thrusting sword that used stabbing and piercing, not slashing and cleaving. True rapier blades ranged from early flatter triangular blades to thicker, narrow hexagonal ones. Rapier hilts range from swept styles, to later dishes and cups.

The Small-Sword: ‘Stricia’

Sometimes known as a "court-sword", a "walking-sword", or "town-sword", small-swords developed in the late Renaissance as a personal dueling tool and weapon of self-defense. Most popular in the 1700's it is sometimes confused with the rapier. It consisted almost exclusively of a sharp pointed metal rod with a much smaller guard and finger-rings. Its blade was typically a hollow triangular shape and was much thicker at the hilt. Most had no edge at all, and were merely rigid, pointed, metal rods. They were popular with the upper classes especially as decorative fashion accessories, worn like jewelry. In a skilled hand the small sword was an effective and deadly instrument. Until the early 1800s it continued to be used even against older rapiers and even some cutting swords. It is the small-sword rather than the rapier which leads to the epee and foil of modern sport fencing.


A common long dagger or "poignard" was a favored companion, carried en-suite with a sword or rapier as a backup weapon or even on its own. The dagger was lightweight, deadly, and elegant. Used primarily as a defensive weapon, dagger fighting was an art itself. Technically, a poniard was square or triangular shaped with no edge, while a dagger had a knife-like blade. Generally, daggers in the Middle Ages were employed point down, pommel up, while those in the Renaissance were used point up with the thumb placed on the hilt. Many later daggers for use with rapiers had elaborate guards and were specially designed for trapping and parrying.


The buckler (or Italian "rondash" or "bochiero") was a small, agile hand-shield. Used since medieval times, bucklers were round or even square, made of metal, wood, or metal trimmed wood. A single handle (or enarme) was used to hold it in a fist grip and smack, deflect or punch at blows and thrusts. The edge could also be used to strike and block. Some had long metal spikes on the front to attack with. On some later bucklers metal hooks or bars were placed on the front to trap the point of an opponent's rapier. More popular for a method of 16th century sword & buckler fighting, they declined in use during the early 17th century as they were inconvenient for urban wear and faster rapiers outmaneuvered them.

The Targe

A targe (or Italian "rondella") was a small wooden shield with a leather cover and leather or metal trim. Some were also covered with metal studs or spikes. Unlike bucklers, targes were worn on the arm as with typical shields. They were also usually flat rather than convex. Though associated with the Scots, the word "targe" actually comes from small "targets" placed on archery practice dummies. Some forms of medium sized steel shields from the Renaissance are often classed as targes.

Sword Parts

Hilt - The lower portion of a sword consisting of the cross-guard, handle/grip, and pommel (most Medieval swords have a straight cross or cruciform-hilt).

Cross - The typically straight bar or "guard" of a Medieval sword, also called a "cross-guard". A Renaissance term for the straight or curved cross-guard was the quillons (possibly from an old French or Latin term for a type of reed).

Quillions: A Renaissance term for the two cross-guards (forward and back) whether straight or curved. It is likely from an old French or Latin term for a reed. On Medieval swords the cross guard may be called simply the "cross", or just the "guard".

Forte': A Renaissance term for the lower portion on a sword blade which has more control and strength and which does most of the parrying. Also called prime or fort.

Foible: Term for the upper portion on a sword blade, which is weaker (or "feeble") but has more agility and speed and which does most of the attacking.

Fuller - A shallow central-groove or channel on a blade which lightens it as well as improves strength and flex. Sometimes mistakenly called a "blood-run" or "blood-groove", it has nothing to do with blood flow, cutting power, or a blade sticking. A sword might have one, none, or several fullers running a portion of its length, on either one or both sides. Narrow deep fullers are also sometimes referred to as flukes. The opposite of a fuller is a riser, which improves rigidity.

Grip - The handle of a sword, usually made of leather, wire, bone, horn, or ivory (also, a term for the method of holding the sword).

Pommel - Latin for "little apple", the counter-weight which secures the hilt to the blade and allows the hand to either rest on it or grip it. Sometimes it includes a small rivet (capstan rivet) called a pommel nut, pommel bolt, or tang nut. On some Medieval swords the pommel may be partially or fully gripped and handled.

Ricasso - The dull portion of a blade just above the hilt. It is intended for wrapping the index finger around to give greater tip control (called "fingering"). Not all sword forms had ricasso. They can be found on many Bastard-swords, most cut & thrust swords and later rapiers. Those on Two-Handed swords are sometimes called a "false-grip", and usually allow the entire second had to grip and hold on. The origin of the term is obscure.

Shoulder - The corner portion of a sword separating the blade from the tang.

Tang - The un-edged hidden portion or ("tongue") of a blade running through the handle and to which the pommel is attached. The place where the tang connects to the blade is called the "shoulder". A sword's tang is sometimes of a different temper than the blade itself. The origin of the term is obscure.

Waisted-grip- A specially shaped handle on some bastard or hand-and-a-half swords, consisting of a slightly wider middle and tapering towards the pommel.

Annellet/Finger-Ring: The small loops extending toward the blade from the quillions intended to protect a finger wrapped over the guard. They developed in the Middle Ages and can be found on many styles of Late-Medieval swords. They are common on Renaissance cut & thrust swords and rapiers and also small-swords.

Compound-Hilt/Complex-Guard: A term used for the various forms of hilt found on Renaissance and some late-Medieval swords. They consist typically of finger-rings, side-rings or ports, a knuckle-bar, and counter-guard or back-guard. Swept-hilts, ring-hilts, cage-hilts, and some basket-hilts are forms of complex-guard.