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Italian Rapier -- The Weapon

An Italian Rapier and the Names of its Components.

The Italian rapier is a straight-bladed single-handed sword that saw its apogee in between the 16th and the 17th Centuries. The Italian rapier was perhaps the first single-handed sword in history designed to be safely used without a companion weapon between unarmored opponents. As such, it became the fencing weapon par excellence. The Italian rapier used by Fabris and his contemporaries featured two cutting edges and a point, although some more specialized, thrusting-only rapiers existed throughout the 17th Century. In its earlier form, the rapier hilt featured various patterns of loops and rings; around the mid-1600ís, the predominant rapier hilt was the cup, which is generally associated with Spain and the Spanish dominions.

Although used on the battlefield, the Italian rapierís main place was at the side of the civilian gentleman and nobleman. Throughout its history, the rapier became the quintessential dueling weapon, only to be replaced by the smallsword and the dueling pistol after a long supremacy of over one hundred years. Throughout the 16th and 17th Centuries, Italian rapier masters were among the most highly-prized martial arts teachers in Europe.

It was fairly typical for an Italian rapier of the time of Fabris to weigh around 2.5lbs, and to feature a blade of 42 inches in length.

Suggestions for further reading and discussion:

Our Italian Rapier Work

Our main Italian rapier work centers on the writings of Salvator Fabris, in honor of whose knightly Order we named our school. While appearing outwardly dynamic and athletic, Fabrisí style enshrines all the art, theory and finesse of Italian rapier fencing.

The teachings of Fabris hinge upon a precise understanding of guards, measure, tempo, strengths and weaknesses of blade-sections and blade-angles, openings and closed lines. Although other masters throughout history explain some of these elements, Fabris describes all of them, and does so with uncommon clarity and unique thoroughness.

Fabris' preference is for actions in tempo. This means that he seldom advocates parrying and riposting as two consecutive movements Ė rather, he executes them both in one motion, i.e. in a single tempo. The resulting style is typically Italian and, once mastered, is extremely hard for an opponent to defeat.

Fabris is gaining numerous followers in the Historical Martial Arts community, and the increasing number of students who are infected by his dynamic style find it extremely effective against any opponent.

Besides Fabris, we also study the other relevant Italian rapier treatises of the time, such as Giganti, Capoferro, and Alfieri, but we take great care to ensure that our style remains pure.

Research & Resources

Paternoster Translated from the French by Tom Leoni.
The following mini-treatise by Paternoster was included in the 1617 French edition of Geronimo Cavalcabo's rapier text Traite' ou instruction pour tirer des armes.

Unfortunately, the French translator, Seigneur De Villamont, does not give us any further information about the author, a "late Paternoster of Rome". This treatise, however, has impressed us greatly for its brilliance and conciseness, for it enshrines in a few hundred words the essence of rapier play.

Glossary of rapier terms. By Tom Leoni.
A Collection of most of the Italian fencing terms used in the various Renaissance fencing treatises from 1500 onward.

The Fabris Wheel. By Tom Leoni.
A graphical representation of the temporal and theoretical relationship among the different aspects and techniques of the system of swordsmanship described by Salvator Fabris.

Tom Leoni's translation of the treatise of Salvator Fabris is out of print but sometimes available from used booksellers.

The Robert J Lord collection of historical treatises includes some of the Italian Rapier works:
Salvator Fabris (14.6 Mb)
Nicoletto Giganti, bilingual French and German version (6.7 Mb)

Tattershall has a resources page with several treatises, including:
Salvator Fabris (25.0 Mb)
Ridolfo Capoferro (38.2 Mb)
Francesco Alfieri (21.8 Mb)

William Wilson of Tattershall and Jherek Swanger have a freely-available translation of Capoferro's treatise:
Capoferro Translation (97.6 Kb)

Tom Leoni's translation of the treatise of Salvator Fabris is out of print but sometimes available from used booksellers.

Last Updated: 28-Oct-11